The evolution of the stage persona of Tobias Forge – fast becoming a kind of theatre-metal Blackadder – leaps forward another few hundred years. Various incarnations of his zombie Pope Papa Emeritus character administered over Ghost’s rise from the Satanic Scandi-rock underground, and the more baronial Cardinal Copia emerged for the bubonic Boston of 2018’s Prequelle, a doomy tapestry of 14th Century plague and pestilence that proved surprisingly prescient when a lot of 70s rockers started coming down with a strange contagion just two years later.
Now Copia has been promoted to Papa Emeritus IV, who should probably be delivering much of this fifth album while bathed in a devilish orange glow and adjusting a tie as red as Baal’s anus with supernaturally tiny hands.
Impera’s stated concept – the rise and fall of empires – allows Forge and his latest band of (now steampunk) Nameless Ghouls to find pertinent links between the follies of dynasties Roman, Russian and Trumpian.
‘You were the greatest deceiver,’ Forge multi-harmonies at an unnamed political chancer on Griftwood, and he uses Twenties to predict the coming decade of social fallout from such ‘Ivy League dopes’: ‘In the Twenties we’ll be squashing at the feet of the ruler…in the Twenties we’ll be grabbing them all by the hoo-haa.'
The thematic update fits more neatly with Ghost’s gradual shift towards gleaming gloss metal, with the ABBA and Blue Oyster Cult touches of Prequelle giving way here to marginally meatier references (Journey, Rush, Jim Steinman, 80s ELO) in the hands of Robyn and Katy Perry producer Klas Åhlund.
Those large doses of schlock that remain in their rock – the choirs of warlocks, guitar solos like duelling lightning bolts, bursts of gothic orchestral drama and general sense, on Watcher In The Sky and Kaisarion at least, that 1987 footage of a televised drag race is kicking off – might keep Impera just the wrong side of corny in the eyes of the Opeth fans.
But as shiny theatrical melody rock designed to look deceptively dangerous on teenage bedroom walls goes, Impera takes Ghost several more ferula shuffles in the direction of their very own American Idiot.