A rapturous foreboding shrouds “Call Me Little Sunshine”, the new single from progressively peerless poltergeists GHOST and, in an increasingly tangible sense, the Abba of Heavy Metal. Released to foreshadow the arrival of the band’s 5th opus – Impera – on March 11, this is not, in fact, the first single from the album…as it transpires that Ghost’s previous, fucktastically delicious single “Hunter’s Moon”, from the Halloween Kills soundtrack released last October, is also present on Impera – directly following “…Sunshine” in the sequencing, in fact. This is significant, for it reveals a clue as to what lies in wait beyond the Sacristy drapes, and not least what kind of ‘faecal trail’ of fetid human misconduct the pale Cardinal is set to illume, this diabolical joyride around.
From sublime predecessor Prequelle’s 14th Century Black Plague, we now prepare to be conceptually levitated “hundreds of years forward” by Impera, a press release informs us, to the age of Empire, in which “empires rise and fall, would-be messiahs ply their hype (financial and spiritual alike), [and] prophecies are foretold as the skies fill with celestial bodies divine and man-made…” As we are in no shortage of spiritual swindlers, our parliamentary philistines are in the total purchase of perfidious pilferers, and our ‘empire’ is now more absurdly virtual than real (but real enough to have become the world’s laughing stock), Impera likely places us at the tail end of the 200 or so years from the dawn of the age of capitalism to the present day of the all-too-detectible collapse of empire. And where there is reason… there must be a cause.
As the saying (attributed to various thinkers) goes, the end of the world is now easier to imagine than the end of capitalism, yet ‘tis with a warranted sophisticated self-assuredness that Ghost mastermind Tobias Forge, now anointed as Papa Emeritus IV, aims to ascend to the pinnacle of greatness at the very moment the empire collapses into the smouldering pit. And thus, as technological totalitarians proselytise, the skies are ablaze in carbon, and thieving tycoons plan to flee in penis-shaped spacecrafts built from the sweat of below-minimum wage-labourers to Mars (…), Mephistopheles beckons: “Call Me Little Sunshine”. A lugubrious descant announces that Lucifer’s henchman has come upon the subject of his visitation, before submitting to a full-bore, sepulchral riff set to a hammer-to-anvil pulsation, conjuring up a procession of despondent marionettes at a black mass of the mechanised soul on their way to receive the inexorable sacrament of sedation. The hypnotic, menacing phrasing of Forge qua Mephistopheles promises a forlorn measure of relief over the melancholy strain of the delicate melody – but at what cost?
“You will never walk alone”, Mephistopheles croons, in a seductive-as-Satan bridge that offers a flicker of reassurance (or was it a dash of desire?) before the chorus crushes us under a crashing tapered candelabra of certain doom. Mephistopheles does not as much corrupt as visit upon those already irremediably corrupted to warn them of his own damnation, a private hell they too shall inhabit if they forego their earthly fellowship in favour of their private vice, and where they shall forever remain hence. The warning unheeded, Mephistopheles, in Forge’s sardonic, sickly intonation, can only taunt an eternal bathing in the shadow of his sunshine, the chorus destined to invite a preternatural comprehension of this metaphysic (and maybe even a lacrimatory splash) in many an isolated soul. An understated but perfectly tempered guitar solo leads us straight to the Hammond organ-subtended respite, a refrain that will birth a thousand arena-rock singalongs (and almost certainly a few ill-fated love affairs, resulting in even more corruptible homunculi), before the song concludes, its Faustian bargain, if it ever was a choice, sealed and seared into the brain.
The seeds of the fall of empire are in the uncoerced sacrifice of what begins as virtue and ambition, despite ample warning, to the intoxicating corruption in individual men’s souls; Mephistopheles is but a metaphor for reality. But that’s not the only symbolism here, as the accompanying video to “…Sunshine”, starring Ruby Modine (Shameless) and directed by Matt Mahurin is a phantasmagoric work of art in its own right that takes a number of cues, not just from the sublime Netherlandish marescapes of Bosch and Bruegel the Elder, but also from Metallica’s two The Unforgiven videos, also directed by Mahurin. Mahurin is hardly a coincidental choice, given both the requisite somber tone and the small matter that, like Metallica’s generation-defining Black Album, Impera is also Ghost’s 5th album, and Forge is hardly oblivious to the well-supported notion – given Ghost’s stratospheric ascendance the past decade – that he may be on the precipice of a similar achievement….to which 1st-gen Metallica fans may hiss: at what cost?
But there are empires, and then there are empires. Impera will tell – but if Ghost ascend to the acme, not just of Heavy Metal to fill the gaping void of what will be the catastrophic, practically simultaneous retirement of the quasi-entirety of our elder statesmen, but also expand their fiendish influence to culture more broadly, Forge (there’s always something in a name) may have succeeded in, well, forging his own empire. The signs are manifest, underscored by Ghost’s almost unique ability today to write tunes that blend the best of Hard Rock with the best of 1980’s pop sensibilities, something which has been patent on at least their last six singles (and “…Sunshine” is not dissimilar to Meliora’s Grammy-nominated smash hit “Cirice”), and the entire Prequelle album. In this case, Impera will be just what The Devil ordered; a simultaneous intervention to subvert empire and save culture on the scale of Lucifer, that original bringer of sunshine, objecting to God’s egomaniacal Old Testament arrogance, itself re-encoded in today’s structures of power and the plague of locusts they routinely unleash.
If this is Forge’s own Faustian bargain, we gratefully take the wizened outstretched hand of Papa Emeritus IV, so as rather to inhabit the heaven in hell Ghost imparts than the hell of the heaven promised by the ‘scourge[s] in the[ir] guise of sanctity’. Finally, how might “…Sunshine” connect to “Hunter’s Moon” on Impera? The clue is in the lyric: “Ease up to the hunter from the prey/And transform indefinitely” – as Rome burns, we may be compelled by necessity to embrace our predatorial nature in extremis. But we may as well have some howling fun with our transmogrification in the twilight of empire and, based on the strength of both “…Sunshine” and “Hunter’s Moon”, Impera is poised to provide just that.
10/10 (because “Hunter’s Moon” goes to 11!) Greatness is imminent, as Tobias Forge is set to take Ghost to the pinnacle of the Metal Mountain with Impera and, Lucifer willing, save broader culture from itself. It won’t be a minute too soon.
Ghost’s Call Me Little Sunshine” was released on January 20, 2022, via Loma Vista Recordings. Impera is due for release on March 11, 2022.