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Ghost - Opus Eponymous - 86%

langm, February 3rd, 2011

Full blown 70's nostalgia, meet Satan. Ghost's debut album Opus Eponymous, is as interesting as it is perplexing. Rife with riff after riff, and loaded with classic sing along choruses, Opus Eponymous would be right at home sandwiched between Machine Head, and Tyranny and Mutation in the used section of your favorite record store, covered in dust and reeking of pot. Yet, despite its classic rock roots, Opus Eponymous possesses a more sinister goal, Satanic salvation.

Ghost aspires to some form of candy-coated Satanism, but has badly misjudged its audience. If their intention was swaying 13 year olds to the dark side with sickeningly sweet melodies, sure, chalk one up for the wicked one. However, this is an album made for metalheads. With the progenitors and practitioners of Satanism residing largely in the deadly serious realm of black metal, Ghost seem more imposter than intermediary. The entire Opus Eponymous experience for that matter feels more like an episode of Scooby-Doo (complete with fully costumed bad guy, Necro-Pope), than Satanic ritual. The lyrics exemplify cliché, and the costumes belong on the Halloween sale rack, but despite these complaints, I can't seem to turn the album off. Who knows, maybe Satan needs a family-friendly face lift after all.

Musically, Ghost dwells along the threshold between classic rock and metal, melding Blue Oyster Cult, Black Sabbath, Deep Purple, and a slew of similar vinyl club favorites dipped it in a touch of evil. The guitars split time between classic rock riffing, occasionally diminishing a 5th or a 2nd for effect, and sliding through simple, yet effective, lead passages. The keys ominously flow in and out, creating an atmosphere reminiscent of classic horror films, while both the drums and bass rely on simplicity, ensuring a continuous surge of head bobs (I couldn't imagine head banging to this album). Vocally, Ghost invokes the power of the Dark Lord with major key harmonies that would make Crosby, Stills, and Nash proud. Utilizing a rather limited, yet comfortable range, Ghost has created a windows down, stereo up, highway driving, Satanic sing along.

Opus Eponymous has earned numerous accolades for their songwriting prowess and deservedly so. Rather than pushing the boundaries of what constitutes a song like so many bands that get praised for their songwriting acumen, Ghost focuses on simplicity, reminding us all why the intro-verse-chorus-verse-chorus-bridge-chorus format has made artists around the globe filthy rich and famous. The songs are addicting, sporting well developed, pervasive hooks. Each song on the album is distinct without feeling out of place and sits comfortably between 3 and 5 minutes. In addition, each song features enough build and release to stay fresh, even through repeat spins. Ironically enough, Opus Eponymous is a clinic on writing radio friendly pop songs for a genre that has all but shunned radio.

On the production end, Opus Eponymous nails 70s throwback, right down to the hot tape sizzle of old analog recordings. The Bass, refreshingly audible even on the worst of systems, thumps slowly but deliberately, anchoring the ballsy British crunch of the guitars. The keys float inconspicuously, never fighting for sonic space, and consistently providing atmosphere. Dipped in substantial reverb and delay, the vocals sit prominently at the head of the mix, reflective of pop styling more than metal, but never overbearing. That said, Opus Eponymous desperately lacks any sort of edge. For a band that flirts so openly with evil, the production should roar. Instead, its as vicious as a Pomeranian.

Suffer as it may from these inconsistencies, the album art kills. This is the kind of cover designed for vinyl in its 12" glory. Simple and effective , Opus Eponymous's presentation should be a lesson to all bands with convoluted, over-photo-shopped covers, especially in an age where most will purchase a CD copy, or view it as a thumbnail on their mp3 player. I could just as easily blow this up and hang it on my wall as I could sift through it in my digital library.

Like any good episode of Scooby-Doo we'll have to wait for the end of the episode for Ghost's great uncloaking. Will their diabolical plan to deliver Satanism packaged as highly accessible classic rock succeed? Will they amount to anything more than a minor speed bump on metal's tireless journey? Will those meddling kids ever discover their true identity? Are they merely the creepy gas station attendants? Maybe the conspicuous groundskeepers? Better yet, are they an amalgam of Swedish superstars hiding beneath inky cloaks to produce a record their respective genres won't allow? Regardless of devious plans, staying power, or true identity, Ghost have produced a rocking good album for rocking good times that will satiate nostalgic desires when Tyranny and Mutation for the 500th time simply won't cut it.

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