You know that phrase- you know the one, the one about not judging a book by its cover? Sometimes that’s very hard, especially when the “book”, or artist in this particular case, gives you plenty of ammunition with which to rush to a rash and, in the case of Sweden’s Ghost, wrong-headed judgement. I must confess to expecting Ghost‘s “Opus Eponymous” to be a slab of brutal and brutalising European black metal, full of pummelling drums, howling vocals, razor guitars and a snowy, European blanket of menace and intimidation. Stupid stupid stupid boy.
“Opus Eponymous”, now getting its North American distribution several months after European listeners have been indulged, takes up the legacies left by King Diamond, Blue Oyster Cult and Black Sabbath, plays with them, twists them and adds to them in an often surprising and fresh way.
You probably know what this record is all about already: the self-confessed adherence to satanism, the anonymity of the band behind masks and costumes, the love of theatrical drama and menace. Actually, those aren’t the real revelations: to these ears it’s the lightness of touch, the exceptional playing of the band, the disciplined attention to the sometimes lost art of the “tune” and a coherent artistic vision that will have you playing this album over and over again.
Beginning all 1970s Hammer horror with the instrumental ‘Deus Culp’ we are pulled, neither kicking nor screaming, into the genuinely fragrant charms of ‘Con Clavi Con Dio’, a track with a warmth that you don’t expect in amongst its clawing menace. ‘Ritual’ could be a track off a long lost Steely Dan album, if they’d been brought up on Sabbath and Mercyful Fate records.
‘Stand by Him’ and ‘Satan’s Prayer’ are probably the thematic heart of the record with beguiling melodies and enough riffs to keep even the most grizzled metalhead happy. The closing instrumental track ‘Genesis’ has a prog undercurrent lovingly intertwined with some spindly guitar parts and, yes, some Hammond organ. It’s lovely.
“Opus Eponymous” is a record that not only understands its place in the history of all things “heavy” and “metal”, it positively revels in it. Ghost do not just know their heavy metal, there is a genuine love here which is warm and ingratiating. Sweden’s Ghost have conjured a slab of dark heavy metal that would not have been out of place in the late 1970’s or early 1980’s. It’s hugely melodic, passionate and ever so slightly maverick.
You know that phrase- you know the one, the one about the Devil having all the best tunes? Ghost have certainly made a very strong case for the prosecution.