A few years ago I was going to a festival with 3 friends. I hadn’t heard of Ghost, but they were headlining a stage, so I did my research, finding out about them and listening to their music. My initial thought was, “Is this a pisstake?”
Once I had made peace with my answer (this will be different for everyone), I REALLY got into their groove. At the festival, I convinced my friends to give them a go. I expectantly stood and then revelled in their sound and stage presence. I looked at my friends. They had looks of incredulity (not in a good way) on their faces and hopped from foot to foot, eager to go to a band that was easier on their palate.
I gave in and we went to see something else. I was just happy just to be with friends. Plus, they did not have a Ghost of a chance to bond with this unique music. I’ll expand on this later.
“Impera” is Ghost’s 5th studio album, but it has been simmering for 2 years. It’s inspiration was when Tobias Forge read the book “The Rule of Empires”. Let’s begin this new journey.
“Imperium” was a restrained, military-like opening, whetting my appetite for the journey to come.
“Kaisarion” kicked off with Ghost in full flight, with the trademark high-pitched vocal wail and rollicking guitars. The tightness of sound was something to behold, with the guitars meshing with all the other elements to deliver rock at its finest. Somewhat ironically then, this track had at its core the stoning death of Hypatia, a 5th Century Alexandrian philosopher. It was a statement about the way that mobs can sometimes go crazy, ignoring science and behaving in ways that we don’t recognise as human. Given current times, this sounds somewhat familiar…
“Spillways” was as infectious as Hell, with the keyboards being more prominent. There was some really clever writing, such as “it’s a cruel beast that you feed” and it’s cadence had me humming immediately. The guitar solo was solid and introduced at precisely the right moment. This track spoke of the power of religion, even when it’s fanatical following leads folks to blindly perform unspeakable acts. We all need to belong to something.
“Call Me Little Sunshine” shone first up with a country music-like instrumental, which evolved into an unhurried groove. It’s relaxed riffs and multiple layers of sound all at once gave the impression of devotion, but with more going on in the background than immediately evident – it was hypnotic. In that it had unhealthy devotion as it’s theme it reminded me of Rammstein’s “Du Reichst So Gut”.
It brought a smile to my face every time because Ghost have been invited onto countless TV programs in the USA to perform this bright and happy sounding number. With lines like “You will never walk alone, you can always reach me”, why not? Hang on – what about when it goes, “Even when you’re dead and gone, you can always reach me”?
Wwwweeeelllll… It’s about Mephistopheles…
People are merrily singing along to a song about The Devil. Ghost, in all its subtle and irreverent brilliance! In this vein, in the USA “Impera” is the fastest felling album this year.
“Hunter’s Moon” had the most wonderful percussion and bass pairing that had the hair on the back of my neck standing up. The dichotomy of Ghost shone through, with the lyrics and purposeful sound having it feeling like being about needing to be reunited with a lover, but with predatory undertones.
“Watcher in the Sky” lifted the tempo and intensity with some remarkable engineering that showcased a riff that may well have been powered by perpetual motion. This was another track that created an immediate bond with me. It’s sound represented a searchlight perfectly, with the guitar work seeming to sweep across the musical landscape.
Underlying this track was a commentary about those that are unhealthily cynical, refusing to believe the science, despite all evidence to the contrary, along with some clever lyrics, like “For the light of our saviour, His Machiavellian grace”. Surely a god can’t be up to mischief…
“Dominion” was an instrumental interlude that reminded me of being inside a church with the world’s biggest pipe organ – a possessed one, that is. It readied me for the atmosphere that what was to come.
“Twenties” followed on, like a computer’s hard reset, drawing on the feeling of “Dominion” to shock me into a new headspace. The musical palate shifted from style to style. It was confused and angry and didn’t seem to fit what I had heard so far.
My first listen of this track left me disconnected. It took curling up with headphones and listening to the lyrics to get it. I had been distracted by the blend of reggae and metal and the ever shifting musical styles. But taking the time to concentrate on the track revealed an exquisite raft of commentary about the way that the rich and powerful get behind causes, often vacuously. Chuck in some clever blending of the Third Reich and some current “movements” and Ghost yet again made powerful observations of current events.
