It is quite common for artists to draw inspiration from books, and in 2022, it was the book, The Rule of Empires (a book about, you guessed it, empires) that Tobias Forge has stated that fueled his inspiration for GHOST’s latest album. “Impera” does have the feel of a concept album, yet the songs do occasionally go against the concept. The rise and fall of empires Tobias Forge and his latest band of Nameless Ghouls have created is a progressive, interesting, and provocative soundscape, in which we can find lyrically relevant links between the follies of the Roman, Russian, and Trumpian dynasties. “Impera” saw daylight on March 11th, 2022, through Loma Vista Records.
If the previous album was set in the 14th century black plague era in Europe, GHOST transported “Impera” hundreds of years forward in time. This is not just considering the lyrical content either, as every detail is very well produced, as has been consistent throughout the GHOST discography. Continuing the band’s traditions, the album includes elements from ’80s & ’90s rock and metal, brilliantly fused with a modern heavy sound. It is a classic album with some nostalgic riffs twisted with new elements, but keeping the simplistic melodies complemented by other instruments, giving each song a dimension and its place.
The album opens with an intro called “Imperium,” which sets the base soundscape for the album. Acoustic guitar strumming notes slowly rise and give way to the electric guitar solo, reminiscent of the classic guitar riffing styles of the ’80s and ’90s – you know, from the peak tenures of greats like IRON MAIDEN and METALLICA. Toward the end, it finishes with the synth rising – a great, powerful lead into the next track.
“Kaisarion” begins with a catchy repetitive guitar line that leads right into a long (and surprisingly hair metal-y) high-pitched scream alongside a scratchy pick slide that gives it a rough edge. This catchy, poppy song has a lot of surprises and unexpected twists alongside progressive elements like the synth, which is like sparkling glitter on top of that catchy guitar riff that comes and goes. Despite the sheer catchiness, “Kaisarion” is considerably deeper than it seems from the beginning, as it covers the story of Hypatia, a philosopher and mathematician in ancient Alexandria, who was murdered by Christians in a building called – you guessed it – Kaisarion. Tobias beautifully forges the lyrics and manages to find modern equivalents (pun certainly intended).
The song “Spillways” opens with a really familiar synth/piano sound with drum beats that could be from some classic ’80s/’90s artists, with an obvious nod to BON JOVI‘s “Runaway,” or perhaps the classics from MEAT LOAF, adding reverb to make it feel bigger and more powerful. The song is really up-tempo and catchy, kind of a summer singalong refrain; it’s a bit surprising that this wasn’t chosen as a single, frankly. However, this does lead into one of the actual singles, “Call Me Little Sunshine.” The track is a low/mid-tempo piece that starts on an ominous, deep note, including some (church?) bells to add some dark ambience. The vocals are gentle and give off a hopeful feel with the “you will never walk alone / you can always reach me / you will never ever walk alone” in the bridge, yet there is a darker note to the chorus that follows. The contrast between sweet vocals and dark, ambient music makes this a fantastic single, though it may have taken a few spins to worm its way in.
Another early single was “Hunter’s Moon,” from the film Halloween Kills (2021), as GHOST accepted the offer to make a soundtrack song. This piece continues in the standard poppier side of GHOST – the side that makes more radio-friendly hits, with a simpler drum beat, stylized by catchy lyrical phrases and musical refrains that resonate long after the song ends. “Watcher in the Sky” flashes back to an older GHOST sound, circa 2010’s “Ritual,” though admittedly feeling a little less satanic, as the overall sound is quite light. “Dominion” then acts as a short instrumental interlude leading into “Twenties,” a rather hard to digest single (unless you’re our Editor-in-Chief). At first, it may overwhelm the listener, not knowing what this melody is all about, but the progressive nature and bombastic backing emphases keep luring the ear back. The song is carefully crafted with ’20s-era melodies, with elements of swing and jazz nicely included in the overall sound. With the amazingly crafted lyrics that sadly draw attention to how little things have changed in the last 100 years, it ends up being one of the most interesting songs on the album, with something new to offer on each consecutive listen.
“Darkness at the Heart of My Love” is a powerful ballad, starting slowly with spring picking and a rising refrain that helps emphasize the lyrics. Without too much basic ballad cheese, the song still soars the way a ballad should, but manages to get away with not being very annoying (as many ballads are), despite having snaps, dramatic guitar, and choral backing. “Griftwood” is another catchy song with another staple GHOST riff, as well as the great “oooh-oooh” parts that we’ve grown to love from these guys. The second instrumental, “Bite of Passage” (shout-out to a few of these clever titles) is a slow, creepy, haunting piece that leads into the final song, “Respite on the Spitalfields.” The main guitar leads the vocals into the song and slowly progresses to the pre-chorus, where we can hear Tobias‘ rasping voice adding the edge before the refrain. The guitar solo is melodic and gentle, with a part in the end that gives the bass a chance to stand out before the vocals start again. The song has a couple of twists that give you the feeling of wanting to come back to listen to it again and again.
“Impera” is a well-produced album with brilliant lyrics: the guitar tone is always superb, the drums sound huge, and though it is still leaning toward the catchy ’80s style on the whole, the modern songcraft coupled with progressive twists and turns make the entire album feel quite fresh, despite sounding quintessentially GHOST. The evolution of the band’s sound is pretty darn clear with “Impera,” and while it may not fully entice the satanic fans of the past, if you’re into their fun, catchy feel, this album will surely capture your ears after a couple of spins!
Written by Peter J & Bear W.
- Call Me Little Sunshine
- Hunters Moon
- Watcher in the Sky (vinyl version)
- Darkness at the Heart of My Love
- Bite of Passage
- Respite on the Spitalfields
Tobias Forge (as Papa Emeritus IV)