A very welcome surprise
For consumers of entertainment based content sometimes living outside of North America, or even Western Europe, can be a drag. All too often we are left waiting arbitrarily for labels and content producers to find it within themselves to throw us a bone and release their wares across the Pacific often weeks and sometimes longer after our friends in the Northern Hemisphere have been able to get their hands on this content. Equally, if not more, irritating is the wait for these materials if you’re a person who takes their job as a writer (hack) relatively seriously and are unable to be able to bring information about these items to their readership in a timely fashion while other review sites around the world get the scoop as it were.
There is one other facet to this state of affairs that definitely affects me (and I have little doubt others) which is the difficulty in approaching something with a purely objective eye once the hype machine has rolled across the Internet for weeks if not months about an album before you’ve even heard, let alone received. Take Sweden’s Ghost and their debut album, Opus Eponymous, as an example. Here’s an album for which reviews have been circulating en masse for ages now but has only recently (as in within the past week) been made available to me. Not only is it hard not to approach this album without being all too aware of the general feelings out there but also to do it knowing full well that everyone knows all there is to know about it as well. But here we are and, long-winded introduction aside, I can state that all of that hype you’ve read about this album is, for the most part, pretty much spot on.
It’s interesting that Opus Eponymous is as good as it is when you consider that, stylistically, it’s basically just 70’s based proto-metal in the vein of early Black Sabbath and bands of that ilk. So what is it then that actually makes Opus Eponymous so good? Put simply, it’s the extremely high quality of the material the band has put together.
The whole album is full of catchy hooks and tasteful leads, massively authentic step back in time melodies and flow and some great, if understated, vocal work. Now I’ll be the first to admit that this kind of old school metal worship is a bit hit and miss with me but there’s just something about this album that has really grabbed me and straight off the bat no less. In fact, truth be told, I actually expected to really dislike this album based on what I knew it was going to be like so I guess that’s saying something about the quality of the material.
Opus Eponymous is rather short, clocking in at just shy of 35 minutes, which is arguably a bad thing on the face of it but, in practice, this is pretty much the perfect length. The album neither flies by nor does it drag on unnecessarily but rather says what it needs to say and finishes up without superfluous padding or meandering. With its focus on the development and exploitation of hooks the band could have quite easily over-played their hand and gone down the route of self-indulgence but, thankfully, taste won out over repetition.
The final piece that rounds out the positive side of the equation here is the production effort which is, in a word, excellent. Had you not known that Opus Eponymous was a contemporary album you’d be hard pressed to tell that the thing wasn’t recorded some 35 or 40 years ago with its thin (though oddly bass heavy) and even dreamy/psychedelic undertones. Add to this the clever utilisation of vocal harmonies and the barely perceptible though very effective use of synthesisers to emphasise key parts of the melodies and you’ve got yourself a pretty authentic sounding homage to a bygone era of rock and roll.
As to the negative side of the album, well, there isn’t really a hell of a lot to get up in arms about but there are two things that I’m not so sure I’m down with. The first is the band’s decision to remain anonymous and adorn themselves in costume. On the one hand I can see (what I assume to be) a tongue-in-cheek attempt to extend the imagery of bands like Black Sabbath and relate them more to a contemporary audience but it doesn’t quite wash with me. There may well be some other reasoning behind this decision and, if this is the case, I’d be interested to hear what it is.
The second “issue” is the overly Satan obsessed nature of the band’s lyrics. Obviously this is just personal preference and it’s not the subject matter I have an issue with per se but I could’ve done with a little more subtlety; something a little smarter than endless references to Satan and Lucifer, especially when you consider the intelligence on display through the band’s music. To be fair though, this is a gripe I have with plenty of bands so Ghost are most certainly not alone here and, in the scheme of things, it’s a pretty small nit to pick.
Minor quibbles aside; Opus Eponymous is both a highly enjoyable album and a not unwelcome surprise. Plenty of bands evoke the spirits of the classic era of heavy metal but few do it with as much aplomb as do Ghost.
(Metal Blade Records/Riot! Entertainment)