I remember the first time I saw Ghost live. It was back in 2011 when they supported In Flames and Trivium at the Defenders of the Faith tour. At the time, I was a hardcore Trivium fan and pretty blinkered to them and them alone. When Ghost appeared on stage, my first thought was “what fresh hell is this? Get this gimmick off the stage.” I wasn’t particularly enamoured by what appeared to be a walking corpse in his pyjamas wearing a fancy hat swinging a smoking ball about the place. But when they opened with ‘Con Clavi Con Dio,’ I was instantly drawn in by the atmosphere, the grandeur, the rhythm and the sheer audacity of it all. Suddenly, the pyjamas and the fancy hat didn’t seem to bother me so much. In fact, I embraced it.
Ghost embody all the decadence and catchy theatrics of 80s stadium rock with epic Satanic elements and a heavy metal core. Over the last 10 years, the band (with the enigmatic mastermind Tobias Forge at it’s helm) have gone from strength to strength with each record exceeding it’s predecessor. But how does ‘Impera‘ match up to 2018’s ‘Prequelle?’ Can the coming of the Industrial age and the crashing chaos of crumbling empires supersede pestilence and the plague? The short answer to this is; yes. Yes it does and it blows it right out the water.
Forge enlisted Opeth’s Fredrik Åkesson to assist with guitars on this record. He states:
“I’m an able drummer, a bass player, an able guitar player, but I’m not a virtuoso. This time around, I actually had another guitar player coming in, mounting the massive work of actually redoing everything. I’ve played guitar all my life, but, unlike most guitar players who are in successful bands, they play as they tour. I am doing a whole slew of other things, so, it almost feels like every time I saw start writing again, and demoing and doing pre-production, I quickly have to go up to par again. I had a friend of mine, Fredrik Åkesson, the guitar player from Opeth. He’s the sort of person who plays five hours every day. He’s so amazingly talented. He can play circles around anything that I put on tape and he can do it with flair.”
We begin with ‘Imperium.’ A sombre, haunting guitar accompanied by marching drums. It’s not unlike Ghost to open a record with a dramatic instrumental to set the tone for the rest of the record. This leads nicely in to the vastly upbeat and power ballad-esque ‘Kaisarion‘ which has already been showcased on YouTube following it’s live debut on Ghost’s current US tour. This track is nothing short of rousingly epic with it’s prog influenced time signatures, soaring guitar solos and Forge’s hauntingly theatrical vocals. ‘Spillways‘ opens with a strong 80s influenced keyboard reminiscent of the likes of Meatloaf and choir-ific backing vocals complementing Forge’s leading vocals. Another stadium-smashing, rousing power ballad in the same vein as Queen that will get the crowd chanting during the chorus and vibing to more soaring guitar solos.
‘Call Me Little Sunshine‘ and ‘Hunter’s Moon‘ need no further introduction having been two of three incredibly popular single releases from the record. Leaning more towards the heavier, catchy side to Ghost than the previous tracks of the record, the change of pace and tone here is welcome and prevents the record from stagnating.
‘Watcher In The Sky‘ is a chugging, fist-pumping, bass heavy, riffing wonder and incorporates classic 80s rock with a heavy metal blend. This track is absolutely stunning and the guitar solo two thirds of the way in to the track is absolutely astronomical.
‘Dominion‘ serves as an interlude, a emotively heavy one at that with it’s use of brass instruments which sets latest single ‘Twenties‘ up quite nicely. This is definitely the heaviest, thrashiest track of the record.
‘Darkness At The Heart Of My Love‘ is a sprawling, emotionally dramatic soundscape serving to contrast the previous heaviness of the previous tracks and begins the descent towards the end of the record; get your lighters out for this one.
‘Griftwood‘ and ‘Respite Of The Spitalfields‘ are both epically sprawling power-ballads of the heighest standard. Soaring guitar solos, heavy basslines, thunderous drumming and strong backing vocals offsetting Forge’s dramatically theatrical lyrical prowess. The record ends just as strongly as it began.
From small, underground venues to supporting Metallica and destroying arenas on their own tour, Ghost have never ceased to amaze. You can either like them or loathe them but the fact remains, they know what they’re doing and continue to smash their own boundaries in the most opulent way possible. ‘Impera‘ is a strong contender for my Top 10 Albums of 2022; I completely vibed with this record and give it 9/10.
Released By: Loma Vista
Release Date: 11th March 2022
For Fans Of: Volbeat, Iron Maiden, Soilwork
Favourite Track(s): Pretty much all of them.