All hail Kaiser COPIA Emeritus the 1st! The new release from Swedish theatrical metal band Ghost promises to take over the world.
Tobias Forge has grown and evolved over the last decade like the character he portrays in his band, Ghost. And now on the fourth incarnation of his Papa Emeritus, he’s discovered the secret to mainstream success with Impera, Ghost’s fifth release and the first to have crossover appeal to Middle America.
I find many similarities between Ghost and Savatage. The Florida based power metal act, formed around brother Jon and (the late) Criss Oliva, who evolved into theatrical metal and eventually, under the guidance of producer Paul O’Neill, became the biggest mainstream crossover metal act not named Metallica: Trans Siberian Orchestra. Tobias Forge and Ghost have managed to capture the same lightning in a bottle with both their music and stage show.
Coming in at a tight forty-six minutes, Impera calls back to classic ‘80s theatrical rock, especially Savatage’s Gutter Ballet album from 1989. With a theme foretelling the fall of empires, will it become as prophetic as their previous release? 2018’s Prequelle seems to have predicted the Covid-19 Pandemic, a point I brought up on my podcast a few weeks ago. With the world on the brink of World War III, it’s appropriate, I think, that Forge’s Bard’s Tongue tells a story about the rise and fall of an empire.
The Nameless Ghouls who recorded the album are no strangers to the European metal scene. The stand out is Swedish ax slinger Fredrik Åkesson, most notably known for his work in dark prog rockers Opeth. His tone is recognizable throughout the album. For many fans who were unhappy with Prequelle’s poppy guitar sound, this is welcome. But it’s also the influence of producer Klas Ahlund, the man behind the board for both Impera and their Grammy winning release from 2015, Meliora.
Impera is their best album by far. I regret they won’t win a rock or metal Grammy this time, folks, oh no. That’s because Ghost is going to get artist of the year with this one. Like Metallica before them, Ghost has broken the pop culture glass ceiling. The tracks tell the tale.
Imperium – As with any theatrical production, you need an overture or instrumental opening…
Kaisarion – The influence of touring with Iron Maiden on Forge’s song writing shows. A dual lead guitar intro reminds me of Wasted Years… then it transforms into something you might find on an early Gabriel-Era Genesis epic, circa the band’s Nursery Cryme era.
Spillways – The second track blends Bon Jovi-esque pop music with Jim Steinman theatrical lyrics in a song reminiscent of Styx’s Paradise Theater album. The solo harkens back to Half Penny-Two Penny, and JD Young’s metal solo on Paradise Theater’s second side.
Call Me Little Sunshine is perhaps one of Ghost’s best compositions and continues the build. A heavy riff precedes an acoustic intro the song revisits during the vocal melody. This is classic Ghost, blending elements of all of their albums into one song, from the dynamic vocals to the Satanic imagery of the lyrics to the music.
Hunter’s Moon became my favorite Ghost song upon its release. Is it still? It remains so to this point on the album, I’ll say that much. Like the previous track, it is a culmination of all of Forge’s composition skills, featuring many of the trademark Ghost chord progressions and changes. But it’s the phaser blend coming out of the bridge that tickles my taint.
Watcher In The Sky – What did I say about my favorite Ghost song? Blending influences of prog metal, ‘80s hair metal (I can hear Ratt’s Warren D. Martini playing the main riff) with classic Ghost elements, this is becoming a new fan favorite. Does it surpass Hunter’s Moon for me? It might.
Dominion – like the opening track, this is another instrumental placed to give Papa time to change his clothes.
Twenties – the most controversial track on the album blends horns with doom metal riffs. It’s a mash up of System of a Down, Tom Waits, and the Mighty Mighty Bosstones. And it doesn’t work for everyone. Isolated from the rest of the album, it’s Reggaeton is jarring. But played in order with the tracks on the album, it fits right in as it tells a tale of crumbling decadence.
Darkness at the Heart of My Love is another Broadway production-Jim Steinman homage. It actually brings to mind the genre bending work of pop-star and metal head Lady Gaga’s album Joanne.
Griftwood brings back more memories of Bon Jovi, with lyrics you could have found in a non-secular Christian rock band like Petra during their Greg X. Volz-Beat the System era. It’s a solid song and one that I’m sure will grow on me – the chorus is catchy and the sing-song melody is a little bit of an earworm.
Bite of Passage – Instrumental time… cos you’ve gotta change your clothes before the last song.
Respite on the Spitalfields – The album ends with an epic fan fair. It’s another theatrical number featuring time changes, arena filling choruses, and haunting lead guitars. I hear a bit of each song within this piece, bringing it all together in a climax that fades away on the wind.
Impera is Ghost’s magnum opus. It’s their Powerslave, Black Album, Slippery When Wet, and Bat out of Hell- all wrapped up with a Trans Siberian Orchestra bow tie and sprinkled with Marillion’s masterpiece, Misplaced Childhood. The running joke with Ghost is the awards each Papa has obtained during his reign. I’m pretty sure when Ghost dominates the mainstream Grammy awards in 2023, Papa Emeritus the IV will have become the conqueror of the world, Kaiser Copia Emeritus I.