Ghost – Impera
Released: March 11th, 2022
Papa Emeritus IV – Vocals
The Nameless Ghouls – guitars, bass, keytars, drums, percussion, keyboards, organ, synthesizers, backing and choir vocals
Ghost albums are now an event. It feels like it was always meant to be this way. The theatricality, the mystery, the evolving music. From the tightly managed stage shows, to pre-release videos and unrivaled visuals from album art to stage production, everything about Ghost makes you feel like you’re in some kind of club (or, if you prefer, congregation). It helps in some ways that a lot of metal heads still don’t know what to make of them, they sit outside the outsiders, who sound more commercial than most of the bands they share stages with, but still sing about Satan and the occult. With Cardinal Copia elevated to become the fourth Papa Emeritus in the band’s history (all played by Tobias Forge), the new album feels momentous. And indeed it is.
Ghost have evolved from the gothic prog-cum-death metal sound of their debut to encompass a broad range of rock sounds, rooted in 70s hard rock but extending to something modern and vibrant. There is no one else who sounds quite like Ghost. Whilst previous album, Prequelle (2018), built on the songwriting of Meliora (2015) with detours into funky disco and the brilliant saxophone-solo instrumental ‘Miasma’, Impera continues the journey with a combination of uptempo anthems and a couple of gorgeous ballads. Lyrically, where Prequelle dealt with the middle ages of plague and death, here we move to the building and falling of empires… and death. It is suitably pompous but also seriously rocking.
Ghost looks to draw us in with the brief instrumental fanfare ‘Imperium’, a deliberately slow marching snare drum preparing listeners for the battle ahead. The strings and guitar feedback lead straight into the opening riff of ‘Kaisarion’, soon joined by Papa’s massive scream. It’s a high octane jam in the tradition of Deep Purple or even Meat Loaf’s more Wagnarian style of rock. Named after a Pharaoh of Egypt and son of Cleopatra (and allegedly Julius Caesar), it depicts the rise of his kingdom and hints at his fall. The Nameless Ghouls on choral duty help the song sound utterly immense. We switch to piano for the next riff, the 80s sounding ‘Spillways’, in which Papa gets the falsetto out before with a wordy chorus that invites you to share “Your Burning Yearning Need To Bleed”. Great guitar solo too that twists and turns you further into Ghost’s world.
Impera is very much an exploration of ther band’s world, as highlighted by ‘Call Me Little Sunshine’. It’s a slower tempo song, think ‘Cirice’, with a hell of a hook. Despite the rosey title, it’s a dark song about calling out to the devil. The snare really snaps in this one with a repeated roll piercing the riff and solo. There’s an organ-led breakdown too that will be awesome live. It captures a lot of what Ghost does to a high level in crafting pop-metal that sounds both classic and modern, but doesn’t really fit with the latest trends either. It is however an ear worm that will infect even the most stringent disbeliever.
I have to admit I was a little underwhelmed at first upon the release of ‘Hunter’s Moon’ last Halloween. But it certainly grew on me with repeat listens and in context of the album it totally makes sense. It’s a hard rocking single full of demonic bluster and thunder. It works perfectly between ‘… Little Sunshine’ and the heavy metal epic ‘Watcher in the Sky’. ‘Watcher…’ has the meanest riff on the record, yet another great hook and screeching guitars. There’s gang vocals (ghoul vocals?) in the bridge and the drums just sound enormous before there’s a bonafide guitar harmony you can hum too. In terms of empire building, Ghost have built Side A around huge stadium filling hooks and moments that will cause the congregation to erupt in applause.
Side B commences with the synth based instrumental ‘Dominion’, which feels suitably grand in more of a 2001: A Space Odyssey kind of way. It serves as an intro to our first genuinely surprising moment – the horns and orchestral arrangement that opens ‘Twenties’. But fear not faithful children, the song rips hard. Papa is in full double-tracked demonic voice with whispered backing vocals over a thrashy riff. It captures the excess of the roaring 1920s, not a popular topic among metal bands, but one that suits Ghost’s gospel and serves to underline not only the rise of the Weirmer Germany and eventual Fascism, but also works as an analogy for the role the upper class enjoy in our current decade across the world.
Those who believe in Ghost know that their dark ballads are often a highlight. ‘Darkness at the Heart of my Love’ continues this tradition, with their best work in the genre since ‘He Is’. Invoking Johnny Cash with the opening line, “Will You Walk The Line?”, Ghost really goes full 80s with acoustic guitars, some killer electric leads, all backed by a powerful rhythm section and fat drum sound. Will it be my new karaoke song? Do they do karaoke in Hell? There’s probably enough people terrified of it that there must be a mic stand down there, but I digress. ‘Griftwood’ has a cool riff, even better bass line, some nice “ooohhs” and a poppy chorus. After another short instrumental (the gothic ‘Bite of Passage’), we finish with the pretty awesome ‘Respite on the SpitalFields’. It counts the end of empires, a slower lament of glory gone and kingdom’s fallen. The bridge has some real venom before the chorus soars through the heavens. It’s a nice bookend with ‘Karisarion’, with the strings and synths giving it a grandiose scale worthy of the album’s concept. It’s also a great showcase for Papa’s vocal range as he moves from clean to a more menacing spit and back for the chorus, backed by the ghoul choir.
Impera is a glorious return by Ghost. The concept gives them plenty of lyrical inspiration and there’s a few splendid musical additions as well. As a follow up to Prequelle it is right on the money, and it’s heavier than their last EP release (which featured ‘Kiss the Go-Goat’), so those in the clergy who were thrown off by that should come back and pray at the altar once more. Sure it is grandiloquent but they keep it metal too. It’s certainly a great addition to the Ghost cannon and an album I couldn’t stop playing and singing along with. Hopefully can share this at a gathering of the Australian clergy before the next album.
Ghost – Impera tracklisting
- Call Me Little Sunshine
- Hunter’s Moon
- Watcher In The Sky
- Darkness At The Heart Of My Love
- Grift Wood
- Bite Of Passage
- Respite On The SpitalFields
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