Most black metal albums don’t start with a six-part horn chorale, but Imperial Triumphant‘s Vile Luxury does. The album’s first track, “Swarming Opulence,” begins with three trumpets (Jonathan Powell, Ben Hankle, and Jeff Hermanson), two trombones (Joe Beaty and J. Walter Hawkes) and Dan Peck‘s tuba creating a shimmering fanfare that, through reverb applied judiciously by producer Colin Marston, comes to resemble a church organ in the last few seconds before the band comes roaring in.
The band consists of lead vocalist and guitarist Zachary Ilya Ezrin, bassist and vocalist Steve Blanco, and drummer Kenny Grohowski. Since Grohowski works with John Zorn (he’s a member of Simulacrum and Insurrection) and also plays with Secret Chiefs 3 and the British prog band Brand X, Imperial Triumphant were never going to be a straight blast-beats-and-washes-of-guitar black metal band. But the degree of weirdness operating here is astonishing, no matter how your expectations were calibrated coming in. The horns reappear twice more on “Swarming Opulence,” at about the four-minute mark and again at the very end. In between, the band combines frantic drumming with clanging riffs that sound more indebted to Glenn Branca or very early Sonic Youth than Mayhem or Darkthrone.
The second track is a pounding, detuned roar, each element—the discordant guitars, the avalanche-like percussion, the liturgical female vocals from Sarai Chrzanowski—doing battle with the others. Ezrin’s voice is an indecipherable, guttural roar, not unlike the voice of the main vampire on the TV show The Strain. As the titles of these compositions—”Gotham Luxe,” “Cosmopolis,” “Luxury in Death”—indicate, he’s ranting about societal inequality, with a particular focus on the band’s native New York, but it’s made deliberately hard to tell for sure, which makes focusing on the music that much easier. And there’s a lot to listen to here. “Gotham Luxe” features a guitar solo that sounds like one by Fredrik Thordendal, the kind that blows through the room like an ice-cold blast of air, but in its final two minutes there’s a wave of ultra-heavy noise and distortion not unlike something from Azonic‘s Halo (a 1994 solo release by Blind Idiot God guitarist Andy Hawkins), one final sewer-metal outburst, and then a solo piano coda warped until it sounds like it’s playing in a haunted house, underwater. The instrumental “Mother Machine” features slow, disintegrating blues guitar, improvised-sounding bass and drum interaction, a muted, melancholy trumpet and, in its final minute, startlingly subterranean tuba rumbles. Vile Luxury is one of the most genuinely adventurous “metal” releases of the year, and one of the best. It’s a must-hear.
Watch the video for “Swarming Opulence”: