Ghost – ‘Impera’

By Ash Bebbington

At the risk of alienating our international readers in the first sentence, Ghost are like Marmite. What we mean by this is that most rock fans have a strong, firmly held opinion of them, one way or another.

While legions of fans around the world adore their unashamedly cheesy pop-rock, others find it all too cloying, too camp, too silly. To that latter group, we say: lighten up a bit. Who said that rock ‘n’ roll was meant to be completely serious? For our money, Ghost is one of the best bands on the planet right now, and ‘Impera’ is another fine addition to an increasingly brilliant back catalogue. If you love Ghost, you’ll love this album. If you hate them, give it a go anyway – the record is of such high quality that it may even win you over.

If you’ve never heard Ghost, you might take a look at the cover of ‘Impera’, or a picture of the band themselves, and assume they’re a death metal band and that’s not an unfair assumption as ringleader and sole unmasked member Tobias Forge – under the name Papa Emeritus IV – exclusively takes to the stage dressed in papal garb and a corpse painted prosthetic mask (as a side note, any resemblance towards the aesthetics of satanic black metal is almost certainly on purpose, as many of the band’s lyrics make reference to Satan and the occult). Forge is joined on stage by the ‘nameless ghouls’, the anonymous musicians wearing near-identical masks and costumes who bring his vision to life.

While aesthetically Ghost leans on the style and trappings of heavy music, however, musically they don’t actually have much in common with modern metal. They make eccentric, radio-ready rock that draws as much influence from twentieth-century metal bands as it does from more palatable music from that era, such as Pink Floyd and David Bowie.

With ‘Impera’, the Swedish titans have cemented their place as one of the best mainstream rock bands in the world right now. Forge is on world-beating form here, showcasing his vocal range from high pitched chorus lines to spooky growls. Meanwhile, his band of nameless ghouls are also exceptional, creating a sonic canvas of rock bombast for Forge to bring to life with his vocals.

Opener ‘Kaisarion’ gets proceedings underway in typically raucous fashion, with a Freddie Mercury-esque falsetto vocal over duelling guitars. Setting the tone for the rest of the record, sounding like something from a bygone era. This is a pacy, upbeat number that seems tailor-made to be the first song on the band’s setlist for many years to come.

‘Little Sunshine’ and ‘Hunter’s Moon’ are classic Ghost, wonderfully written rock songs with colossal choruses that get stuck in your head after you’ve only heard them once. ‘Watcher in the Sky’ is the album’s heaviest moment, with metallic riffing, gruff vocal lines in the verses, and ludicrously chunky guitar tone. It’s almost certainly the catchiest moment too, with the chorus refrain repeated so often it’s impossible to forget after even one listen.

It wouldn’t be a Ghost record without a ballad, of course, and ‘Darkness at the Heart of my Love’ fulfils that role. At its core, it’s a glammed-up pop song that utilises acoustic guitars, keyboards and synths.

‘Twenties’ is by far the album’s most weird and wonderful track, and maybe the most experimental song Ghost has ever put their name to. The track makes heavy use of a horn section, not exactly common in this genre but amazingly it really works here. On vocal duties,  Forge sounds like a theatrical villain in a Tim Burton flick, as he predicts the events of the next decade by evoking visions of the roaring twenties: “In the Twenties / We’ll be dancing in the fields of freedom / In the Twenties / We’ll be crushing them laws ‘cause we don’t need ‘em”.

Surely, off the back of this stellar record, and with a European arena tour in the diary for April and May, Ghost have to be in the conversation to headline some of the continent’s biggest festivals sooner rather than later. Whether you love or hate them, you’d better get used to seeing them around – with an album as amazing as ‘Impera’ under their belt, they’re only going to get bigger and bigger.

ASH BEBBINGTON

 

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