Imperial Triumphant – Alphaville Review

Growing up, I’ve harbored a sense of unease whenever a band makes the leap to a major label. While I’m always happy to see musicians make a living from the music they create, there were times when bands would lose parts of what made them unique in that jump. No one screams “unique” quite like New York City’s Imperial Triumpant. Over the course of three fantastic albums and a handful of EPs, we’ve seen them morph from French-inspired black metal to the jazzy-yet-brutal, grimy-yet-regal golden-masked monster you see today. However, their signing to Century Media worried a few of us staffers here. With each subsequent single being dropped online, our fears were slowly dissipating as Alphaville approached release.

After several listens, I can assure you that this is still challenging, still visceral, still bizarre, and still very much Imperial Triumphant. All the ingredients remain, from the majestically grotesque atmosphere, the busy hand and footwork of drumming powerhouse Kenny Grohowski, who lets loose cymbal flourishes and off-kilter rhythms throughout, through to Ilya’s clearly-enunciated growls and ridiculous guitar licks, like the sliding tremolo line on “Rotten Futures.” Thematically, Alphaville shares the same template as its predecessor, Vile Luxury, in glorifying their home’s dual nature of the ideal American city while exposing its seedy underbelly, and with it, the blackened death metal with atonal jazz influences make a welcome return.

But that’s not to say there aren’t new tricks up their sleeves, and they add some interesting moments. Meshuggah’s Tomas Haake appears halfway through “City Swine,” laying out a taiko drum section that acts as the song’s dividing line, with the first half sporting a free-flowing, loose vibe while the second throwing down the heft, complete with blastbeats, staccato riffing, and bassist Steve Blanco hammering atonal chords on a piano. Also, the barbershop quartet that opens up album highlight “Atomic Age” gives off a misleadingly optimistic vibe before lunching forward and slowly taking deliberate steps, offering moments of calmness while knowing that something nefarious is just around the corner. And as the song progresses, the quicker tempos, atonal riffs, and general busyness of the music bottoms out, leaving just a woman offering a hymnal before Bloody Panda’s Yoshiko Ohara, once again, delivers a jaw-dropping (and throat-eviscerating) performance, screaming and screeching bloody murder to full effect.

Produced by Trey Spruance and engineered by Colin Marston, Alphaville sounds organic and full, with Blanco’s bass punching through the drums and Ilya’s atonal guitar wizardry. We all know the adage about not fixing unbroken things, and thankfully Spruance, Marston, and Imperial left that sound firmly intact. My only gripe is that, after “Atomic Age,” it feels like there’s a bit too much to chew on. It’s odd saying that, as Vile Luxury is only six minutes shorter than Alphaville, but certain parts of the title track and proper album closer1 “The Greater Good” drag the songs out to near breaking points.

But as a whole, Alphaville once again plants Imperial Triumphant into the forefront of avant-garde metal. Between the fluid transitions between songs, the various head-jerking moments littered throughout, and the sheer level of musicianship on display by all involved, Alphaville showcases just what Imperial is capable of. Now that they’re reaching an even bigger audience, more heads will turn their way. Sure, those who’ve never dug the band will continue to do so, but for the rest of us, here’s to another fantastic chapter to the Big Apple’s glitz, glamour, and grime, written by one of their city’s absolute best.

Rating: 4.0/5.0
DR: 9 | Format Reviewed: 2116 kbps wav
Label: Century Media Records
Websites: |
Releases Worldwide: July 31st, 2020

Show 1 footnote

  1. Their covers of Voivod’s “Experiment” and The Residents’ “Happy Home” follow, and both are fed through the Imperial Machine with awesome results.
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