Opus Eponymous, by Ghost
Suggested by Noli-Rose Nikitaki
Ghost are an anonymous band.
I like this conceit, the trope of performing in masks, with pseudonyms, refusing to reveal your true identity to the adoring crowd. Whether it’s an artistic choice, or an affectation, or even a logisctical decision, it can add a sense of intrigue to a band that’s separate to any considerations on the actual strength of the music.
There have been a slew of anonymous bands through the years, from such stalwarts as we-all-know-who-you-are-really The Travelling Wilburys to rocking acts like Lordi, Slipknot and GWAR. A particular favourite of mine are the Australian act TISM (This Is Serious, Mum), whose video and TV performances come across as the fever dreams of a manic arthouse collective rather than a band. Mr Bungle were an anonymous mask-wearers in their early days, until the fame of the singer made it impossible. Studio Killers, from Album 386, hide behind their alter egos, and the They Might Be Giants tribute act Sapphire Bullets, who have supported They Might Be Giants on tour, were anonymous at first until it was revealed they were actually members of They Might Be Giants. This is probably the most They-Might-Be-Giants-esque thing I’ve ever heard.
Black Metal has a grand tradition of musical anonymity, likely an aspect enforced to mask a storied involvement in church burning or worse. So you’ll forgive my assumption that Ghost, with their chilling pastel horror album covers and gothic logo, should be carved from this particular carcass. Their anonymity manifests with each band member being masked, identified only as “Nameless Ghouls”. The only outlier is the frontman, a demonic anti-pope with Gothic skull-style makeup called Papa Emeritus. And their themes? Entirely, unabashedly, hilariously Satanic.
It can as a pleasant surprise when Opus Eponymous, their 2010 debut, revealed themselves to be a pleasing throwback of Melodic Rock. Sure, it has a doomy symphonic core, and has leanings towards progressive or psychedelic sound, but it’s throwback, nostalgic, Hammer Horror kitsch with notes of early Sabbath and Priest. It comes over as a curious mix of death metal and pop music, and is charmingly dark yet perplexingly moreish.
Papa Emeritus, the character of which is now in its fourth incarnation, has a high and tremulous voice, that’s affected with a heavy echo to produce that cathedral chic that frames their output perfectly. It adds a spaciousness to the sound, a counterpoint to the crunchy riffs on offer.
Every song flirts with evil, be it lyrically and thematically in tracks such as the brooding Ritual or the overt Satan Prayer, or more insidiously, through composition, best displayed in the instrumentals that top and tail the album. There’s a sense of disquiet created deep within the throwback sound, exemplified in my standout Elizabeth, which chronicles the proto-vampiric serial murderer Elizabeth Bathory. It’s a classic theme, and in keeping with the overall aesthetic.
I enjoyed Opus Eponymous a great deal, certainly far more than I initially expected. Ghost get a diabolical 8/10, and I plan to devour their back catalogue with a devilish glee.