It seems safe to say that, throughout the years, bands and/or musicians with quirky gimmicks or “over-the-top” visual theatrics have more or less been received one of two ways by the music-loving portion of the planet’s population: immersed in fanatical praise with rose petals and groupie undergarments at their feet…or blasted with ridicule as the angry masses hurl shit (both physical and verbal) and death threats in their direction. The list is endless. From the heyday of “classics” like Kiss and Alice Cooper all the way to today’s flood of line-steppers (i.e. the likes of those lovable scumdogs, Gwar and countless Christ-bashing black metal hordes among others), it can be said that they’ve all made their mark. Whether you love them or hate them, perhaps some sort of an acknowledgement has to be given to the sincere marriage of musical talent and original artistic creativity in the visual sense. Many are all-too-quick to denounce a band’s music based on their unusual visual presentation alone. Couple that with a somewhat shaky comparison to an earlier musical misfit and you can rest assured that the crowd will be even more divided than when they just had a disinterest in your band’s style of corpse paint.

With that notion, we observe this review’s focal point. As equal supporters of all things retro-metal, occult and devil-friendly, Sweden’s new high priests to the soundtrack of mankind’s demise, Ghost, have garnered truckloads of admiration from many of the underground’s most established musicians. Darkthrone’s Fenriz was among those ranks after hearing the band’s three-track demo, proclaiming them to be the next big thing. And he may be right in that statement. While comparisons continue to ring in (amid swirling rumors of who’s wearing the hooded robes and face paint) between the vocal approach of the band’s robed, skull-faced front man, The Nameless Ghoul, and that of King Diamond, the wave of new fans grows even more powerful.

Combining a vintage rock sound with a lyrical message swaying more to the styling of the pro-Satan genres of extreme music, the band’s latest full-length, Opus Eponymous (Rise Above Records/Metal Blade Records), may be yet another example of what has been missing and much needed in music for the past several years. At first glance it may be easy to just pass Ghost off as a bunch of metalheads obsessed with campy horror and shock. But rest assured, this record proves they know what the hell they’re talking about, and their here to carry out their dark lord’s bidding. Clocking in at thirty-five minutes, Opus Eponymous sets the pace with intro “Deus Culpa”, drenched in organ tones clearly lifted from some bloodied, demon-possessed cathedral in a far away time. “Con Clavi Con Dio” (a definite highlight) steps up with a sense of catchiness and groove, with the blatant assurance that Ghost is surely on the side of Ol’ Scratch, as they say. “Elizabeth“ touches on the grim story of Countess Bathory, herself and implies that she too was in league. “Stand By Him”, while darkly romantic delivers a menacing sentiment to the festivities with organ and murderous riffs intact. That same formula, combined with soaring solo work is present on “Satan Prayer”. Meanwhile, as what is probably the hardest-hitting number on the record, “Prime Mover” unleashes a prime example of why so many have been making the King Diamond/Mercyful Fate comparisons mentioned earlier. The closing instrumental, “Genesis”, takes form in a wave of harpsichord whirlwinds and prog-guitar riffing that will leave most heads spinning.

All in all, Ghost and Opus Eponymous are tough to pin down with a dead-on description to do them proper justice. Simultaneously upbeat and darkly sincere, they undoubtedly have their fingers on the pulse of something brewing down below. And, while it’s likely that not every fan of the darker side of the underground music scene will “get it” or even give a shit, it seems perfectly evident that Ghost have indeed gained more than enough followers to deliver their message effectively. Whether you love them to death, or hate their guts to no end, this is a “black metal” band in a different sense. Consider Opus Eponymous their invitational statement of infernal allegiance! Do you bear the mark?