Ghost — Impera (Spinefarm)
Has there ever been a more gripping Ghost story?
Disturbing religious overtones. Nameless ghouls. Devil worship and creeping death.
Chapter upon chapter of riotous, ritualistic mayhem.
Tantalising twists and unexpected turns as key figures come and go like night and day.
And soundtracking it all, a heady mix of psychedelic doom, a penchant for the progressive and waves of AOR-influenced melodic rock.
As the fifth instalment in this overblown observation on the occult, Impera is a glorious exercise in 80s-styled excess.
With Cardinal Copia’s legacy assured, the pressure was on Papa Emeritus IV to exceed expectations and engage the disbelievers.
And the latest, greatest incarnation of cerebral founder Tobias Forge has helmed a record so spectacular it hurts.
In retrospect, Ghost’s previous long players have been no more than a necessary slow build towards Impera’s steepling, stunning and reassuringly startling peak.
Looking back, debut Opus Eponymous and follow-up Infestissumam were mere signposts towards the ultimate, demoniacal destination.
Even the magnificent Meliora and prurient Prequelle (previously the most alluring of all Ghost albums) can’t touch Impera.
In fact, Forge could call time on mysterious masterwork right here, right now and nobody could complain.
Go out on a high or try to improve perfection?
When the dust settles on the imperious Impera that will be the first and only question facing Ghost’s redoubtable ringmaster.
Ghost Into The Darkness?
Is Forge a secret admirer of the Hawkins brothers and their own, unique brand of pomp-fuelled party rock?
It can be argued that Darkness At The Heart Of My Love doth protest too much.
But this is an album that flagrantly leans on just about every melodic rock trope that ever existed.
And it’s all the better for it.
The turbo-charged Thin Lizzy-meets-Toto anthem Spillways is a truly special song.
Echoes of Rush flesh out the evocative Kaisarion.
And there’s an emotional tribute to the late, great Eddie Van Halen as the retro-fuelled intro. to Griftwood sees Forge wear his 80s influences on his sleeve.
Those seeking a brief but nonetheless immersive trip into Ghost’s recent past will find much to love in the quasi-religious instrumental Dominion.
And rousing set closer Respite On The Spitalfields fuses Hysteria-esque dual guitar melodies and an In The Still Of the Night-era Whitesnake-styled riff with a furious lyrical flourish.
Even by Ghost’s unrivalled standards, Impera’s final hurrah is quite astonishing.
But this is a unique record that sets the creative bar impossibly high…and clears it by some distance.
Can Papa Emeritus IV Persuade The Disbelievers?
That Ghost remain one of rock’s most divisive acts is as much of a mystery as the identity of Papa Emeritus IV’s Nameless Ghouls.
But Impera is a record that envisions unity and empowerment, rather than doubt and disaffection.
If Ghost’s fifth and finest album doesn’t convince the critics then nothing will.
Impera demands awe and adulation in equal measure.
It’s a piece of art unrivalled in the rock and metal world, such is its seamless (some will say shameless) amalgamation of both genres’ historical highlights.
There’s Metallica, The Almighty, Boston, Dio-era Sabbath and more.
Much, much more.
But underpinning it all is an identity forged in mid-noughties Sweden at a time when genre boundaries had already blurred and guitar music needed new heroes.
In truth, they have been for some time.
That’s it’s taken the world a while to catch up is hardly Forge’s fault.
Impera’s hugely important, reassuringly impudent and mightily impressive.