Ghost are a Swedish rock/metal band that have gone from thoroughly inauspicious beginnings to one of the true critical darlings of the musical world. Once contemporaries of Blood Ceremony and Sabbath Assembly, influenced by Black Widow and Coven with added flair from King Diamond, Ghost are now a band that put all of those influences in a blender and added a layer of grandiosity a la Alice Cooper’s later career with a pinch of Queen thrown in for good measure. How did a band on Rise Above Records whose identities were shrouded in mystery go on to become the face of hard rock? Let’s look at their five albums ranked to see the transitions made by Tobias Forge and his rotating cast of nameless ghouls.
5. Infestissumam (2013)
“Year Zero” pulls no punches in terms of their obscene influence, almost immediately invoking the name of Satan as part of Ghost’s ultimate cause. Infestissumam is a bit of an uneven affair with song placement at times feeling particularly questionable such as following up the aforementioned “Year Zero” with the comparably tame “Body and Blood” feeling as though the album itself lost a bit of steam which only comes back with “Idolatrine” and to a lesser extent “Monstrance Clock.” Speaking of “Idolatrine,” it might not get the recognition of some of the singles here but it certainly is interesting in how it started to incorporate much more progressive elements including synths creating a big Deep Purple vibe.
“Jigolo Har Megiddo” is another highlight, heavy on the synths and guitar work giving that level of interplay a feeling of the past with a fresh coat of pagan paint. This was also at the time the band for legal reasons was briefly named Ghost B.C. and the identity of vocalist and songwriter Tobias Forge was revealed to the public alongside signing with Loma Vista, a contract that many of us at the time thought the label would soon regret. However, we would all be very wrong, they were just getting their foothold in the market.
4. Prequelle (2018)
The gloves are off. With Prequelle Ghost became a fully fledged satanic AOR band with plenty of melody, not trying to hide the love of the likes of Cheap Trick. They eschew some of the early love for bands like Black Sabbath while still remaining firmly entrenched in an unabashedly occult observance. Lyrically this is very Coven-esque with a shiny and sweet exterior. Songs like “Rats” and “Dance Macabre” feel large and anthemic, with plenty of power chords changing the way the songs feels as it tends to turn on a dime.
“Faith” has tremendous riffs that create an aura of floating specters allowing them to take part of this mass as Ghost’s de facto parishioners. They can change the album’s entire feel on “See The Light” giving ample room for Forge’s wonderful vocals to take root. Songs like this show the immense flair for grandiosity that becomes more and more prominent with each subsequent Ghost release. Prequelle’s release saw the band trying to tackle some of their first arena-based shows, effectively giving credence to the idea that Ghost were shifting into world domination mode. This was a sign of big things to come.
3. Meliora (2015)
Opening their third album Meliora with “Spirit” is a powerful move. Drums blare before giving way to a church organ that carries the first track while giving way to Forge’s vocals and riff structures. Vibrant bass work announces the arrival of “From the Pinnacle to the Pit” to unsuspecting audiences, maintaining a healthy balance of beauty and darkness within the choral structure, continuing their infernal quest to keep both sides in a constant power struggle. “Cirice” is a slow burn with upwards of a minute before the songs really gets cooking, allowing the listener to bounce along with the band before a piano breaks through off in the distance, creating an ample amount of disparity between the lyrical grandeur of “I can feel the thunder that’s breaking in your heart, I can see through the scars inside you”.
Transitioning to “He Is” fans of the band were witnessing the band’s somewhat conservative level of experimentation in real time. It’s a powerful track driven by keys and Forge’s silky-smooth delivery wrapping this one up with a bow, all this before Prequelle removed any doubt about the band’s true intentions. This was the last album to feel truly dark on the outside, because surely the band hasn’t forgotten their innermost obsidian objective.
2. Opus Eponymous (2010)
In 2010 the music scene was met by an anonymous musical collective giving off the vibes of contemporaries like Blood Ceremony and Sabbath Assembly, while comfortably borrowing lyrical tropes from bands like Coven and Black Widow. They used their album art in a way to pay tribute to horror movies and even evoke Scooby-Doo in some listeners. Coming from Rise Above Records’ Lee Dorrian of all people, doom metal fans were paying very close attention to Opus Eponymous while even drawing in inquisitive black metal fans who analyzed the band’s lyrical content and hearing the end of tracks like “Death Knell” which sounded like the end of a Mercyful Fate track with similar melodic menace.
Opening their debut album with a church organ on “Deus Culpa” which moves right into the bass line of “Con Clavi Con Dio” is a perfect way to juxtapose the band’s disparate styles, showcasing their willingness to mix pop sensibilities with grotesque imagery provided by their oft-supplanted cantor. “Elizabeth” is a powerful statement feeling much more in line with bands like Coven and Black Widow, however in a musically tighter way than those forebearers. “Ritual” has perhaps the most ambitious chorus of the band’s relatively short tenure with “This chapel of ritual, Smells of dead human sacrifices, From the altar bed, On this night of ritual, Invoking our master, To procreate the unholy bastard.” However, it is presented in such a candy coated way that you barely flinch during its recitation. Certainly, one of the best examples of what Ghost can do, one that fans of their new and old work can agree still stands the test of time.
1. Impera (2022)
With Ghost having shifted into world domination mode, their next step was to further clean up their sound and tighten it up for the masses and the result was the rock solid Impera. It features what might be the most cohesive collection of songs on any A-side of a record of theirs to date, with a bit of flair added to the B-side to make for a complete package deal. The intro “Imperium” transitions smoothly into “Kaisarion” which is chock full of hooks and AOR glory with a later section heavily influenced by Rush’s “Tom Sawyer” all making for a veritable Frankenstein’s monster being birthed in real-time. Following this is “Spillways” with an infectious piano that opens it up. Forge jumps in with an excellent “Aaaah, Aaaah” building towards a Queen-like level of rock opera of sorts that had only recently been matched by The Darkness.
Clearly this is a very different band than was originally conceived by Forge and crew all those many years ago, sonically that is. They play with the big boys now and it should be apparent in the work ethic of the band that this was even possible. Impera has a myriad of other songs that scratch similar itches like “Hunter’s Moon,” “Watcher In The Sky” and “Griftwood” as well as the more experimental tracks like “Twenties” which would feel at home on a big stage in its own right. To this point, Ghost are continually evolving and in this writer’s opinion improving, thus making their most recent effort their best to date with an album that is more polished yet, still as chorally chaotic as ever before.