Import: October 21, 2010 / US: January 18, 2011
(Available for download now through iTunes / Amazon)
Rise Above Records
A all-too-brief collection of the catchiest songs about Satan worship ever created.
Of all the traditional (read: hoary) subject matter metal lyricists return to time and time again, satanic themes are probably the most well-tread. From Black Widow to Sabbath, Venom to Blasphemy, metal has given the devil his due and then some. However, over time, as the volume and intensity of the music has risen (and metal listeners have become more jaded) the fear factor has diminished. What was once thrilling has been rendered trite through over-the-top theatrics that mistake cheap horror shocks and gore for any real sense of danger.
Enter new Swedish metal band Ghost, who on their debut Opus Eponymous turn back the hands of time nearly 30 years by stripping occult metal down to its most essential, enjoyable elements. Heavily indebted to the classic occult bands of the late '70s and early 80s (Blue Öyster Cult and Mercyful Fate spring to mind), Ghost delivers old-school heavy metal (blessed with today's production) with a dollop of pop that achieves a dark, disarming beauty in its purity. Simple minor-key riffs blend seamlessly into choruses that compel you sing along, and yes, I said sing, because unlike many sound-alike barking black metal bands choking the market today, Ghost is fronted by a vocalist who can craft a compelling melody.
In a brilliantly hilarious marketing move, the band has declared via a press release that their mission to is gain converts "via the ever so popular rock music medium" and expressed their hope to charm listeners with their music, "so that in time the easily manipulated will come to share the views and goals of the Coven's ministry and can prepare their own plans for the downfall of humanity."
While this may have the trappings of an elaborate joke, the truth is that once you find yourself joyfully singing along to tracks about human sacrifice ("Ritual"), nuns pregnant with demon seed ("Prime Mover") and witchcraft ("Stand by Him"), you may begin to wonder if there truly isn't a more devious method to their playful madness.
And yes, I'm serious as hell about the nun thing, and so is the band.
So dedicated are they to the act of being cultists that no one knows who they are - no names are printed anywhere in their materials - and this sense of mystery carries over to their live show, where the singer performs as demonic cardinal in macabre face paint, flanked by his band mates as hooded, anonymous figures. The singer sways as one with the music, his face a somber mask as he intones ominous words of sin and damnation. Yes, its a gimmick, but its a simple one and therein lies its power; it sells the music in a way that menacing corpsepaint faces and armbands loaded with spikes never could.
The music of Ghost isn't going to challenge you or change the world of metal. Its strengths lie in its addictive songwriting and immense accessibility, which is more than enough to recommend it. The only real downfall of this album is that it's so damn catchy that at only 30 minutes running length, it may quickly wear out its welcome. Until then, it's an addiction this heavy music lover will gladly indulge.