ALBUM REVIEW: Impera (GHOST)
ALBUM Impera // ARTIST Ghost
The clergy have spoken: sonic rigidity is out and bombastic, scintillating glee is in via Impera, aka the vivid fifth full length outing from Swedish mavericks Ghost.
If you're a fan of metal, rock or tongue-in-cheek Satanic themes, chances are the name Ghost isn't entirely unfamiliar; in fact, you may very well inadvertently know the lyrics to their 2016 uptempo earworm Square Hammer and not even realise it, much like I did years ago. But while the group's Abba-meets-Iron-Maiden-for-goths sonic stylings have only evolved with measured theatricality and enigmatic popularity since their debut album Opus Eponymous back in 2010, it's upon witnessing the group's live show that the uninitiated fall entirely under a submersive Ghost spell, thanks largely to the eccentric onstage antics of frontman Tobias Forge and his various characters, as well as the shrouded Nameless Ghouls who routinely and anonymously rise to arena-ready heights.
As the years have passed, and in particular since the group's most recent album, Prequelle in 2018, one thing is abundantly clear in 2022: a brand new Ghost outing is always going to be increasingly laced with verbose production and vibrant hot genre takes on metal, hard rock and poppy goth genres, and the group's fifth album Impera is certainly no exception. The veneration is real, thanks largely to the fact that Forge's Cardinal Copia has now ascended to be the fourth incarnation of Papa Emeritus. But it's not just the looming character Forge helms Impera with that makes this album feel like a "moment" - it's the unbridled celebration of unique stylistic detours alongside narratives centred on the rising and falling of empires and beyond that defiantly lures you into a carefully curated world of hooks and hedonistic delights.
Kicking off with a lush texture-fest on the instrumental opener Imperium, Impera truly takes flight with the joyous hair metal jaunt Kaisarion next that clutches at galloping rhythmics, fiery guitars and Forge's potent vocals, ranging from screams to silky swagger. Up next, the piano-driven Spillways brings all of the ostentatious 80s vibes, channeling the likes of Foreigner, Bon Jovi and beyond as Papa and the Ghouls ham it up in irresistibly glistening fashion.
Toning down the tempo momentarily, the moodier Call Me Little Sunshine harks back to earlier stylistic moments from Ghost's 2015 opus Meliora, elegantly marrying nostalgic metal with gilded pop, and also proving to be a track that will continue to bewitch you on each return visit. Also marking a winner for fans of organs in their sonic coffee, Call Me Little Sunshine also showcases the overarching diversity in the Ghost arsenal (and brandishes some extremely sharp percussion for good measure).
One of Impera's lead singles, Hunter's Moonm thematically ties in with an empire falling, namely the empire of childhood, as the track, featured on the soundtrack for the 2021 slasher flick Halloween Kills, injects some more sinister intonation into proceedings, before Watcher In The Sky rounds out the first half of the album by dragging your ears to riff city alongside thunderous beats and skyscraper hooks.
Dominion regally introduces Side B of Impera with a brassy and pompous instrumental requiem before things get entirely orchestral on the opener for Twenties. One of the more recent tracks to have been unveiled ahead of the album release, Twenties may kick off with grandiose intentions, but Forge soon swoops in snarling and oozing his way through this moment of demonic, thrashy goodness that takes aim at the excess of the 1920s in with measured yet ambitious bad-assery that only a band like Ghost could ever convincingly pull off.
It wouldn't truly be a Ghost outing without a ballad turn, and Darkness At The Heart Of My Love brings a sublime moment of baroque-meets-the-1980s, with oscillating instrumentals, guitar wails and an entirely emphatic outing from Forge via Papa IV. And speaking of 80s, Ghost get their Van Halen on next via Griftwood, with plenty of bouncy pop and beefy basslines to sink your teeth into. And before the Impera journey comes to a final conclusion, the brief and eerie 30 second Bite Of Passage takes a brief instrumental breath, before the gothic glee ignites on closing track Respite on the Spitalfields. Flitting between swaying, lush choruses and more menacing moments, Respite on the Spitalfields packs in a spotlight moment for both Papa and the Ghouls, but especially so for Forge who effortlessly morphs between wafting lament and more caustic moments.
Undeniably already a larger-than-life outing, inducting various guest musicians on Impera, including the likes of Fredrik Åkesson from Opeth, proves a winning balance for Ghost between the revolving door of genres on display throughout the twelve tracks. While the riffs and the glam and the grit all find homes on this latest endeavour, the true genius behind Ghost's latestt opus lies in the fact that it truly is a shower and a grower, entirely offering something new and fresh with each revisit - and also presenting something entirely more enjoyable listened to within context from start to finish.
"Is it metal?", the metalheads will ask themselves once again while devouring Impera. But frankly, with so much luxurious gothic pop and brawny riffage to descend into throughout the album, the overarching genre wars pale in comparison to just literally enjoying this majestic ride and giving in to the polish and new heights hit on this new release.
At the end of the day, Ghost are a band who equally straddle fun and ferocity, both in their music and from their very own fans, teetering, at times, ever-so-closely to gimmick and pomposity that, left in the wrong hands, would spiral beyond control. But perhaps the biggest ace up the Ghost sleeve, seen in prismatic display on Impera, is the group's nuanced ability to flirt with the occult, blazing menace and irresistible joy without ever breaking a sweat. Bravado and poise unite on Impera, and Ghost have furthered their reign in the broader metal empire on album number five. Bow down and give in to one of the most entertaining heavy albums to grace 2022.
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BY TIANA SPETER