Ghost’s new album, IMPERA, just dropped. The band now has five studio albums under its belt. But what is the best Ghost album and which is the worst? Here’s my two cents…
Ghost is a pretty big deal these days. The band’s latest album, IMPERA, is now official, picking up where 2018’s Prequelle left off. Thematically, IMPERA is more classic rock than metal. But this is to be expected; the band’s trajectory for the past few years has been unashamedly heading in this direction for better or worse.
I’ve been a big fan of Ghost ever since its debut, Opus Eponymous, dropped in 2010. I loved the style, the guitar sound, the riffs, the bass lines, and the use of organ – it was spooky-sounding, heavy, and completely different from anything else at the time (despite its obvious influences – Alice Cooper, KISS, and 1970s heavy metal/rock in general).
Fronted by Tobias Forge, he also writes all the music, Ghost is something of an oddity in today’s music scene. Usually, a band is a collaborative effort. But Forge is the sole songwriter in Ghost; he runs it in the same way Trent Reznor does Nine Inch Nails – he uses session musicians, called the Nameless Ghouls, on the road and in the studio. But as a band, Ghost starts and ends with Forge. He is the band, for better or worse.
What is the best Ghost album to date then? What follows is my own personal take on which Ghost album is best – I’ve ranked them in order, so we start with my least favorite (the worst, if you will) and then move on until we come to my personal favorite (the best). Again, this is my opinion; it is not designed to be definitive. Your choices will almost certainly be different from mine. This is basically a guide for anyone that is new to Ghost. But it is 100% my own personal opinion. Nothing more.
Every Ghost Album Ranked From Best To Worst
Second albums are always tricky, especially when your debut – Opus Eponymous – was so damn good. Ghost still wasn’t that well known when it released Infestissumam but it still had a very solid base of fans and was constantly covered by the music press, hailed as the next big thing based on the quality of Opus Eponymous. Also, at this point, people still had no idea who was actually in the band.
Infestissumam is not a bad record, none of Ghost’s albums are bad, but in the grand scheme of the band’s entire discography, it does come across as one of its weaker albums. There’s still plenty to like on this record, though, as the band was still very much in its “heavy metal” phase, although there are hints at where Ghost was heading, like with the B-Side cover of ABBA’s I’m a Marionette which Dave Grohl played drums on.
There were also a lot more psychedelic and progressive rock influences present on Infestissumam, a nod to what was to come on the band’s next record, Meliora. Listing Infestissumam last on this list really gave me a hard time. I generally prefer it to IMPERA, but from a critical perspective, I just don’t think it adds enough nuance from the first album to be considered a stand-out album by the band.
I like to think of Infestissumam as a stepping stone, a necessary part of the chain that links Opus Eponymous to Meliora. Without Infestissumam, the change in sound and structure would have been too jarring, would have alienated Ghost’s fanbase. In this respect, I think Infestissumam served its purpose. It showed off the band’s interest in expanding its dynamics, preparing the ground for its third – and, arguably, best – album, Meliora.
This is probably a little harsh, as IMPERA is the album I am least familiar with – it only launched a week ago. But my logic here is fairly simple: I prefer Ghost’s heavier, creepy sound. I think the band is best when it is leaning more towards heavy metal than classic rock. And on its later records, the balance is now definitely leaning more towards classic rock in the vein of Journey and Van Halen.
Is IMPERA bad? No, not at all. As an album, it is well put together, the songs flow nicely, and it has some of Ghost’s catchiest numbers to date on it, like the absolute banger Kaisarion which is quickly becoming of the band’s most popular songs. I have no idea why they didn’t release this song as the first lead single.
I do think IMPERA will grow on me but it will take some getting used to – I guess I just miss the spookier, heavier side of Ghost.
For me, Prequelle is a much more interesting record than IMPERA. It is very similar in its pitch: it sees the band’s first tentative steps into classic rock, paving the way for 2022’s IMPERA which is almost entirely classic rock, with the exception of a couple of songs.
Prequelle is different because it has a heavier side to it that is missing on IMPERA. You have tracks like Rats, Miasma, an instrumental track with trumpets that kicks plenty of ass, and plenty of single-worthy tracks like Dance Macabre.
Prequelle is melodic and slightly cheesy, in parts, but it manages to not feel tongue-in-cheek, something IMPERA – in some instances – fails to do. Even lyrically, both IMPERA and Prequelle lack the quality of Meliora and Opus Eponymous, but these albums unashamedly place melody and anthemic choruses in higher regard. And that’s fine, it is what Forge wants to do – and it seems to be working.
