Ghost’s ‘Impera’: Good, but could have been great

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Photo via @thebandGHOST on Twitter

Swedish rock band Ghost released their fifth studio album, ‘Impera’ on March 11, 2022.

Matthew Scheidel, Sports Editor

After a four-year wait that felt like an eternity, Papa Emeritus and the Nameless Ghouls have returned with their fifth studio album, ‘Impera,’ released on March 11, 2022. 

Ghost, a Swedish rock band, has exploded in popularity over the past few years. With rock radio hits like “Square Hammer,” “Rats,” and “Dance Macabre,” they’ve catapulted themselves into the spotlight with a mix of heavy guitars and catchy melodies and hooks. 

The band has also had quite the array of sounds they’ve explored, such as classic heavy metal, progressive rock, doom metal, and most recently arena rock. 

‘Impera,’ the follow-up to 2018’s ‘Prequelle,’ continues Ghost’s exploration into 80’s arena rock, now adding elements of hair and glam metal. In some ways, ‘Impera’ feels like a continuation of ‘Prequelle.’ 

Thematically, the album deals with the rise and fall of empires, with some of the album’s lyrics taking inspiration from modern times, a first for Ghost. 

The album begins with the triumphant intro track, “Imperium.” This short little number does an excellent job of setting the listener up for what’s to come with its mix of acoustic guitar arpeggios and hopeful sounding electric guitar lines.

The proper album opener, “Kaisarion” is an anthem for the ages, even beginning with an over-the-top shrieking high note. With shades of Iron Maiden and Rush laden throughout, this is an excellent track that sets the tone for the rest of the album.

If there’s a hit to be had on this album, it has to be “Spillways.” The opening keyboard line continues throughout the track, making it quite possibly the most 80’s sounding song on the album, which is saying something.

The key change in the chorus really helps the song’s progression. But above all else, the song is just so catchy. This song would be a great choice for a future single.

The album’s lead single, “Call Me Little Sunshine,” is next, and this track had longtime fans like myself excited for this record. This is just a good old-fashioned, mid-tempo heavy metal banger. It’s still among my favorites on this album.

“Hunter’s Moon,” originally released as part of the ‘Halloween Kills’ soundtrack, comes next and continues the 80’s arena rock sound of this record. I have to say, I really don’t understand this song’s inclusion on the album. Like I said, this was originally released as part of a movie soundtrack, and it sure sounds like it. I didn’t care much for the song when it came out, and it hasn’t grown on me all that much.

“Watcher In The Sky,” is one of the longer and heavier cuts on the album, featuring a nice chugging guitar riff. That and the dueling guitar solo in the bridge give me some Avenged Sevenfold vibes. 

Clocking in at almost six minutes in length, one would expect a band like Ghost to get ambitious and try to write an epic banger, right? Well, that’s not exactly what we got here. I hope you like that chorus, because there’s a whole lot of it. This is one of the more disappointing tracks on the album for me. It’s fine as is, but it just feels like it could’ve been so much better than it is.

And The Worst Song on the Album award goes to… “Twenties.” This is actually an intriguing track musically. Featuring a thrash metal riff and a reggaeton-style drum beat, it marks some uncharted territory for Ghost.

However, what ultimately kills this song for myself and a lot of other people, are the lyrics. Frontman Tobias Forge is no stranger to cheesy and sometimes cringey lyrics [think “Pro Memoria” from their last album], but this is just too much. 

I mean, come on, “We’ll be grinding in a pile of moolah” and “we’ll be grabbing them all by the hoo-hah?” [yes, that is a jab at former president Donald Trump]. Just…yikes. Forge’s strange vocal delivery doesn’t help matters. I can’t believe I’m going to say this, but after your first listen through this album, you could probably just skip this track.

Then we get to the big ballad on the album, “Darkness At The Heart of My Love.” On first listen, I hated this song. The snapping fingers that play throughout the track was a huge turnoff for me, as it gave me Imagine Dragons vibes, and I personally can’t stand that band. 

However, this has become the biggest grower on the album for me. The epic feeling in the chorus as the song progresses with the choir and all the backing vocals really makes the track. 

“Griftwood” feels like it’s missing something. I like the chorus, especially at the end with the unexpected key change, and I also enjoy the bridge, but it feels like it’s lacking some serious punch. 

This all leads up to the epic finale, “Respite On The Spitalfields.” Being that this is the album’s longest track at nearly seven minutes, I had high expectations going in. But much like “Watcher In The Sky” before it,” I was left feeling a little underwhelmed.

Again, it just feels like this could have been much more than it is. Every time it feels like things are finally going to pick up, it goes back into this drawn out ballad. And just to clarify, that’s not a bad thing. It’s just that knowing what this band is capable of, I expect a lot more.

The album features three short interludes, but the only I felt was worth discussing was “Imperium.” “Dominion” could have been left off the track list entirely, and “Bite of Passage” should have just been tacked onto the beginning of “Respite On The Spitalfields.” 

I will say that the album’s production is fantastic, which should be no surprise given that this album is produced by Klas Ahlund, the same guy who produced Ghost’s 2015 magnum opus, ‘Meliora.’ The guitars, bass and drums have plenty of bite to them, and there’s a ton of atmosphere to this album. 

Overall, I can’t help but feel a tad underwhelmed by this album. At least ‘Prequelle’ had the immeasurable task of following up an all-time classic like ‘Meliora.’ 

It’s clear that Forge has taken the band into more of a mainstream direction the past couple albums, which I can’t fault him for. He’s got a family to feed and take care of. But I just feel like he’s forgotten some of the things that made this band great in the first place. The creepy, dark vibes that were still present on ‘Prequelle’ aren’t nearly as prevalent on this album. 

My guess is that if this is your first exposure to Ghost, you’ll probably enjoy this album. But for longtime fans like myself, this may feel like a bit of a letdown. 

Maybe it’ll grow on me, and I really hope it does, but for now, ‘Impera’ gets a 7/10.