REVIEW: IMPERIAL TRIUMPHANT – “Alphaville”
New York avant-garde metal mavens Imperial Triumphant returns with their brand new album Alphaville. The band received acclaim for combining dissonant black/death metal with big band jazz to create an album that truly depicted the modern horrors of an urban dystopia. With their previous album ‘Vile Luxury’’s success, how would the band approach the new follow up, ‘Alphaville’? The band turned up the weird and intensity scale to an eleven and slammed the gas pedal. ‘Alphaville’ is their best album to date.
The album opens up with “Rotted Futures” where an eerie intro climbs higher but at the same time, it feels like you are descending into the pits of unease. You are then immediately propelled into a steady rhythmic trance while the vocals speak to you of what’s going to come. The band then descends into utter chaos with dizzying passages, similar to those of Thantifaxath, Abigor, Deathspell Omega, and Portal. The instruments spin around playing anxious and unsteady melodies, bouncing off one another as if they were trapped and trying to escape. “Excelsior” bombards you with short bursts of frantic dissonant attacks. “City Swine” brings out everything in the arsenal and leaves absolutely nothing but static by the end. This is what the band is known for and they are not pulling any punches.
‘Alphaville’ sees multiple changes that worked quite well. The first was the renaissance of the bass. The bass is incredibly audible and provides some excellent lines and counterpoint. In “Rotted Futures”, the bass plays some complex counterpoint that line up with the guitars and drums to create those dizzying passages. In Excelsior, the bass serves as the main melodic voice as it lays down the jazzy lines that weave through the entire song as if the song was built around them. The bass playing on this album is definitely going to be one of the top bass performances all year.
‘Alphaville’ sees the band continuing their quest for experimentation. On songs like “City Swine” and “Atomic Age”, the band breaks into these vertigo-inducing passages that would not be out of place on an Oranssi Pazuzu album. These passages further highlight the uneasiness and unsteadiness of the music. This is further emphasized by a moment in the song that can be seen as quite terrifying. The choirs from ‘Vile Luxury’ return with a larger role as they add a multitude of dimensions as they are integrated in a variety of ways. The use of taiko drums, barbershop quartet, chants, and other instrumentation really compounds on the weirdness and diversity of this album. The band also experimented with different tones and synths, most notability in the industrial-esque parts in Excelsior and the title track “Alphaville”.
‘Alphaville’ is also the band’s most dynamic album as the band establishes multiple layers to the music. The most notable song I want to highlight is “Transmission to Mercury”. This song perfectly contrasts the album. This song is almost entirely an atmospheric black metal song that features long layered interludes of piano and brass that bleeds the dark jazz feel reminiscent of White Ward. The aforementioned psychedelic passages and as well as the rhythmic grooves that range from trance-like to dance-like also give nice contrasts. “The Greater Good” sees the band go down with a more melodic approach to their riffs akin to Demilich which adds a new dimension to the sound. The album flows nicely as it shifts around as it crescendos and diminuendos into the different sections. The band is not afraid to use sudden switches into softer dynamics, silence, samples, or even solo instrumentation to create tasteful moments.
Lastly, I want to highlight the band’s ability to build and release tension. The band uses the ebb and flow, the contraction and relaxation, of tension to great effectiveness. In a section of “City Swine”, the band slowly builds from chanting and suddenly explodes into aggressive noisy theatrics that layer on the tension to crushingly palpable levels. All that pressure suddenly gets lifted when the band shifts to an elegant but still energetic section that basks you with the beauty and euphoria of a cathartic release. This wave of sonic glamour carries propels you forward as you feel nothing but bliss. It is definitely one of the best moments of the album.
If you were hoping for more big band jazz-like in their song “Swarming Oppulance”, this album may leave you a little disappointed. The brass is used more seldomly as the primary jazz influence on this album is in the guitars, and especially in the bass. My only complaints are that parts of the album could use better songwriting as the band cuts down too much. I would also want to see more of the experimentation as some only appeared once on the album. The last two tracks are excellent covers of “Experiment” by Voivod and “Happy Home” by The Residents and they fit perfectly with the context of the album. I wouldn’t skip these at all.
‘Alphaville’ is one monstrous journey that takes you deep into the horrors of urban dystopia through a swirling vortex of cacophony. Imperial Triumphant masterfully crafts a hellish sonic landscape that lures you in with the dissonant grooves, overwhelms you with the anxiety of the shifting chaos, and provides you the joy of release from all the dense pressure built up, only to catapult you back for the next round of musical onslaught. In that sense, ‘Alphaville’ is a no-nonsense and highly experimental album that drags you down the gates of hell within the shadows of a cityscape. It will leave you haunted in the wake of your own modernity.