Ghost Give Up Satan for Arena-Sized Ambition on 'Impera'

BY Manus HopkinsPublished Mar 11, 2022

As Ghost's popularity rose over the past decade, it was obvious there would come a day when the Swedish occult-metal outfit would move away from their over-the-top Satanic themes into more accessible, chart-friendly territory. 2018's Prequelle saw the band, led by mastermind Tobias Forge, play it safer than ever. While Ghost showed that they were able to produce songs that could comfortably be played in arena settings, they also lost some of their bite in doing so. The good news for longtime Ghost fans is that with Impera, Forge has created a more thematically interesting and more musically complex album than its predecessor. The bad news is that Impera is still more of a continuation of the trajectory the band has been on its past few years than a return to their devil-worshiping earlier days. 

Let's start with the good things. "Call Me Little Sunshine" and "Twenties" are some of the strongest songs in Ghost's catalog thus far, the former featuring one of the catchiest riffs in the band's career, and the latter making incredible use of unorthodox rhythmic work — something we actually hear quite a bit throughout Impera. Closer "Respite on the Spitalfields" is a near-perfect song, taking Ghost's signature sound and ramping up the '70s and '80s elements to create an epic, heroic culmination, stopping just short of ending up in self-indulgent prog rock territory.

The album's theme, centring on the fall of empire, serves the music well, playing into a grandiosity and epic feel for which Ghost's old sinister sound has now been completely swapped out, for better or worse. Ghost have always made catchy songs with pop elements, and most of Impera's tracks are no exception, but holding the album up next to the band's earlier efforts — which sound like hymns for an evil church service — only a shadow of the upside-down gospel music that first put Ghost on the map remains. These songs sound as if they were written specifically to be played in arenas by a world-class rock band, not at strange, cult-like gatherings. 

Impera isn't without its missteps, however. Thankfully, it doesn't include overly long instrumental tracks like Prequelle did, but it does have some unnecessary interludes that could have just been parts of the tracks into which they lead. The power metal-esque guitar work and chorus of "Kaisarion" come off sounding cartoonish, even for Ghost. "Hunter's Moon" is a fine cut, but it doesn't have a memorable chorus or lead riff to really make it a standout. 

Impera is a solid album and an obvious next step in Ghost's career. It's bittersweet to see the campy Satanic days firmly behind the band, but any old-school fan should still be proud to see what the band has achieved, and it's clear that Impera is the album Ghost needed to take their career to the next level. They've stuck to their guns enough that they may not change the minds of many of their scathing critics, but with a new, less evil image and feel, they should be able to attract a more mainstream audience and continue their trajectory into becoming a flagship band for 21st century rock. Still, it's sad to see the old Ghost go.
(Loma Vista)

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