Ghost is a Swedish band that formed just recently in 2008, and for being a new band, this group has definitely received a lot of praise. A lot of people have gone so far as to claim the band’s debut release, Opus Eponymous, as a no faults Metal masterpiece. While the album didn’t hit North American shores until 2011, chances are good that upon it’s release, many people have heard of this group. Much of the band is shrouded in what could be considered gimmick after gimmick, but many bands who utilize these to achieve a certain sound often work out well. But does Ghost truly deserve such immense praise for this release?
First of all, Ghost definitely does mix together some classic NWOBHM sounds with an early dark Rock sound, essentially mixing together a Mercyful Fate and Blue Oyster Cult sound, which are what a lot of people compare these bands to, and for good reason. The audio quality is modern despite playing something meant to sound early in the history of Metal. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but when you use the same kind of effects or distortion that you will find in late seventies, early eighties style music, it definitely would help to not use as clean a production as this effort does. While the music isn’t exactly sterilized, the burden of keeping the album sounding heavy in any sense lies solely on the bass guitar, which is pretty loud and strong on the release, being recorded well enough that you will feel it. The guitars for the most part are clean and have that aforementioned early Rock distortion to them, which isn’t necessarily bad but a little more noise in the distortion, or a deeper sound the compliment the bass would have helped this album out immensely. The drums here are pretty good too, the thudding bass kicks kind of blend into the snares despite the latter having a louder volume and a bit of a click to them, and the cymbols are pretty loud too. Vocally is where the album starts to have some problems. The performance is clean, and you can really pick up on the early Rock approach, having some layering done to back them up at times, and while it’s not bad, you can’t help but feel they are being restrained at times at keep to a more accessible Rock element. At times the vocals do shift to a much darker sound through gutturals or something similar such a deeper rhasp with a commanding attitude to it.
Another thing wroth noting while speaking of gimmicks is the bands physical appearance. Each member aside the vocalist is essentially hidden, clad in black robes while the vocalist wears corpse paint on his face and is clad in a rather tacky looking satanic version of the cardinal in Christian heirarchy. This does work for the Satan worshipping lyrics, but you also have the fact that you have no idea who any of them are, feeding into the invisible underground Black Metal and even Death Metal today concepts of anonmynity in Metal in an effort to put more focus on the music. Of course, the outfits do seem better on stage, but again seems more like a gimmick at times such as Kiss, Gwar, and Slipknot, but for what the band is striving for, it works for them. Of course the physical and hidden ideas are not really something that hurts the band’s music unless you’re someone who is more superficial when it comes to music and can’t look past it, then you’re in more trouble then anyone else is.
Musically, Opus Eponymous is frustrating as all Hell. The music is simple and catchy from one track to the next, and you can’t help but feel the band definitely took a very simplistic, accessible route with their music and really restrained themselves. While many tracks are atmospherically dark, which is held up well by the keyboards that are pretty loud and match the modern, digital clarity and actually do add a lot to the music outside of just being there to add a little extra kick to the material. They are also not abused in any way and their contributions sound solid in the natural flow of the music, such as during “Elizabeth”. But no matter what track you listen to, it just sounds like Mercyful Fate worship, but to ride on the early Hard Rock vein of the aforement band and even Ozzy Osbourne. “Stand by Him” makes the perfect example of this. The song starts off with a strong mix of the signature Mercyful Fate sound with a more accessible early Rock n’ Roll sound, but darker obviously, and when the chorus kicks in, you just sit there imagining King Diamond himself belting out some really sinister, crazy, over-the-top vocals. And, for as insanely catchy as it is, the chorus, and the rest of the song, just feels so horribly restrained and toned down. “Satan Prayer” is exactly the same way and actually has music that is just really boring because of it.
Opus Eponymous lasts roughly thirty five minutes, kicking things off with “Deus Culpa”, which is a pretty good keyboard introduction that starts the album off as if you were attending mass at your local church, though it eventually does start to go into some off-key notes that set up a darker, more sinister atmosphere by the time the introduction ends. It feels like a natural transition between this and the first actual song, “Con Clavi con Dio,” but immediately this is where you will start to notice how restrained the album is. The music feels intimate, more toned down and restricted then anything, but still having a booming volume level to it, which follows in each track. This works well, except for the fact that the music being played doesn’t fit that kind of mold. The songs feel restrained and watered down horribly, while coming off catchy, they ultimately sound very bland and frustrating since it sounds like the band is ready to break into a faster pace or become more energetic but never do. This is the main thing that holds “Con Clavi con Dio” back, you wait for the song to pick up, never does, and by the end it seems to just go nowhere. While other tracks here do eventually go somewhere, not all are that great. “Elizabeth” for example seems to really try to force the mixture of Rock and NWOBHM a bit too far and the song ends up just sounding boring, the keyboards towards the end of “Satan Prayer” are way too loud in the mix and ultimately dwarf everything else and kind of drown out the guitars as well. “Death Knell” is another track that ends up sounding restrained, but it’s an ok track, though it’s chorus has you really wishing the vocalist wouldn’t hold back and just start belting out along with the song with more enthusiasm and go for falsetto’s instead of just a higher pitched toned down singing style.
Admittedly, Ghost do manage to create a song that honestly feels natural to their approach and not like it’s being purposely watered down from energetic and solid Heavy Metal. The track has a strong presence during some of the bridges here that the faster pace makes sound richer and even deeper, and the slower passages feel natural to the song, really utilizing the bass and having some guitars that are deeper enough to compliment it. The keyboards set an early Heavy Metal tone and, due to all of this it retains enough of an edge to keep the song rich for the vocals, and really have a catchy chorus that feels right and not forced to try to compliment the darker Rock tendencies on here, showing signs of vintage Heavy Metal acts that brought that early Hard Rock sound into their material well without failing. There’s also “Stand by Him,” which really has a catchy chorus and a very strong guitar solo, but it’s the singing in the verses that kind of kills it. It’s not bad, more back of the throat then anything, which just sounds a little weak, especially since it’s layered against simpler music that’s not that impressive to begin with outside the aforementioned spots, but overall is still a song you’d come back to once in a while with a chorus that could easily be lodged in your head for weeks. The closing track “Genesis” is a nice instrumental, but the song really breaks the whole dark atmosphere concept. The song itself feels a little more light hearted, the keyboards that again are much louder then they should and go off into a more Space Rock approach at times, and the end goes acoustic in a more Spanish moracca style of musical performance to end it all a little oddly.
Now don’t get me wrong, I respect the band for what they try to do with this album and, honestly, maybe if the production were not as clear as it is and had a little muddier quality, or deeper guitars like the song “Ritual” had, it would all work out. Sadly, Opus Eponymous is just watered down horribly to reflect that darker Rock sound, and while the music itself is far from bad, it just sound weak and boring most of the time due to this. Overall there were two tracks here that really stood out, while the rest of the material was well done, but in the end just come off rather boring in a bland, generic, heard-it-already sense with a clean production that definitely did more harm then good by taking out any edge the instruments and even vocals would have had, though the latter clearly did not intend to bring much of one with this effort. Opus Eponymous essentially feels like the oldies radio stations interpretation of various Mercyful Fate songs, and while that’s not necessarily a band thing since it really sounds great at times, especially during “Ritual”, it all just becomes a little too accessible for it’s own good and leaves the album feeling heavily restrained throughout, frustrating you at practically every turn as you hear the potential in the background, but instead are given a less-then-enthusiastic performance overall, even for it’s Rock roots. In the end, Opus Eponyumous is not a bad album, it’s just frustrating due to how toned down it really is.