To a degree, Impera feels like the first Ghost album fully engulfed in its own wave of hype. They’ve always had backing within metal, but the crossover leaps that Prequelle made in 2018 saw just how weaponised the attraction to Ghost could be. The image and mystique will get people in the door, while the blends of classic pop, rock and metal are the key to keeping them there, and Prequelle was an important step in pinning that down for them. There’ll always be a contingent of the metal crowd who’ll think they’re ‘too cool’ for this, and won’t shut up about how it’s ‘not metal’, so why not just dial up the pop factor and make the best music of your career in the process? Needless to say, Ghost are on one hell of a roll lately in terms of music, live reputation and how invested people have gotten in their mythos, to where an extra couple of cranks of bombast and theatrics on Impera couldn’t make more sense. The opening yowl and hair-metal joyride of Kaisarion set the tone pretty well in that regard, not necessarily stylistically, but more so in how Ghost are going in all guns blazing to have the best time on this album. They’re definitely hitting on the areas and sources that get their quickest; there’s a proto-prog flair à la Supertramp or Foreigner on Spillways’ dancing pianos and gaudy vocal embellishments, while Darkness At The Heart Of My Love and Respite On The Spitalfields are pure ‘80s power-ballad swell, particularly the latter in the liquid guitar and crashing, steaming drums that are peak Def Leppard. There’s still metal to be found here on Call Me Little Sunshine and Hunter’s Moon, though even that’s crossbred with goth-pop luxuriance that’s entirely its own thing. All of that makes the inclusion of Twenties all the more perplexing, where the parping Danny Elfman horns have surprisingly little body to them, and the hard rock pivot is an uncharacteristically clunky one for Ghost. It’s an outlier here by far, given how much work has been put into how much Impera will ooze personality and style at practically every other point.
It’s important to note just how impeccably balanced Ghost will keep that too, in that they aren’t using said style to fill in for their own deficiencies like so many other bands will. They aren’t writing with a ton of depth, but it’s always fun to see them twist a pop song format to fit their dark-as-an-aesthetic grandeur; descriptions of them as the ‘satanic Queen’ really do feel justified across this album. It’s why, again, Twenties feels so out of place, as a ‘prove the haters wrong’ anthem that not only doesn’t gel with where Ghost as a band are (or, really, have ever been), but also feels beneath them. At their best, there’s an exuberance and fun that Ghost will pull off so expertly, where songs like Spillways and Griftwood revel in how clearly enormous they know they are, and Darkness At The Heart Of My Love will totally nail its stabs at pure power-balladry. There’s not a mega-anthem of the same calibre as Dance Macabre on Impera, but some of these aren’t that far off either, to where that brand of arena-rock that’s instantly recognisable to them feels like a lane that Ghost have locked themselves into for the best. On their level and scale, no one’s using the same classic rock guitar peel in as effective a way as them, nor are they giving bass-work this nimble the chance to shine as much as Ghost’s seldom-cluttered mix does. As for Tobias Forge as a frontman, he’s brimming with the character winks and nods to swiftly astroturf over any technical shortcomings, as the band’s mercurial, enigmatic mouthpiece with the beating heart of a stadium conqueror beneath it. There’s a confidence to Ghost that’s been evident for a while, but only on recent albums has it crystallised into something with genuine legs under it, and that’s definitely hit a new peak with Impera. Within the wider metal space, there will be few albums you’ll hear that embrace their own desire to have fun more than this one, and done so with panache and bravado that are the ideal bedfellows for camp, exalted material like this. It’s genuinely great that Ghost continue to have a platform of their size to do what they do; metal as a whole would be poorer without them.
For fans of: Metallica, Blue Öyster Cult, The Sword
‘Impera’ by Ghost is released on 11th March on Loma Vista Recordings.
Words by Luke Nuttall