“Darkness at the Heart of My Love” slipped back a step in terms of tempo and complexity of sound, again altering my mood after the intensity of the last track. The title of the track revealed its intent, that love can be complicated. The guitars were pared back a good bit, with the heart of the track being sweet, beating mainly to the bass and percussion. When the guitars arrived as embellishments, they added abundant emotion.
At the core of this track was a the lofty price that we may pay in relationships. On the surface this may seem worth it, but the lyrics implied that price may be too high… Again, you need to make up your own mind. Either way, it showcased the clever complexity and duality of the work of Ghost.
“Griftwood” grabbed me immediately with that chugging riff, which then anchored the track. The guitars were back cavorting through the song. The roller coaster had been in full swing across the last few songs. This was another immediately accessible track in terms of cadence and lyrics. I was lulled into the rhythm, singing along “I’m your rock baby, I won’t back down, Ask yourself, Are You Righteous?”
Hang on a sec… Am I blindly singing about being devoted to religion?! Damn you, Ghost!!!
“Bite of Passage” was another short instrumental interlude that segwayed nicely into…
“Respite on the Spitalfields” , which started slowly and simply, then it retained this pace and added the other instruments to create a sound that had my head slowly moving from side to side. The wailing quality of the guitar solo was something to behold. The combination of the tone of the vocals and dovetailed musicianship created a rock anthem. But, one that was rich in religious imagery, the lyrics including lines like “I’ll be the shadow, you be the light” and “One day you’ll come back from the bowels of Hell”. Ghost will again have people singing sweetly along to some deeply disturbing themes.
This track could well be used by Ghost as their calling card. It showcased their ability to seamlessly shift from musical style to style, contained brilliant guitar solos, wove the various instruments together in a sweetly sinister intent and with its sound hooked me into bonding with challenging ideologies.
With “Impera” Ghost have achieved something unique and beautiful, even by their standards. Note that I haven’t tried to describe the sound across the album, or liken it to genres. The list would be ridiculously extensive. If you’re a fan of any particular genre, you’ll hear snatches of it.
At the beginning of this article (sorry, Shayne, I tried to exercise restraint and be brief) I said that I needed to work out if Ghost was a pisstake. “Impera” added to this reputation, blending the fictitious with the factual in terms of subject matter. Then, add the way that they have seamlessly blended religion, empathy and protest. Popathy? Popeathy? AntiPopeathy? I’ll stop…
There were songs with: satanic undertones; lyrics about the easy surrendering to the mob or religion; society repeating its terrible mistakes through ignorance or blindly following a cause; messages of empowerment that might be poison chalices; and love that comes at a cost. This was not an expansive tale told in chronological order, rather, a suite of songs inspired by a theme. It’s like your Batman or Star Wars collection – wonderful objects collected around a theme that bring you satisfaction when you see them together.
The tracks were delivered with trademark high pitched and quirky vocals, rich in power and wafting forth with that engaging accent. The instrumentation was superb, with some truly mind blowing guitar solos, monumental riffs, spiritual instrumental moments and deeply emotive harmonies – it was a transcendent collection of styles which didn’t fight each other, rather, they capered, empowered and haunted at every turn. I was intrigued many times by an increased bass line presence. But in subsequent listens, all of the aspects of this diverse and spiritual sound wafted to the surface of my soul.
Like I’ve said a few times, listening to Ghost takes some commitment – of believing in the sound, of in some ways sacrificing yourself to them and peering through their illusions to see what’s REALLY going on. Once you get to that point, you have been converted to the faith.
“Impera” had me hooked at first listen. Even when I didn’t understand the track “Twenties”, I WANTED to understand. I listened to this album everywhere – at home, in the car, at work (on low – probably not good coming out of the principal’s office) and once whilst watching football.
There were moments when I realised that I had been possessed: the countless times I reached for the volume knob to turn something up; the many times I skipped back to hear something again; and the kicker – I bought it on vinyl.