New York City is a strange dichotomy. Depending on who you ask, you’ll either get mental pictures of Broadway musicals, jazz concerts, the colorfully decorative Times Square, and shopping centers and skyscrapers within a stone’s throw of each other… or you’ll get a grim story of the rampant drug use and homelessness, its long history of violent crimes, and the hopelessness and gritty realities of its citizens that birthed the city’s rap, hardcore, and metal scenes. The thing is, either story would be correct. On their third full-length, Vile Luxury, Imperial Triumphant paints a vivid picture of their city’s duality: shimmering and powerful, yet simultaneously ugly and brutal. In doing so, they also crafted an album that’s the American equivalent to Voices‘ ode to their own home, 2014’s London.
Imperial Triumphant‘s last album, 2015’s Abyssal Gods, was a colossal headfuck of epic proportions, and found itself in my Top Ten(ish) of that year. Abyssal Gods, however, didn’t even begin to prepare me for the sudden curveballs and about-faces Vile Luxury pulled me through. Just like Imperial Triumphant lyrically and even visually pulls from their city’s lineage, the further dives into jazz (as made apparent on their Inceste EP from 2016) increase their separation from the throngs of bands ripping off Deathspell Omega. In truth, you can say they’ve pulled as much (if not more) influence from John Coltrane and Miles Davis as they have DsO and Gorguts. That fact becomes relevant as soon as “Swarming Opulence” kicks off, with horns blaring a dark, somber interlude, giving the album a sense of regal superiority before the band lurches forth, with Ilya’s trademark cavernous growls and angular riffs cutting around him while Kenny Grohowski blasts, barrels, and stops on a dime, taking what is already chaotic and propelling it all to unforeseen levels of batshit insanity.
As Vile Luxury progresses, the double-takes become borderline neck-snapping. “Gotham Luxe” plays off almost like a diseased waltz that would have fit Eyes Wide Shut‘s infamous group sex scene, being both lurid enough to gain one’s attention while being so depraved that you can’t help from looking away (but wanting to all the same). “Chernobyl Blues” starts off innocuously enough, with shimmery, shiny feedback, slowly played drums, Ilya growling quietly, but then devolves into blastbeats, razor-sharp riffing, and Ilya trading off growls while Bloody Panda‘s Yoshiko Ohara shrieks and screeches. Elsewhere, penultimate track “The Filth” misleads you into a sense of calm and closure, complete with Andromeda Anarchia’s operatic wailing, before pulling you further into the abyss.
Once again, Colin Marston’s production and mixing scores a home run for the band, somehow balancing the chaos with instrumental clarity. Newcomer Steve Blanco’s bass never once feels buried or muted, the horns blare with a crystal-like shine, and the drums retain their power throughout. Even more impressive is Imperial Triumphant‘s ability to build tension and drama. When “Chernobyl Blues” closes out, with Ohara’s screeches growing louder and more distorted, the band and Marston felt that “Cosmopolis” should have a few seconds of quiet immediately after. That feeling is akin to watching a horribly violent crime scene play out fully and watching it end abruptly with a false sense of calm before the insanity begins anew. It’s moments like this that kept me coming back for more. If there was a nitpick, closer “Luxury in Death” doesn’t quite hit the same notes the other seven songs hit, but that’s exactly that… a nitpick.
In a year that has honestly let me down on a musical level, Imperial Triumphant scored big with Vile Luxury. But truth be told, the year could have been rich in musical treasures, and Vile Luxury still would have dwarfed the fuck out of the vast majority of releases. Ugly yet regal, diseased yet extravagant, Vile Luxury unearths new gems on each successive replay. May Imperial Triumphant‘s reign of weirdness continue unabated.
DR: 10 | Format Reviewed: 160 kbps mp3
Labels: Gilead Media (NA) | Throatruiner Records (EU)
Websites: imperialtriumphant.bandcamp.com | facebook.com/imperialtriumphant
Releases Worldwide: July 13th, 2018