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In 2010, 6 mysterious fellows in robes gave the world a slab of nostalgic heavy metal in Opus Eponymous. It was catchy, heavy and contained great songwriting, but it was a very 'safe' album and only hinted at Ghost's potential. Now in 2013 and with a new Papa, Ghost achieve their goal of bringing Satan to the masses. While this album is considerably less heavy and it is debatable whether or not this even is a heavy metal album, the songwriting has matured, the musicians have become more inventive and the vocal lines are catchier than ever. Papa Emeritus II has developed as a vocalist and has become more diverse with his mid-range, lows, falsettos, and whispers are all perfect. He even hints at an extreme metal-style scream on Ghuleh/Zombie Queen, hinting at rumoured Emeritus Tobias Forge's career in Repugnant. While some songs are blatantly heavy metal (Secular Haze, Per Aspera Ad Inferi), the other songs diverse greatly in style from catchy pop rock in Idolatrine to '60s surf rock in Zombie Queen to creepy Satanic ballad in Monstrance Clock.
The band makes use of choirs a lot on this record, sometimes for effect and atmosphere (the title track, the intro to Year Zero) and other times it seems the choir was put there to represent the points when the crowd will sing along in a live setting (Monstrance Clock, the "Hail Satan" in the last chorus of Year Zero).
The guitar and bass took command on Opus Eponymous, yet on this album the guitar and bass take a backseat to the vocals and organ, which really dominate the songs while the drumming remains stellar, but nothing fancy.
The band have also developed as songwriters. On Opus Eponymous, the lyrics were "Satan is good, God is bad" kind of material, while on this record they tell stories with their lyrics and make religious satire while still keeping the prominent Satanic theme. My favourite lyrics are in the 8th track, Idolatrine, which not-so-subtly, but quite intelligently call Christians stupid, comparing the "devouts" to the "simpletons".
Overall, I think this is an album that will divide the fanbase as the band strays from its heavy/doom metal roots, but truly shows the band's potential. If they carry on improving, I cannot wait to hear what their third album will show.