Overall Score: 10/10/10 Accessibility: 9/10 Consistency: 10/10 Performances: 10/10 Pros: Ghost's biggest record yet. Proves you don't have to sacrifice identity to make people listen Cons: Twenties is a track that will take time to settle. It's better in the context of the album.
2018’s Prequelle saw Ghost transport its loyal followers to the middle ages, using this setting of plagues and poverty as a framing device for its narrative. Four years on from an album that forced us to survive through a tumultuous time and we have arrived at the other end. The industrial revolution is upon us on their fifth full-length album Impera. It’s shinier and more grandiose than ever. Yet this is Ghost so we don’t have to spend too long in this world to realise that not all that glitters is gold. Arguably the success story of the last decade, releasing Opus Eponymous 12 years ago, Tobias Forge and Ghost aren’t here to solely tell stories about revolution. They’re creating one of their own.
Ghost have always been a unique band. People will go into new material with the forethought that it may take time to grow on them. Once it does, it’ll unravel all its layers. Despite Forge’s incredible ear for melody and hooks, they often come wrapped in a veil of darkness that walks a line between satanic ritual and horror haunted house. That prerequisite in mind, Impera is Ghost’s most immediate and accessible album to date. Each track comes filled with huge, bright melodies that will solidify their place as an arena band.
Kaisarion and Griftwood are great examples of how Ghost have evolved into the band that they are today. They still feel like Ghost songs but so much bigger, pushing their stadium-rock influences to the front, channelling Van Halen and Mötley Crüe. These tracks have guitar-god like melodic sections that though they come from the Sunset Strip, they still play into the world of industrial revolution where bigger is better and excess is the currency of choice.
After Kaisarion welcomes us to Impera like an over-enthusiastic tour guide trying to distract you whilst simultaneously sweeping the cobwebs under the carpet, you’re then greeted by Spillways. Going full “spooky ABBA” with the opening keyboards and whipping out some Brian May (Queen) tricks along the way with its stacked harmonies, it’s at this point that we feel we’ve just reached Disneyland. After a few listens, when we start to take in the lyrics, cracks in the paint start to reveal themselves as some of the darkness seeps in. Moving into the next track, the real motivations and evils behind this wonder start to unfold.
If you were to sum up the storytelling and lyrical concepts of Ghost, the majority of their songs boil down to the key themes of the Devil, or evil in general, seducing people with false promises. Call Me Little Sunshine in similar ways to Cirice from Meliora (2015), is a clear representation of this lyrically. Ironically, it’s the two singles released ahead of the album (technically Hunter’s Moon was released first) that are the two tracks which take the longest to sink into. Call Me Little Sunshine does as good a job as Cirice in summing up who they are and what they do whilst worming their way into your brain with their melodies and slow-burn grooves. It may not be a track that blows people away on first listen but by the time we reach it in the record’s tracklist, it’s a certified anthem.
Impera’s other single was Twenties which comes after the mid-album interlude Dominion. Its choice as a single left many baffled as to what Impera had in store but it works far better when sequenced. Twenties comes in like the second half of a musical after the intermission and is the best track in terms of transporting us to this world. The track summarises the album’s take on revolution by expecting the masses to celebrate being a part of something that is built on greed by their own hands. It sounds like no other Ghost track with the newly appointed Papa Emeritus IV conducting a choir of brass and chimney sweeps. Twenties leaves us with a lot of questions upon first listen. When we give it time, however, it rewards us with the answers.
After seeing a lot of the highs and lows Impera has to offer, it presents two ballads in Darkness At The Heart Of My Love and Respite On The Spitalfields. With Griftwood in between to keep the momentum even, both tracks perfectly showcase Forge’s ear for beautiful melodies and his ability to pull us into a song. Whilst Darkness At The Heart Of My Love is maybe the most gorgeous track they’ve ever written, with its spiralling acoustic guitars and huge sing-along chorus, Respite On The Spitalfields is far darker. It’s still incredibly catchy. Forge plays a character vocally as he talks about Jack The Ripper and how the worst thing for the people of London was that he was never caught, creating a constant fear of when he would return. It might be their best story within a song and it’s a great way to close the record as the conductor takes on the role of a bard.
If there was any doubt that the trajectory of Ghost would have a ceiling, Impera smashes that to dust and continues to establish a skyline entirely of its own. They have once again proved that just like the devil himself, Ghost can appear in many forms. Changes to the musical and narrative inspiration on display as well as the framing device used to talk about religion, revolution and greed make Impera feel like a true one of a kind record yet simultaneously being the next logical step for the nameless ghouls and their guide.
Impera has all the ingredients Ghost needs to carry on their quest for world domination without sacrificing their uniqueness. They’re still a melting pot of contrasting ideas all covered in a black glaze with a few skulls and bats added on for good measure. This is their biggest and most accessible album yet but it never sacrifices one of the pillars of what Ghost is to make way for a wider audience. There is no stage too big for Tobias Forge and his merry band of misfits as they continue to be the light shining in the dark for bands who may be considered not commercial or current enough to make it big. Or perhaps they are calling you towards them from the other side…
Arise Papa Emeritus IV and long may his papacy continue. Impera.
Impera is available now via Loma Vista Recordings.
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