By Greg Maki
Ghost mastermind Tobias Forge has said “Impera,” the band’s fifth full-length, is about the rise and fall of empires, yet even more than that it plays like a celebration of Ghost itself, reveling in all of the over-the-top, bombastic tendencies that have propelled the occult act to the top of the hard rock/metal world.
Almost four years ago, I wrote that the 2018 album “Prequelle” would take the “formerly niche band into the stratosphere of superstardom.” Behind hit singles “Rats” and “Dance Macabre,” the record did exactly that as concert halls became larger and larger. Seizing the moment, “Impera” is the arena rock version of Ghost, with airy production seemingly designed to fill the largest possible rooms and an up-tempo sound tailor-made for maximum crowd participation.
The short intro of “Imperium” gradually, majestically builds to the first proper song, “Kaisarion,” ushered in by a bright guitar lead and an almost Queen-like vocal shriek from Forge. The track channels a bit of Rush, as well, with proggy twists and turns, while still remaining a rousing opening number. “Spillways” leans heavily on keys a la Bon Jovi’s early hit “Runaway”—there’s a comparison I never thought I’d make in a Ghost review—before the trio of “Call Me Little Sunshine,” “Hunter’s Moon” and “Watcher in the Sky” takes on a darker, more sinister feel that’s closer to classic Ghost.
“Dominion” welcomes the record’s second half with solemn horns, and the brassy sounds remain for the ensuing “Twenties,” which, despite a doom-laden sound, is playful enough to include a lyric such as “We’ll be grabbing ’em all by the hoo-has.” “Darkness at the Heart of My Love” is a full-on power ballad that back in the day would’ve inspired a sea of lighters held high for each performance; today it’s cellphones, but the overall effect is as mesmerizing as the song itself. “Grift Wood” is more of a pop-rocker with a Van Halen-style riff, and after the acoustic segue “Bite of Passage,” leave it to Ghost to wrap things up with a triumphant power ballad inspired by Jack the Ripper. “Respite on the Spital Fields” is a gorgeous album-closer and perhaps the first track in the band’s catalog to qualify as “epic.”
While “Impera” has a markedly different feel from the rest of the Ghost discography—and sounds almost nothing like the 2010 debut album “Opus Eponymous”—it just might be the best recorded encapsulation of what Ghost is all about when taking into account all aspects of the band (live shows, music videos, merchandising, etc.). Rather than taking a dramatic turn, it continues a natural evolution that has made Ghost one of the most intriguing and purely entertaining acts in rock music today.
Loma Vista Records – March 11, 2022