Photo Credit: Mikael Eriksson
You have to hand it to the Swedes. They have a preternatural ability to craft pop songs, in English, across any genre you could name. This phenomenon began, of course, with Abba who was able to take the disco they heard coming out of the States and turn it into something Burt Bacharach would have danced to with tears in his eyes. In the ’80s, Europe took hair metal to its absurd pop logical conclusion, churning out hits both saccharine sweet and infinitely sing-along-able. In the ’90s it was Karl Martin Sandberg who wrote the teen angst that issued from the lip glossed lips of ‘NSYNC, The Backstreet Boys, and Britney herself. But, one might say, really all those groups did was take micro-genres of popular music and somehow uber-pop them. Surely this would not work with, say, blackened doom metal. Ghost would beg to differ.
Formed in 2006 by band architect, lyricist, and leader Tobias Forge, Ghost from the outset was designed to be a “theater band”, a group who were going to take their influences and create grandiose spectacles of them. Through five albums, Ghost has taken their doom and Scandinavian metal roots and put them through the filters of psychedelia, and progressive rock, and now, on their latest album Impera, Ghost has produced a concept album of imperial stadium scope.
Impera functions as the sequel to 2018’s Prequelle, and where the 2018 album is a concept album exploring the Black Plague, Impera is a rock opera exploring the dynamics of the rise and fall of an empire. Ghost seems well suited to tackle such massive scale material and they do so in inimitable style.
The album opens with a self-titled song that brings to mind the Flash Gordon soundtrack done by Queen in the early ’80s and really sets the tone for the rest of the album. If you were only slightly acquainted with Ghost’s early work you could be forgiven if you thought this was another band entirely. The band that grew out of the fertile metal scene in Sweden sounds very, very different now even if their creepy pope mascot is still in place.
The sound is very Queen heavy, as mentioned earlier, but with a bit of Creeper mixed in and a good deal of their countrymen Europe for good measure. The imperial theme of the album is lost, to be very honest, amongst the sheer grandeur of it all, but that is not a criticism: Ghost here has created a very massive, royal-sounding piece if not a victory of lyricism. It sounds like the purple robes of a royal house.
In conclusion, this is not a headbanger’s choice, the music is more suited to an opera hall than a mosh pit. The album, while lyrically somewhat obscure, is definitely grand and massive aurally. Ghost continues to evolve as a band and with Impera they continue to prove that the Swedes can take any genre, even blackened doom, and turn it into an operatic pop masterpiece.