A huge and remarkable rock record

Ever since they appeared out of the shadows with Opus Eponymous, Ghost has been a divisive force. Opinions are split between those seeing them as a clever, theatrical band existing as the logical bridge between the past and the future of heavy rock, and others who think they have very little worth. 

Every band has their fans and detractors, but Ghost is one of those for whom the hatred has often been intense, and the fifth album for the no-longer anonymous Swedes is not likely to shift those who feel that way about them.

Impera moves the band’s creative timeline forward from the darkness of the Black Death to the time of the great empires, and Cardinal Copia becomes Pope Emeritus IV to complete the Ghost tradition of transition between concepts.

The concepts change, but overall the music stays much the same – stylish arena rock that draws from 70s tradition, blended with the Swedish knack for catchy song writing, and occasional crunchy metal riffing. Like a hard rock David Bowie, Tobias Forge crafts his theatrical visions out of pieces of the works of those before him like a magpie. Unlike Bowie, Ghost don’t take huge, unpredictable creative leaps between works – five albums in and songs like Spillways are still haunted by Blue Öyster Cult aesthetics and the layered melodies of Boston. Poppier excursions like Call Me Little Sunshine and Hunter’s Moon echo Swedish rock’s long-held obsession with the sensibilities of ABBA, the riotous Twenties adds a vaudevillian touch that Alice Cooper brought to his 70s classics, Griftwood is a big uplifting Van Halen-style jam and the album’s one real metal song, Watcher in the Sky, will again have Ghost’s critics name-dropping Mercyful Fate.

Yet even given all those things, Impera is, like the ones before it, a huge and remarkable rock record from Ghost – intricate, layered, irresistibly catchy, nuanced and balanced, uproarious, uplifting, philosophical and moving. Given the current global situation, a concept album about the rise and fall of empires also makes Impera a timely and prescient release – just as Prequelle was. Tobias Forge may be a magpie, but it’s possible he’s some kind of prophet as well.

1. Imperium
2. Kaisarion
3. Spillways
4. Call Me Little Sunshine
5. Hunter’s Moon
6. Watcher in the Sky
7. Dominion
8. Twenties
9. Darkness at the Heart of My Love
10. Griftwood
11. Bite of Passage
12. Respite on the Spitalfields