Forge’s vision for Ghost is clear on Prequelle; he wants the band’s music to be as big and epic as its image. He wants Ghost to be the new KISS, basically. And in order to do that he needs to write catchy, stadium rock songs which is exactly what he did on this record, and continued to do on IMPERA.
2. Opus Eponymous
Opus Eponymous is Ghost’s first record and the album that started it all. This album, at least to me, is special. It was back when Ghost was in its shock and awe phase when Forge dressed as a demonic pope on stage, and the music was focussed more on guitar riffs, rhythm, and ridiculously good bass lines.
Opus Eponymous is nowhere near as polished as IMPERA or Prequelle, but that’s part of its appeal. I love the grainy, organic sound of this record. The guitars, for instance, sound incredible across the entire album, whether chugging away in the background or ripping your ears apart with a screaming, melodic lead part. And everything is, of course, drenched in ample amounts of satan worship.
As debut albums go, Ghost’s Opus Eponymous will be looked back on as a classic in the heavy metal and rock genre. It was confident, in your face, utterly hilarious, and brilliantly realized from start to finish. It also had some killer tracks on it too. The first three tracks, save for the intro, Con Clavi Con Dio, Ritual, and Elizabeth, for instance, are three of the band’s best songs to date – and they come one after another on this record.
One of the things I love most about Opus Eponymous is the guitar tone the band used on the album. You have to remember, back in 2010, Ghost was not a big band – it was basically unknown. This meant budget constraints when recording the album. It lacked the polish of the band’s later work, but I’d argue this only adds to its caliber as a record.
The band used Gibson SG guitars to record all the guitar parts – always tuned down to D Standard – and, in order to nail that classic 1970s heavy metal sound, they opted for Orange Thunderverb 50 amps with the gain cranked up as high as humanly possible to get that more traditional-sounding metal tone. It worked great too; I think Ghost’s guitars have never sounded better than on this record.
Meliora was Ghost’s third album and, in my opinion, its best. Meliora got its release in 2015 and was more or less an instant hit when it landed, cementing the band as one of the biggest and most well-known “new” rock and/or metal bands on the planet. The album debuted at #8 on the Billboard Charts too – an impressive feat for a bunch of satan worshippers from Sweden.
What made Meliora so special, however, was not just its songs and production, both were excellent, but its blending of styles. Ghost had moved on somewhat from its Opus Eponymous and Infestissumam sound, adding in elements of progressive rock and classic rock ballads, all while keeping its feet firmly planted in the metal genre.
To my ears, Meliora is what Ghost SHOULD sound like. I think they’re best when they’re mixing classic rock and metal, without too much glossiness – the glossiness started with Prequelle and continues on IMPERA. The mix between heavy and beautiful on Meliora is perfectly balanced, the tracks move from galloping metal to soaring, almost angelic melodies seamlessly.
The track He Is is one of my favorite songs of all time – it is just so beautifully composed and performed. The band originally tried to record it for Infestissumam but couldn’t get it to sound quite right. On Meliora, I think He Is is one of the true stand-out tracks that showed just what Ghost was actually capable of with respect to classic songwriting and composition.
Meliora is also home to one of the best bass lines ever created; the opening to From The Pinnacle To The Pit. You also have a killer opening track on the album, courtesy of Spirit. On Meliora, the guitars and drums sound truly immense; they’re more polished than on Opus Eponymous, more “produced”, but they still retain that heavy, organic 1970s heavy metal tone.
From the start to the finish, there is not a weak moment on Meliora. Like all classic albums, it flows perfectly, moving from one mood to another with ease and dexterity. I remember when it first came out. After Infestissumam, my expectations were slightly tempered. But after just the first three tracks, I knew this album was something else, something much bigger than what had come before.
I also knew that this would be the album that would propel Ghost from an obscure niche band to a stadium-filling mega band. And this is exactly what happened. Ghost toured with Metallica, grew its fan base, sold a mountain of records, and, as of 2022, is one of the biggest bands on the planet. And given its back catalog of music, I think it has every right to be in the position it is in today.
RichardRichard has been playing guitar for over a decade and is a huge fan of metal, doom, sludge, and rock music in general – though mostly metal. Having played in bands and worked in studios since the early 2000s, Richard is a massive music production geek, a fan of minimalist recording techniques, and he really likes old-school guitars.
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