Death metal’s artistic ascent in the early 90s and the avant-garde influence on black metal bands such as Sigh, Ved Buens Ende and Dødheimsgard helped pave the way for our modern understanding of complex, intense forms of metal. Thankfully, decades on, we’re still having our brains scrambled by truly progressive acts across metal’s continually expanding spectrum. Judging by the acclaim deservedly hyped upon astral travellers such as Blood Incantation, Cryptic Shift and Oranssi Pazuzu, we are now in the midst of a very exciting creative period – and NYC avant-black/death metallers Imperial Triumphant are another leading example.
On their 2018 LP, Vile Luxury, the trio manipulated the listener’s psyche and physical wellbeing through sonic axis-shifting and malevolent aesthetics. Its opening occult fanfare of a six-part horn chorale set a disorientating, erudite and masterful tone for what was a claustrophobic score of NYC life and its past and present corruption, criminality and inequality. Metal didn’t often get that regal – or brutal – during the last decade, which is why Alphaville, named after Jean-Luc Godard’s 1965 dystopian future- world sci-fi film, is so highly anticipated amongst those who want artists to continue to push compositions to radical limits.
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By using Vile Luxury’s base headfuck style, as a launch pad for even more outlier, boundary-blitzing aims, Imperial Triumphant have done just that on album four. At times, their noir- jazz influences are so pronounced that it sounds as though Miles Davis’s troupe from 1971’s Live-Evil are jamming maniacally inside Portal’s grandfather clock. Rotted Futures sets the scene with its distorted violin wails descending into a sideways Voivod-ian groove, drummer Kenny Grohowski’s freefalling fills bouncing off the respective angular bass and guitar thrills of Steve Blanco and Ilya. Ilya’s demonic bellows act as an essential fulcrum from which the instrumentals swing, blast and morph, especially during Excelsior and the title track – not unlike a black/death extension of The Dillinger Escape Plan’s work with Mike Patton.
Starting with a damn barbershop quartet – surely a first for metal – Atomic Age incorporates composer Bernard Hermann’s use of heart-stopping tension, as heard on Hitchcock’s Psycho, into its off-kilter destructive swarms. If that’s not odd enough, Meshuggah’s Tomas Haake turns up to track Japanese Taiko drums with the band. Those recordings are skilfully melded into the terrorscapes by the production team of Trey Spruance (Mr. Bungle) and Colin Marston (Krallice/Gorguts) in eyebrow-raising fashion, particularly prior to the midpoint industrial meltdown of City Swine. Impressively, as best exemplified by Transmission To Mercury and its opening piano-and-sax lounge-jazz coda, there’s also an increased use of instrumental space, so that when the trio do unleash hellfire, the impact has a heightened synapse-frying effect.
This exquisite record, which includes influence-highlighting covers of Voivod and The Residents, is rife with atypical ideas and moments of groundbreaking extremity, making Alphaville not only the finest, most daring and accomplished Imperial Triumphant LP to date, but also a benchmark for metal’s avant-extreme sect to outdo going forward. If that’s even a realistic possibility…