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Ghost made a real mark in metal when their release of 2010’s “Opus Eponymous”, which I believe is a fancy way of saying ‘self-titled album’, hit the scene. This is an interesting band from Sweden who, in the vein of Portal or Ghoul, conceal their identities behind masks and false names. Much like Portal, they have sort of an anti-pope Satanic image going on, however unlike either band, rather than an aggressive style of ‘splatterthrash’ or black/death metal, Ghost have instead decided to take a more throwback metal approach.
Their style rings heavily of Blue Oyster Cult meets Black Sabbath, featuring Melissa-era King Diamond writing lyrics. This is probably as accurate as I can get. It has the catchy riffs and vocal lines you might expect of Blue Oyster Cult around their “Fire of Unknown Origin”-era mixed with a darker atmosphere, and the synth sometimes works towards both the Blue Oyster Cult comparison and a darker tone, depending on the song.
Lyrically, they’re never fantastic. I suppose it doesn’t help that I’ve always found the whole “hail Satan” theme kind of generic and overdone, but sometimes they’re just goofy. “Our Father who art in Hell” gets me every time, as well as the pronunciation of Eliza-Beth. And yet, the cheesy Satan lyrics simply bring early Mercyful Fate to mind. Yes, “I was born in a cemetery, under the sign of the moon” is cheesy. Fun, but cheesy.
The vocals. ‘Papa Emeritus’ as our vocalist/dead pope as he likes to be known…let’s just say he sounds an awful lot like a certain deaththrash death growler–slash-vocalist for a Swedish indie/punk band. At this point a simple Google search will give you an idea as to who he may or may not be. He’s a solid vocalist using a somewhat high range on certain parts and the occasional death growl, but that’s pretty uncommon. He also utilizes a sort of choir effect sometimes, or at least overdubbing vocals over vocals, which works out pretty well on some of the catchier choruses. However, I feel like when he hits his high notes his voice sounds a little light. It never becomes a King Diamond screech, but it just doesn’t have the power of a Bruce Dickinson. Perhaps a good comparison may be an Andre Matos, but with nowhere near the range. Although Andre can hit great highs, once he gets to a certain point it sounds weak, almost airy? Except this isn’t NEARLY has high. That said, having seen Ghost live, it was obvious the band tuned-down a bit and used a bit more punchy distortion so Papa was probably singing a bit lower, but he sounded fantastic and he may want to consider recording the next album like that. Although I’m sure the production job did him no favors.
The production on the album is flat. I feel pretty confident this was to accent the whole '70s sound of the album, but I feel like in some places it could use a little work. Like how the vocals are so accented on the somewhat weak-sounding falsetto notes. On the other hand, there are plenty of parts where it really works and you almost forget this ISN’T a 1970’s release.
As far as the music, there are a few heavy moments, like the intro to Elizabeth, but it never really gets much heavier than mid-paced. Stylistically, the majority of the album is 1970’s prog-rock/metal style almost all the way though, although they throw in a little doom. Death Knell is very doomy, almost reminiscent of Black Sabbath’s title track until the chorus. The two instrumental tracks are probably the most noteworthy otherwise. The intro is an organ piece which, at first, wouldn't sound out of place in a church until it become much darker. Genesis closes the album as a very cool instrumental with a few moments of acoustic guitar near the end. The rest of the album is pretty consistent, so there isn’t much to say about individual tracks. I’d say Prime Mover is my least favorite and Elizabeth is my favorite, but most of the album is consistent enough that there are no standout flaws. Unfortunately, that also means there’s no standout greatness. For the most part I just think Elizabeth is the catchiest and Prime Mover gets a little boring, but at less than 4 minutes long it hardly matters.
If you dig Blue Oyster Cult or '70s prog rock, then this isn’t a bad album to check out. If that’s not your thing, then move along. The biggest problem I have is it stays, for the most part, so consistent that it feels like at no point was the band compelled to take a risk. No song really cracks 4 and a half minutes, and even the instrumental, the most progressive sounding part of the album, never takes it very far. It’s sort of like a prog-rock album with the prog sound, but no real prog parts. Not that I want an hour long Phish jam, but a little instrumental work wouldn’t hurt. Nevertheless, it’s a fun, catchy album, and even if it plays it a little too safe, it’s a decent thing to spend a half an hour listening to. Hopefully when these guys put out their next one, they’ll have some of the few flaws this album shows worked out. Additionally, I know it’s not in their current style, but as long as Papa can death growl, it couldn’t hurt to utilize that a bit more. I mean, I’m not saying put out a damn death metal album, but hell, we can heavy this up a little right? Regardless, a decent debut, and I’ll be looking forward to what Ghost has for us next.