Written by: Blackie Skulless
The infamous band that manages to pull a slew of opinions every three or so years has come back to continue their evolution. Every Ghost record seems to follow a bit of a theme, or at least weave itself together with a vibe that separates itself from the prior, but stays consistent standing alone. Ahead of releasing Impera, we were given several tracks that sound pretty different, which was an accurate depiction of what was to come. While the mixing of ballads and heavy hitters always went together smoothly, that somewhat changes here.
Despite no signs of ditching the catchy or upbeat chorus’s and memorable radio tunage, Ghost took their biggest step towards more progressive writing. That’s not to say you should expect a Dream Theater record, but there are extra theatrics, extra shifts in tonal delivery, and all sorts of fun instrumentation that gives some serious Styx vibes gone dark. Unfortunately, this causes an awkward flow, and a little bit of placement that feels off at times. For the most part, I can overlook that, save for a few moments of going too long, or the unnecessary use of several “interludes.”
So it should be no surprise when things go from bassy doom crawls, to fast traditional metal kicks, to pop rock radio orientation, and glittery numbers with all of the bells and whistles; right? The weirdest part is, not one of these things works or doesn’t work across the board, but it’s a game of focusing strictly on the highs with each. “Call Me Little Sunshine” and “Spillways” both rest heavily on the vocal harmony, yet are entirely different. The former is your doomy, minor toned psych tune that would work on a Vexing Hex record, while the latter is flipped over and launches piano rhythms and operatic passages to invoke the brighter feelings.
If Impera was as focused as those on every song, this album would probably blow me away. Where it lacks is the obvious reaches, mostly in the back tracks “Darkness In The Heart Of My Love” and “Respite On The Spitafields.” Neither are bad songs, but there’s no way they needed to be as repetitive or dull as they are, throwing in the gimmicks to cover that up. No, all of these plans of attack are great, but they’re better in the likes of the riff-dense “Watcher In The Sky” coated in power-stance rhythms, or the pop tune “Hunter’s Moon.” “Griftwood” would have even been perfect, had the song followed through with the pop hooks it started on, without delving into the campy break before that ripping solo. Really, they shouldn’t have tampered with the dark-romance formula they pulled off so well on Prequelle, for songs like this.
Truly, I think this is going to act as a “black album.” Ghost have heavily traded out the traditional metal base for catchy rock ‘n roll tactics dating back to Meliora, but this was a serious jump. Expanding on what came from an album prior, changing writing tactics, laying down more depth, and producing the hell out of it is what brings us to our current record. There’s a lot going on here, a bit too much, and the smallest amount of focus on the direction they're going could really do wonders.
Ghost - Impera was released March 11, 2022 via Loma Vista Recordings. Find it on Bandcamp here!
We provide thoughtful reviews of music that wakes us from slumber. Written by a highfalutin peasantry.