The 50 best metal albums of 2022

1. Ghost – Impera

Ghost: Impera cover art

(Image credit: Spinefarm)

Impera was to Prequelle what Hysteria was to Pyromania. That’s not hyperbole; Tobias Forge confirmed as much in this year’s Hammer cover feature, the Ghost mastermind pulling out the stops to invoke a masterpiece of stadium-sized metal and hard rock brilliance. Every moment of Impera built Ghost’s sonic empire to gargantuan proportions. Even the instrumental intro Imperium rose on Bon Jovi-esque guitar leads before jetting off into the stars to prove the moon wasn’t the only heavenly body comprised of glorious, sky-filling cheese.

From there, it was a whistle-stop tour of unstoppable pop-metal anthems, the breathless rampage of Kaisarion giving way to Spillways – an ivory-tickling singalong that also served as a reminder that Tobias knew where the money (money, money) is. Lest you thought Impera was all about embracing pop sensibility, Call Me Little Sunshine and Hunter’s Moon both brought the heavy metal thunder, picking up the shadow-and-spotlight interplay of past anthems Cirice and Rats to ensure they achieved their arena-filling potential, and Twenties felt like a Metropolis-style counterpoint to the gothic horror of Square Hammer.

Daft, fun and fabulous, Impera was everything we needed from music in 2022, smashing down the gates and inviting everybody in earshot to engage in a Bacchanalian celebration and escape the dumpster fire that was the world outside. Every song felt like a Broadway production; from Tobias’s histrionic howl that signals the take-off of Kaisarion to the grandstanding melodious guitar leads that threw up comparisons to the likes of Richie Sambora and Eddie Van Halen, Ghost lined up just about every trick and cliché from heavy metal’s chart-storming heyday and brought them home with a grinning nudge-and-wink that felt like being rugby-tackled by the Cheshire Cat.

When Ghost were ‘unmasked’ in 2017, it looked like one of modern metal’s most engaging – if somewhat poorly kept – mysteries had been dispelled. It was nothing short of miraculous, then, that the band only grew stronger and bigger, making the jump to arena and festival headline status with an assuredness that proved there is much more to them than a bunch of Satanic Swedes in masks. But while its songs were undeniably massive, Impera proved that the Ghost mythology remained an integral part of their art – the ascension of Cardinal Copia to full Papa-dom across 14 video chapters building a sense of anticipation and theatricality that outstripped mere progression to veer into mythological territory.

If you can hardly believe that the Ghost of 2022 are the same Satan-loving Swedes that tickled Lee Dorrian’s tastemaking-buds in 2010, that’s because they aren’t. This was a different entity entirely, both in concept and in terms of literal musicians, Tobias expanding his horizons as more nations fell under his sway. 

The choruses were bigger and the riffs more imperious than ever, but the true magic of Impera was how Ghost had transformed campy occult mystique into a bona fide near-religious fervour. A realisation of everything Ghost had been building towards, Impera grabbed their ever- swelling congregation by the hoo-has and definitively answered an age-old question: who’s your Papa?

Staff writer for Metal Hammer, Rich has never met a feature he didn't fancy, which is just as well when it comes to covering everything rock, punk and metal for both print and online, be it legendary events like Rock In Rio or Clash Of The Titans or seeking out exciting new bands like Nine Treasures, Jinjer and Sleep Token.