For reasons now consigned to oblivion, Ghost have managed to become an arena level band, against all odds. Despite their iconoclast imagery that should have appalled the US record buying public (an anachronism, most would be streamers at this point) and the fact that Papa (aka Tobias Forge) is far from the world’s best vocalist, they have consistently managed to support some of the bigger bands around and even make headline forays of their own on a worldwide scale.
Not even the personnel shuffles and legal actions taken against spirit makers that dared to have the word Ghost used in products have managed to seriously mar the band’s reputation or diminish their appeal. On album number five, the one man army of Tobias and his nameless ghouls continue what they’ve done in the past, trying to play to their strengths and solidify their audience, consolidating them as followers.
“Imperium” is an authoritative instrumental intro, a sweeping if unfinished overture that leads to the improbably “happy” and up-tempo “Kaisarion”, a track, that draws inspiration from the temple turned church, where a fanatic proto-christian mob skinned alive and tore to pieces, after stripping naked, one unfortunate mathematician, the daughter of the Alexandrian philosopher Theon, Hypatia. An event that for many symbolizes the passage from antiquity into a more modern era, transition in no way, peaceful and for many the beginning of the Dark Ages. Despite its unusual style that utilizes most of the pre-chorus as a hook, instead of its sequel, it does manage to get the job done and even throws in a rather jarring jazzy solo in the mix. Not bad…
“Spillways” feels like unholy Abba, a trick that the band has pulled in the past and still works just not sounding as impressive as it did say back in “Infestissumam”.
“Call Me Little Sunshine” has a groove that would not have felt out of place in Metallica’s “Load”. While it was considered as anathema for Metallica to mellow up, it’s a non-issue for Ghost. It’s an okay song, just a little too plain, with one driving riff throughout the song, making it a little too repetitive. The solo, in turn, is by default a highlight, since something is happening! Not ideal for a first single, imho, but then again, maybe Mr. T was going for a mass hypnosis…
“Hunter’s Moon” has a cool title and solid enough riffs, but it’s horror punk pop; again it feels a little tired. Like something the band has done in the past, only better.
“Watcher in the Sky” is another track that follow the monotonous pattern of its predecessors, monolithic, heavy, but not particularly interesting other than it’s witty if not slightly rock ‘n roll solo.
“Dominion” divides the album into a second part, acting like a counterpart to “Imperium”, going for a very melancholic, funebre sound.
“Twenties” has an interesting “twenties” sound going on, much like a heavy metal bosa nova. I kinda love the fact that they’d go for something, so out there, but at the same time it’s either the sign of insanity or genius. I feel it’s more of a fun novelty, than a song that’s destined to become a classic, so to speak.
Speaking of Anathema, “Darkness at the Heart of My Love” owes a little to the liverpoodlian former doomsters. Count it as a ballad, a chill track, call it what you will. It’s nothing spectacular, but it works positively, in the sequence of the album, allowing for some release from all the building negativity, even if it’s not up-tempo.
“Griftwood” will have you drawing immediate Van Halen and Bon Jovi comparisons and it doesn’t really have the pedigree to win either of those “arguments”, if you consider it a tribute. It’s kinda cute, but one could only view it as a bit of a template, rip off tune, with very little of its own character. At the very least one can’t fault T’s attention to detail to his generic “concepts” that allow him to successfully assimilate all these – outside influences.
“Bite of Passage” is an atmospheric and haunting half minute intro, that leads into “Respite on the Spitalfields”, a weird mix between Type O Negative and Whitesnake (rhythmically) that is turned on its head and twisted out of form, midway to something completely different. Its twisted melodious character, is more endearing than in most of the song that precede it. And there’s even a momentary reference to Mike Oldfield thrown into the mix… Oh well… it could have been worse.
“Impera” is an important album for Ghost. It’s the one where after a meteoric commercial rise, they appear to become stagnant and trapped inside the confines of their own “sound”, despite valiant efforts to combat that very fact… it’s a highly uneven album that could begin an erosive decline for the band, if they are unable to reverse that trend with their forthcoming releases. A dreaded time for many musicians and fans alike. Now, whether they will manage to persevere or implode, having reached the limits of what their sounds/image would allow them to be, remains to be seen. Reinventing themselves could also be an option (ie getting a singer and changing the style somewhat), but that would necessitate some rather bold decisions on behalf of the Papa that would have to relinquish some of his authority, mitigating it elsewhere.
Until then, reckon the following number, the grade for this review, for it is a human number, its number is six hundred and sixty six (6 6 6) muhahahaha…