If Ghost's prescient last album, 2018's Prequelle, is any indication, we're in for a hell of a ride the next couple of years. The Swedish pop-rockers' fourth record was all about a killer plague, two years before COVID-19 put the entire world on hold. Album No. 5, Impera, is all about empires rising and falling, and if their crystal ball is correct, there's more global reckoning on the way.

The album was supposed to come out shortly after the U.S. presidential election in 2020, a reflection on Donald Trump's contentious rule. But the pandemic-prompted delay makes Impera's release seem even more timely in the wake of Prequelle's foresight, the Russia-Ukraine crisis and other events of the past two years. It's somewhat dark at heart, as was its predecessor, but Ghost coat it all in a signature glossy sheen that's fist-raising and just a little silly in its over-the-top theatrics.

So, even when the material digs into the history and parallels with the modern world, the music is melodic and playful, clawing at metal's core while turning over the '80s goo that's part of the foundation. It all suits the analogies to hunters and the hunted that run throughout some of Impera's best songs. "Ease up to the hunter from thе prey and transform indefinitely," frontman Tobias Forge sings in "Call Me Little Sunshine"; "Hunter's Moon" (which made its debut in the Halloween Kills movie) extends the theme.

Yet all this talk of prophecies, burning temples and lost paradises (all part of proper album launcher "Kaisarion," by the way) wouldn't mean as much if not for the nostalgic pop-metal guitars and glistening production underlining the entire work. Forge is a thoughtful frontman, but so often Ghost albums come down to the cathedral-shaking harmonies and oh-so-'80s synths that have defined the band for a decade.

So tracks like "Spillways" and "Watcher in the Sky" look toward dark days and eventual castigation for would-be emperors (some more literal than others) in a big-picture manner, as souls are shattered by self-serving leaders and war. But much of it is delivered with a musical wink that reminds you this is escapism: The brief instrumental interludes are wholly cinematic, LP closer "Respite on the Spital Fields" includes a keyboard quote from Nik Kershaw's 1984 hit "Wouldn't It Be Good" and the thematic heaviness boils down to a modern-day attempt to make a late-'80s Queensryche album. Here's to better times.

Ghost Albums Ranked

Swedish band gives pop metal a fresh spin and a new measure of respect. 

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