New York’s Imperial Triumphant, one of avant-garde metal’s most exciting and forward-looking bands, has returned with one of 2020’s essential albums. You may recall that we said their previous release, 2018’s Vile Luxury, was “one of the most genuinely adventurous ‘metal’ releases of the year, and one of the best… a must-hear.” Well, this one goes even farther out.

Because this is at its core an extreme metal release, it’s impossible to understand the lyrics without reading along. But Imperial Triumphant have long been concerned with — one might say fixated on — the inequalities of society, particularly in New York, which pre-coronavirus, had become a playground for the idle ultra-rich. Now, of course, it’s a plague-stricken wasteland, populated by “essential” workers risking their lives because they can’t afford to stay home. Seems like their next album could easily be written today. Song titles like “Rotted Futures,” “City Swine,” and the title track express that perspective clearly, though. So let’s discuss the sounds.

IT are a trio — Zachary Ezrin on vocals and guitars, Steve Blanco on bass and keyboards, and Kenny Grohowski on drums. There are many guests this time out, though: Andromeda Anarchia, Sarai Chrzanowski, R.K. Halvørson, and Yoshiko Ohara (formerly of Bloody Panda) contribute vocals; Tomas Haake of Meshuggah plays taiko drums; Colin Marston, who also engineered the album, adds guitar; J. Walter Hawkes plays trombone; and Phlegeton of Spanish tech-death band Wormed contributes vocals to a cover of Voivod‘s “Experiment” that appears on the deluxe edition.

This is more or less a black metal album, but an uncommonly dense and heavy one, with many elements of sci-fi death metal mixed in (e.g. covering Voivod). There are also unexpected touches, like the barbershop quartet that opens “Atomic Age” or the piano-and-trombone section of “Transmission to Mercury.” The former track also includes blast beat sections, dissonant crawling doom passages, blasts of industrial noise, and unearthly shrieks. It’s a collage of ways to achieve pain with sound, seemingly designed to keep the listener focused by repeatedly wrong-footing them. The latter is even more fascinating, laying melancholy trombone over blast beats which are in turn swathed in choral voices, with distorted guitars, almost jazz-fusion bass, and electronic noise creeping in at the margins as Anarchia’s post-Yoko Ono shrieks gradually climb from near-background to greater and greater prominence. There’s so much going on in this track that 6:41 barely seems enough to contain it all; five more minutes would have been just as thrilling.

I don’t even want to discuss this album in full detail, so I’m gonna stop here. I want you to seek it out and listen to it. Multiple times. Let it wash over you, let it colonize your brain. It’s easily one of the year’s best metal releases, with much more to offer than mere heaviness.

Phil Freeman

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