Bathed in the thurible-smoke of history and glinting with the reflected horror of present day, Impera presents a freshly inspired epoch for melodic metal act Ghost. Zoë Radas spoke to frontman Tobias Forge.

A new dawn, a new day, a new era of Swedish melodic metal barons Ghost, clotted with all the lore and legend eager fans can unpack. Cardinal Copia has handed the anti-Papal vestments over to Papa Emeritus IV (both characters performed by the band’s frontman Tobias Forge), who – along with his Nameless Ghouls – is primed to storm the land with fresh album Impera.

While previous record Prequelle (2018; read our interview with Forge about that LP here) was set amongst the plague-riddled rats of Europe’s Middle Ages, Impera jets us forward to a 19th century world stage where empires are disintegrating and authorities are trying to cement power by whatever means necessary.

The Impera eon is already translating to the stage with potency; Ghost are currently mid-way through a North American tour. That translation is something, Forge says, that’s ever-present in his mind as he writes and records. “If you compare it to being a comedian,” he says, “you laugh at the joke when you come up with it, right? But then you have to think how to phrase it in a way to make it punchy, or understandable. ‘How do I get from A to B to C without complicating things?’ “The same thing goes with music. You might have an intuitive feel – ‘I know exactly how I want this to sound’ – but then you notice that it is going to be hard to play, it doesn’t really work, it’s going to sound strange.”

It’s not just about the sound, however. It’s also how it looks – the literal physicality of it.

“I want the drums, and bass, and guitar, to have a physical [effect], so it looks good with movement,” Forge explains. “I think that most bands and artists who spend a great deal of time on stage in front of audiences, you do have that as a go-to forum, in which your added craft is to be appreciated, consumed, whatever. You’re adding to your already existing ‘temple’. I think that it would be strange if someone says, ‘No, I don’t give a rats a– about what people say’. They’re crazy or they’re just saying that. You will, if you are a professional musician and you tour… you do have that in mind.”

The record’s first single will clue listeners in to how deep the Impera game goes. Call Me Little Sunshine‘s title is yanked straight from the writings of English occult figure Aleister Crowley (as is the pose on the album cover – see below); the Faustian demon figure of Mephistopheles is alluded to in the track’s lyrics; maniacal faces flicker from male to female in the clip; and the rest of the video appears breathed through with opium smoke.

Composite image of Aleister Crowley and a close-up of the Impera album cover

Aleister Crowley (left), and detail from the Impera album cover (right)

Impera‘s stand-out, however, is the unstoppable Twenties, which opens with bursts of brass and the syncopated thump of timpani over the marching calls of its anti intellectualist protagonist (“Those Ivy League dopes/ They wanna mock us… In the twenties/ We’ll be taking no sh-t from no chulas… We’ll be grabbing ’em all by the hoo-haas”). It also boasts a distinctly reggaeton rhythm, which may sound odd for a metal song, but it fits hand in skeletal glove.

“Years ago – I’m assuming it was some culture program on Swedish state TV – they did some reportage about a reggaeton gangster rapper,” Forge smiles. “He was doing really well in the underground scene in Brazil. They had him at a backyard party in a favela, and his whole thing was this, ‘Boom, bah-boom! Boom, bah-boom!’” Forge sings, crunching out the classic Latin rhythm. “It was just so aggressive in a very cool way, and I was like, ‘F-ck man, one day I’m going to write a reggaeton song!’ That was put on my endless list of to-do things. Then I came up with a riff… it became this sort of Slayer-meets Missy-Elliot thing, sort of, dare I say, urban? But it really spoke to me, knowing what the lyrics were going to be about.”

SNAP HAPPY

Impera‘s gargantuan ballad Darkness at the Heart of My Love contains the crispest finger-clicks this side of the Vatican. Forge is, it turns out, a dedicated clicker: “I do it quite a lot. I do it every night when I’m on stage, to the point where I actually hurt my finger sometimes, ‘cos I do it so hard: ‘Bang!’”

Impera by Ghost is out March 11 via Loma Vista.

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