Positive press as far as the eye can see; spots secured on multiple “top of the year” lists across the land; and an absurd level of hoopla that could lead one to believe that just one blessed exposure to Opus Eponymous might hold the key to transporting the listener to the next plane of enlightened, transcendental existence. Such is the deadly double-edged blade of hype: a fair ration is great and can open a wealth of doors, but too much can completely derail the entire shootin’ match.
In terms of Sweden’s Ghost and this record, I’d say all the brouhaha is mostly just that, with a weighted emphasis on the “haha” for those folks with a short fuse in terms of stomaching bands that (over)emphasize some sort of moth-eaten schtick (in this case, eeeeeevil priests).
I will say that once you blow past the smoke and hammer through the mirrors, there’s enough promise delivered on Opus Eponymous to make me curious to see where the band steps next. But if you’re not on board with occult hard-rock/proto-whatever-the-hell, you shouldn’t even step up to the front door this time around. And even if you are on board, there could still be a few roadblocks standing in the way of you shitting your pants over this record as a whole.
For example, the imagery behind the band is difficult to align with the music that’s delivered, even for an easy mark such as myself. You walk into a smoky club and see a Devil-Pope take the stage with his evilly hooded instrumentalists looming behind him amidst a rising unholy fog and you damn-well expect to get smacked in the grill with something as seriously chilling as Don’t Break the Oath. But Ghost is decidedly less disquieting than Fate circa mid-80’s were, and more…cartoonish, as awful as that may sound (right up to that Scooby-mystery ode to Salem’s Lot adorning the cover.)
The first thing that strikes during initial spins of Opus Eponymous is the fact that the rollicking bass provided by [name withheld to exaggerate spookiness] stands as the heftiest thing about the band’s sound. It hits directly with “Con Clavi Con Dio”, following the satisfyingly smooth Hammond organ intro, and really, it’s that romping bass swaddled by generous use of fat Hammond organ that delivers the heft on Opus Eponymous. The guitar work throughout mostly sacrifices beefiness in favor of bolstering that old-man rock/hardrock of yesteryear that harkens a band such as Blue Öyster Cult. I mean it, folks, some of this stuff is really pretty damned light; Tom “totally not evil” Petty would kill to have that sweet, summery guitar lick at the onset of “Ritual”, for example. So yeah, this record’s gonna sound lighter than a snowflake on a button-nose to those metal fans who don’t flip their shit for the proto-tagged stuff that leans heavily on rock.
And vocally, let’s just say I’d be more apt to believe Ghost‘s singer to be a mop-topped youth bent on snaring some trim than I would a ghastly pope dug up from a grave. [Name withheld to exaggerate spookiness] has a nice voice: a clean, smooth, mid-ranged croon that sounds as if he puppy-dog’s his eyebrows beneath all that nasty skull make-up as he sings. It’s a bit of an odd fit for the lyrical content and imagery, I’ll say that. But to reiterate, they’re good, once they’ve settled in.
What Ghost does right, and I mean really right, is pen an infectious melody. It doesn’t happen with each-and-every tune here, but when it hits, it’s the kind of c-a-t-c-h-y that will stick in your brain for days. The aforementioned “Ritual”, “Death Knell” and crowned gem “Elizabeth” are worth the price of admission alone. But oddly enough, after spending (likely too much) time with this record, I’d have to say the best tune on Opus Eponymous hits with the epic instrumental closer, “Genesis”, which sounds proggy and Gobliny, and again, kills with its infectiousness. Just a great, great closer.
In the end, I’d say all the hype does outweigh the record, but Opus Eponymous is still a fun little ride. Sure, their cross turned upside down wickedness is far less menacing compared to a number of the blood-gobbling orthodox black metallers currently running about, but who cares? These guys sound like the sort of band that nerdly nerdleton kid in The Gate might have listened to in order to “learn the true ins and outs of Hell,” but personally, I’m okay with that. And if you’re in a similar boat and have somehow still managed to not hear this thing, maybe you should finally lend Ghost an ear.