Monday 7 March 2022

Ghost - Impera (2022)

Country: Sweden
Style: Melodic Rock
Rating: 7/10
Release Date: 11 Feb 2022
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I've never been able to figure out why so many of my friends, who don't generally appreciate rock or metal, are such die hard Ghost fans, not merely buying albums like this when they come out but also snapping up tickets whenever gigs are announced here in Phoenix. I can only presume that it has something to do with their unique presentation, drawn from the classic shock rock tradition of Arthur Brown and Alice Cooper but taken in a new direction, with vocalist Papa Emeritus always a recognisable frontman but every other member of the band relegated to being Nameless Ghouls in identical outfits and masks. None of these musicians are ever identified.

Don't get me wrong. Ghost are a very capable band, whoever's playing behind those masks. These aren't bad songs at all and this isn't a bad album. It's catchy from the outset, mixing the old Abba pop mentality that infuses so much Swedish music with a strong melodic rock tradition that leads to so many Swedish bands being signed to Frontiers in Italy or even created there, in the case of a supergroup like W.E.T. Most of the nine songs proper here could be released as singles and ought to do well wherever melodic or hard rock gets daytime radio airplay. They're all up beat too, so it's easy to feel happy listening to them. Maybe that's part of it.

It can't be all of it, though. There are a lot of quality melodic rock bands playing consistent catchy up beat music and they're getting zero attention from non-rock fans, of from the established rock magazines who see Ghost as media darlings. Is it just the gimmick that's making all the difference and breaking them through to the mainstream? That seems overly cynical, even for me. The Night Flight Orchestra are from Sweden and have as many quality albums of catchy songs out, which are even more commercial than these, along with a memorable gimmick and far more experience. I'm not sure my non-rock fan friends have even heard of them, unless they've read my reviews.

Spillways is the second song here and it reminds me a lot of the commercial Desmond Child era of Alice Cooper's career. In fact, there were points I caught myself singing along with Poison, only to remember that the words were different. I wouldn't dare suggest that Alice was only successful because of his shock rock image. Sure, it probably helped in the early years to set him apart from his peers, but surely he'd have made it anyway on the basis of music we're still listening to today a crazy half century on. Will that hold true for Ghost? Will they be playing on the golden oldies radio station when my grandkids are sitting in the dentist chair? I doubt it.

Anyway, enough of that. Beyond being good melodic rock, what do I have to say about this album? Well, not a heck of a lot, actually, because that's most of it.

I could mention that Papa Emeritus is notably high in the mix, bolstering the divide between him as a solo artist and the Nameless Ghouls that make up the rest of the band. Is it fair to consider a band of this quality session musicians? It seems to me like at least he thinks so. These musicians do know their stuff and they do get moments in the spotlight for solos and instrumental sections, but this is primarily about the vocals, however many decent riffs the Nameless Ghoul guitarist is able to conjure up.

I could mention that there are moments where Ghost hint at a darker side to the upbeat mindset they perpetuate. Hunter's Moon especially adds a bit of a snarl to its chorus, the main component of Alice Cooper's discography that's missing here, given how theatrical the second half gets. Papa Emeritus may look controversial with the upside down cross on his mitre, but he sounds as if he's a pleasant gentleman that you could safely take to your local church bake sale. He'd probably buy a single slice to let others have a chance at the rest of a popular cake.

I could mention the sassy Twenties, which is a peach of a song, even if it doesn't maintain the style of the intro throughout, as the Night Flight Orchestra would have done. It's a dark and theatrical piece, with swearwords that almost (but not) make me take back the last paragraph. It feels like a music video song, so much so that I could almost imagine storyboards being painted before any of the song was written. It's gloriously sassy and full of character, easily the standout track anywhere on this album. Darkness at the Heart of My Love has enough character to follow it, fingersnaps in abundance, but it doesn't come close to matching it and nothing else does either.

This is a good album and it gets better as it goes, all the way to a strong closer in the seven minute Respite on the Spitalfields. I'd recommend it. I still don't get the Ghost cult, though.

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