They could have gone down as a novelty, if the music wasn’t so genuine. An expert mix of metal, Satan and Abba. From the gloom of the north came Ghost, led by Papa Emeritus and his Nameless Ghouls. We knew little about the band then, except that they were just too good to have come out nowhere like that.
As Ghost have grown and evolved, the shadow of their first album grows even longer. Opus Eponymous consisted of an intro, eight gothic keyboard-drenched metal anthems from hell, and one bonus cover track for the Japanese market. With “Papa’s” true identity wisely obscured at the time, the focus was off the extensive pre-Ghost discography of leader Tobias Forge. Though elements of his glam and death metal pasts remained, Ghost was truly unique right from their debut. Forge conjured a fictional backstory for the band in his mind. He imagined Ghost were a group of older guys. Active in the 70s, but started playing together in the late 60s. Very experienced and maybe a little bitter. Opus Eponymous was not meant to sound like a debut, and it does not.
Like entering a church on a cloudy day, “Deus Culpa” greets you as the light organ drifts through. But this is no ordinary mass, and the sermon is quite devilish. Foreboding dissonance and flat chords warn you against entering, but still you go. Then suddenly the rolling electric bass of “Con Clavi Con Dio” is followed by a blast of guitar and evil organ!
“Lucifer! We are here for your praise, evil one!” sings Forge with a provocative calm. What really made Ghost stand out was the juxtaposition of evil metal, with the keyboards and otherworldly, ethereal lead vocals of “Papa Emeritus”. Choir-like backing vocals and the persistent howl of organ add to the classic horror scene. Listening to the lyrics, it is clear that Forge knows his subject matter convincingly enough. But he also knows how to write a song and every second of “Con Clavi Con Dio” delivers some sort of hook, thrill, or chill. The production is also outstanding in its bare simplicity, compared to later Ghost.
The plinking intro of “Ritual” disguises its true heaviness, at first. Forge deftly merged a plutonium-heavy riff with light and delicate vocal harmonies. While you’re being caressed by the sweetest Satanic prayers, you’re also enduring the assault of guitars and bass. “Ritual” sounds, somehow, like a song that could have emerged from the year 1985, but with the wisdom of future knowledge. Quite possibly the pinnacle of this album.
Galloping in the dark, “Elizabeth” (long “i”, not short “i”) is among the heaviest tracks despite its melodic chorus. As a song about a suspected 16th century Hungarian serial killer, it could be one of the less evil songs on the record! It is followed by the dastardly catchy “Stand By Him”, featuring a very traditional metal guitar solo section. ”Tis the night of the witch, tonight,” beckons Forge, and you cannot resist his call to this tale of revenge. (Or justice?) Then comes in the chopper-like opening guitars of “Satan Prayer”, the most blunt of all the songs. Yet like the others, impossible to resist, because of impeccable construction from melody and riff. The clever keyboards and dual guitar solo are a confectionery topping over the robust chug of distortion.
A crack of thunder, the crash of drums, and “Death Knell” is here. Forge sells the creepy vocal easily, though not difficult given the words as he sings of evil rebirth. One of the most straight metal of the tracks, and the outro is pure Ozzy. “Prime Mover” then enters like a warning siren. Once the smoke has cleared, the bass does its work to level the stragglers. Forge floats over the waste, ethereal and haunting.
All that’s left on the domestic album is the brilliant instrumental closer “Genesis”. Apparently it’s a sped-up waltz; I think it’s a piece of hammering progressive brilliance. The repetitive keyboards provide the melodic hook, and ghostly guitars add to the story. Not to be left out, the bassline is delicious to listen to. There’s also a very Sabbath-y acoustic outro. The rituals are complete and a new evil is born. An outstanding album closer!
The Japanese CD contains a dark rendition of the Beatles’ “Here Comes the Sun”, mournful and sad. It’s the opposite of the George Harrison original. Some like it; some feel it’s the worst track on the album. It does work as a sort of coda, but is probably experienced best separately.
With Opus Eponymous, Ghost arrived. To their credit they’ve never tried to repeat this exact album. Instead Ghost continued to explore, a growth personified by adopting the guise of a new singer on every album (Papa II, Papa III etc.), even though they were all played by Tobias Forge! This remarkable debut is just as valuable as the later more diverse records, perhaps simply because of its more focused singular vision.