Album Review: IMPERIAL TRIUMPHANT - Alphaville
Artist: Imperial Triumphant
Genre: Avant-garde Metal
Review by Thomas Riley Lanyon
Since it’s decrepit birth in the 1980s, extreme metal has worn many faces, forever pushing against the seams of its limitations to the point where, fast forward some thirty-odd years, it’s apparent it has none. This desire to continually expand extreme metals tapestry is the reason that a band like New York’s, Imperial Triumphant, can be truly avant-garde, and thrive because of it; and Alphaville is the sound of a band well and truly thriving.
Alphaville is a remarkable record, not only because of the music itself but because of how the themes and imagery of the album inform the music. Put simply, Alphaville is a master-stroke of evocation. It’s a dissonant blend of black and death metal, that elegantly interpolates jazz, industrial, noise, and a barbershop quartet into that dizzying mix, before filtering it through a dystopian, retro-futurist lens. Imperial Triumphant gives you the Metropolis in all it’s vile luxury, where the elite gaze down from architectural wonders of steel and glass at the scurrying swine below.
Even more remarkable still are the individual moments that makeup Alphaville, and the performances by Zachary Ilya Ezrin (Guitars/Vocals), Steve Blanco (Bass/Piano/Synth/Vocals), and Kenny Grohowski (Drums), Imperial Triumphant’s exemplary trio. A bell chimes and the drone begins, swelling to a peak before the off-kilter groove of “Rotted Futures” sets in. It’s a brilliant introduction to the record that informs the listener of the blackened avant-garde jazz trip they’ve just found themselves on. There’s the unsettling, eerily enunciated growl of Ezrin, deft bouts of brass, and the angelic choral chanting that’s as beautiful as it is horrific. The title track and “Excelsior” are both showcases for the nimble fretwork of bassist, Steve Blanco, who’s basslines slither through the instrumentation like an insidious serpent. The halftime breakdown that mutates into sputtering industrial noise in the latter tracks second half is also worth mentioning, as it stands as a highlight among highlights.
In “City Swine”, the band dial back on density in parts, building atmosphere and tension through skeletal instrumentation and rhythmic percussion. Legendary Meshuggah drummer, Tomas Haake, performs a Japanese Taiko drum solo through the tracks mid-section that collapses into a cacophonous deluge of discordance and jangly, clanking piano keys. It’s a real apex moment. “Atomic Age” has it all; the barbershop quartet opening, magnificent grotesque grooves that sway like some hellish pendulum, guttural Russian mutterings, skronky, schizophrenic freakouts, and the commanding shriek of Bloody Panda vocalist, Yoshiko Ohara.
The noir-jazz that opens, “Transmission To Mercury”, offers some welcome respite from the hustle and bustle. Saxophone hovers like smoke in the air before it’s kicked up by a gust of black metal, the two now entwined, fighting for dominance. “The Greater Good”, Alphaville’s closing piece, is a worthy send-off for this uniquely arresting album, and shines a spotlight on drummer, Kenny Grohowski, who's performance in the second half is nothing short of mind-boggling. The snare and kick drum spiraling, out of control, in tandem, before evaporating into thin air, replaced by 1920s-esque synths and strings that fade away into nothingness.
With Alphaville, Imperial Triumphant has composed an extreme metal, avant-garde monument for the ages. An ode to the sights and sounds, both grand and terrible, of New York City. Welcome to the dawn of the new Roaring ’20s.
Alphaville is out now via Century Media Records.