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If Ghost as a band felt difficult to pin down before, musically speaking, Impera certainly doesn’t do much to help that feeling of confusion. Starting out with a dark blend of underground gothic metal, with every step along the world they go, and with every album that they grace us with we get a new flavour of musical evolution that feels heavily tied into the passing of decades that influenced the band themselves. Lead singer Tobias Forge (aka Papa Emeritus, aka Cardinal Copia, aka a long list of other names), seems determined to take his love of all things 80s and use that to drive Ghost into the popular public opinion whether they like it or not.
Thankfully for us, Impera is the sort of outrageously bold offering that would be impossible not to love for its sheer audaciousness, let alone the fact it’s an absolutely brilliant record at the same time. A turbo-charged version of their 2018 effort Prequelle, Impera turns all the knobs until they fall off and showers us with a pure, unadulterated tribute to arena rock. Let’s have a listen together, shall we?
Opener Imperium gives us not only a sweeping taste of things to come and what will inevitably be the opening music for when the band come on stage for the next tour, with big announcement style bugling just to start. Kaserion, however, blows the roof off the limit of our expectations immediately, launching into a scream so 1980s that I’d imagine a lot of 50 year old groupies got all warm and didn’t know why when I played it. It’s a charging, synth doused belter about giving lip service – which might have been ironic enough to mention, had the song itself not felt so much like the real deal.
Spillways is a chorus ridden series of oozin’ ahhs that feels like it fell off the back of a Toto Greatest Hits album and hit whoever wrote the original Pokémon theme song on the way down. That’s not to mention that I’m pretty sure the piano section is lifted almost verbatim from at least two different ABBA songs. How this one didn’t get to a single is beyond me; it sums up not only what this whole album is about, but it’s a clear leader in the song quality stakes too. I haven’t stopped listening to it, daily, since the album came out.
Call Me Little Sunshine needs little in the way of introduction, given how wildly popular it’s been on both mainstream radio and worldwide talk shows alike. It’s a stew that’s two parts thumping tribute to Iron Maiden crossed with a tinge of that crawly, Alice Cooper style of presentation in the vocals. It’s a bit more traditionally Ghost, in the sense that the campy, Satan-worshipping comes back but it’s still got that Impera sheen over it that lends it an incurable ear-worm quality.
I remember hearing Hunter’s Moon for the first time a while before the album released, and my first opinion being a lot worse than it is now. I guess within the context of the album it not only makes a lot more sense in a tonal shift sort of way, but by any stretch it still doesn’t quite meet the heights of what comes before it. Watcher In The Sky, however, is another big slice of AOR that’s designed for an arena full of people to belt along to – and there’s no chance that they won’t. There are some killer backing vocals peppered throughout that I’d love to have heard more of through the whole record, too, but this one is all about big lungs and screaming into the air.
Dominion is a much more old-school Ghost-esque filler track, but a filler track nonetheless so I won’t do it much more than this sentence. What it does successfully do is mark a transition into most recent single Twenties, a song that started out so unlike the rest of the album so far that I had to check if my Spotify Premium had run out and that an advert was playing. It’s a politically charged anthem (“grab ‘em by the hoo-hah” sound familiar?) that sound-wise falls somewhere between System of a Down and The Rocky Horror Picture Show and, despite sounding out of place in an album full of 80s cake, is still a fantastic record.
And then, like nothing ever happened, Darkness At The Heart of my Love brings back some Def Leppard-era soft rock crooning that’s packed with more cheese than two fondue sets. There was always going to be a ballad, it feels like it would have been illegal for their not to be given the theme, and this one is perfectly serviceable for that. Griftwood continues that Jovi love-in the band started earlier with some big chunky hooks, and a guitar solo that would make my mum start blushing.
Bite of Passage is another one of those transition tracks that seem more than a little numerous by this stage of the album, but this one actually directly feeds into the closer, Respite on the Spitalfields, a traversal of all the hardest hitting beats of the NWOBHM era, shone through the lens of a rock opera about Jack the Ripper. Yes, it’s a bit bonkers and the lyrics are, well they’re a bit wonky in places, but it feels like a fitting end to proceedings.
How about a nice little conclusion to wrap things up then? This is, frankly, an album you’d be pretty daft to miss, regardless of your views on 80s rock and metal or not. It’s meaty and lasered in to such a specific time, yet it feels more accessible than anything Ghost have ever released. It’s not just a love letter; the band have made Impera into a piece of technical excellence that not only impresses on a surface level, but even more so once all the hard work that has gone into the inner workings has been revealed. It’s a stone cold ten, so do yourself a favour and let it into your life.
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