The most ghostly of Ghost albums to date, “IMPERA” is chock full of hook-heavy songs — nearly perfect in execution from beginning to end.
Arguably the most ubiquitous rock-metal band in the scene right now, it seems like everywhere you turn, you find Swedish hard-rock act Ghost in the spotlight. From interviews across multiple magazines and websites, tours, videos, and other random pop-ups, Papa Emeritus and a couple of nameless ghouls invariably look back at you, tempting you into blasphemy. Most bands could only wish for this level of success.
On the flip side of that coin, however, is the fact that very few musical acts are as polarizing as Ghost.
From the satanic imagery to the rotating stable of masked “Nameless Ghoul” musicians, folks either understand (and dig) what Tobias Forge and co. are all about, or they’re on the outside judging harshly.
But, love them or hate them, there is no denying that Ghost is on an upward trajectory, one that does not seem to be slowing in the slightest.
When your satanic-themed, mask-wearing, heavy rock band is appearing on Jimmy Kimmel Live, you know you’re in the big leagues — which is ironic, considering that Ghost has consistently been followed by controversy here in the United States.
Of course, media polemic is the best thing that can happen to an artist of nearly any medium (at least for brand recognition and sales), and Ghost has certainly not suffered due to the back and forth.
Formed in Sweden in 2006, Ghost first gained fame with their 2010 (2011 in the US) release OPUS EPONYMOUS.
Featuring a classic sound that harkened back to hard rock and metal of the 70s and 80s, they were a fresh voice in a stagnating genre. Part Black Sabbath, part Blue Oyster Cult, with a dash of Judas Priest, Ghost was a band out of time, bringing a stripped-down sound back to the forefront of rock/metal. Even though Elizabeth was the officially released single, it would be the dark track Ritual which would be the catalyst for the band’s ascension.
With each subsequent release, frontman/vocalist Tobias Forge tinkered with the Ghost formula, shedding certain elements while adopting others, ultimately refining the sound into what it is today; heavy hooks, stomping beats, and riff-centric tracks, all tied together with Tobias’ clear and inimitable voice.
As such, 2022’s IMPERA is the ultimate culmination (manifestation?) of the Ghost sound, resulting in their most cohesive and accomplished album to date.
While each LP (and single) prior had a few standout tracks, IMPERA is very nearly perfect from start to finish, featuring a host of songs that all stand proudly on their own. Almost each of which could be a single in its own right.
That’s not to say that IMPERA is some producer’s wet dream, full of Grammy-baiting fluff but lacking in actual content.
No, this is still very much Ghost at its Ghostliest, with all of the core elements intact.
The band is simply more confident, with a sharper delivery and more polished sound that does nothing to diminish their classic metal leanings.
You won’t find any progressive elements here, no virtuoso histrionics. Just simple, well-crafted songs that don’t overstay their welcome. And never let it be said that Tobias Forge is lacking when it comes to crafting both melodies and stadium-worthy choruses. While the musicianship is always top-notch, Ghost will forever be defined by Tobias’ unmistakable voice and the hooks he seems to pull out of thin air.
Of course, it’s not only the music that defines Ghost.
There’s the incredible album art, the flamboyant costumes, the mystery of the Nameless Ghoul’s true identities, and the stellar live shows. It’s not a stretch to say that Ghost is much more than a band at this point; they are a worldwide product.
It’s a product that has fashioned what is still my favorite hard-rock/metal album of the year (so far).
I have consistently enjoyed their previous offerings but found myself skipping more than a few tracks on each release. Not that they are bad by any means. But after five full-length LPs, a host of EPs, and a smattering of storming cover songs, there are bound to be selections that can’t compete.
But, as mentioned earlier, IMPERA is solid through and through.
Yes, there are still standouts, but none of the songs are what I would deem as skippable.
Speaking of standouts, here are the tracks that haunted my eardrums the most:
The bass guitar and drums really propel this track forward, with the guitars almost a secondary consideration. Tobias is in top form, his voice soaring over the imminently irresistible chorus like he’s been doing it for several lifetimes. A quintessential Ghost song and definitely a good one to play to get a feel for what this band is all about.
Call Me Little Sunshine
Starting out with a gloriously evocative opening guitar riff, Call Me Little Sunshine is everything that I want a Ghost track to be; bombastic, propulsive, and infectious. Larger than life. With the bass guitar prevalent in the mix, it’s not a stretch to call this (and more than a few other Ghost songs, as well) a groovy track. The brief moments of the somber choir should clash with Tobias’ higher vocal delivery, but the two complement each other. My favorite song on the album, hands down.
If there’s one track that sounds like the Ghost of ten years ago, it would be Hunter’s Moon. Choral chants, prominent guitars, and a great outro help this track shine bright. Similar in feel to Spillways, it still carves out its own identity. Hunter’s Moon is short and sweet but hits all the requisite notes along the way.
One can’t talk about IMPERA without talking about Twenties. Despite the brass horn opening, this is one of the heaviest tracks on the album and even has moments of heavy metal double-bass action. Despite this fact, Twenties is…well…quite possibly the most ridiculous song that I’ve heard in a long time. Yes, it’s catchy, engaging, and purposeful, but only a band like Ghost could take a lyric like “grabbing them all by the hoo-haw” and have it land with such effectiveness. That they’re poking fun at former President Trump is all part of the great joke. Ghost takes everything wrong with the past several years and distills it all down into a three-and-a-half minute head-nodder.
Darkness at the Heart of My Love
One hell of a ballad, which is hit-or-miss for me with Ghost. But everything clicks here; the lyrics, the music, the powerful chorus. Takes the traditional saccharine love angle of most ballads and skews it, adding great swaths of evil over the proceedings. This is both expected and most welcome.
Just a damn fine track, featuring every trick that Ghost has up their sleeves. More straightforward rock than hard-rock or metal, this is Ghost skirting the edge of Blue Oyster Cult territory. And that’s just fine. Transitions to a nearly spiritual interlude in the middle before picking back up into a great guitar solo. Solid offering.
Yes, they touch on nearly all of the great taboos (at least here in the US) of the past few decades, whether it be sexuality and nudity, dark/evil imagery, anti-establishment lyrics against the dominant religions, etc. Some folks can’t get past that, and I get it. No judgments here. But it is a shame, as Ghost crafts some truly incredible songs.
I doubt that IMPERA will convert any Ghost haters; it’s still them, just more accessible and polished. But for believers like me, this is exactly what I wanted from the Swedish rockers.
Ghost has never been one to skimp on studio magic, and IMPERA continues that tradition with absolutely top-notch production values.
It also needs to be noted that there are two instrumentals on IMPERA; album opener Imperium, which is a great warm-up to the rest of the LP, and Dominion, which serves as a transition between the first and second halves of the album. I can’t really count them as “songs” so much as interludes.
I also want to take a moment to address the vinyl, which is absolutely stunning.
In this day & age of digital downloads and streaming, I feel like folks are missing out when it comes to actually “owning” a physical copy of something like this. Looking at the album artwork on a screen cannot compete with holding it in your hands. And aside from the rich analog audio, you can’t digitally simulate the tactile feel and the smell of a physical record as well.
This is one LP that I am glad to have in my actual collection.
Now, enough of this review, back to the music. Dark spirits, I summon thee to my turntable once more!