Album Review: Ghost - 'Impera'

12 March 2022 | 1:09 pm | Mark Hebblewhite

"Hit play, sit back and take a forty-something minute journey into rock'n'roll bliss."

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While I absolutely adored the theatrical pop turn of Ghost’s Prequelle album, there were many who, with some justification, thought that the album was far too much like an Andrew Lloyd Webber fever dream and not enough pure Blue Öyster Cult worship. Well, those critics will find a lot to like on Impera, the fifth missive from one of the most unlikely success stories in all of rock'n'roll. 

Now, this isn’t a true return to the stripped-down occult rock of Opus Eponymous but it is a far more muscular and nuanced effort than the highly polished and at times saccharine-sweet Prequelle. Impera starts with a short scene-setting instrumental (Imperium) before launching into a pair of tracks that would fit on an number of platinum selling seventies rock LPs. 

Kaisarion blasts out of the gates as a speedy rocker with some of Papa’s most energetic vocals to date while follow up track Spillways boasts a keyboard refrain that would make Toto erupt in a round of high fives and a group discussion about how many yachts they could buy with the inevitable royalties. While we’re on the glorious excesses of '70s rock, the album again turns that way with the closing tracks. Griftwood channels Van Halen with its opening riff before settling into a delightful mid-paced stomp, while album closer (and oddly titled) Respite on the Spitalfields is six and a half minutes of almost proggy goodness that twists and turns with the eerie menace and darkness that has become Ghost’s calling card.

It’s not all '70s stadium rock razzamatazz, however. Hunter’s Moon, a track that on first listen was a bit lacklustre, is actually a grower, a creepy and catchy stripped back track that worms its way into your consciousness with its off-kilter charm until you find yourself humming the main riff at inappropriate junctures. Similarly, the downright nasty Twenties, which sees Papa deliver a surprisingly sneering and belligerent vocal style, uses a central metallic barrage to great effect.

Being a Ghost album, melody of course remains at the heart of Impera. Nowhere is this more evident than on Darkness At The Heart Of My Love, a mid-tempo tune that gently soars with Papa proclaiming that he, and only he, can ‘set you free’. Where you will end up of course is left open to interpretation.

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Overall Impera is an impressive package. Once again, the album artwork (courtesy of Zbigniew Bielak) is mesmerising and main man Tobias Forge has been smart enough to surround himself with top-notch players and seek help from enough outside pop writers (Joakim Berg, Salim Al Faker and Vincent Pontare to name a few), to keep Ghost’s unbroken run of catchy hits intact.

I couldn’t care less which incarnation of Papa Emeritus we’re up to (it’s Papa Emeritus IV for those keeping count at home), or that his Satanic pope schtik is getting a little old and diluted. Nor do I care that Ghost went from playing the Maryland Deathfest to striding on stage in front of 40,000 casual fans in stadiums across the world, while Forge himself has gone from being a menacing otherworldly presence to a guy in make-up who seems to spend most of his time delivering dad jokes. 

What matters is the music, and Impera at its core is a slick, well-played album with enough metal heft for older fans and delightful pop hooks for everyone else. If you liked Meliora, you’re really going to like this record, which has tunes good enough to make you forget that this is a band that has reached a Kiss like saturation point in terms of marketing. 

Hit play, sit back and take a forty-something minute journey into rock'n'roll bliss.