In a romantic sense, New York City embodies a perfect sampling of America. Opulence and poverty, history and revision, thriving culture and commodified gentrification, honesty and corruption, passionate vision and stubborn ignorance, grandeur and insignificance — all these things come together to make up a city that is as beloved for its endless opportunity and diversity in people and worldviews as it is reviled for its deep-seated association with power, money and depravity. Imperial Triumphant have taken it on themselves to tell the whole story of the city they call home, and Alphaville is the next chapter in that tale.
2018’s Vile Luxury saw Imperial Triumphant at the top of their game. Effortlessly blending their atonal, chaotic and highly experimental brand of black metal with jazz elements and the sights, sounds and emotions connected to New York City in a complicated, but ultimately highly rewarding listen. The trio of Zachary Ilya Ezrin, Steven Blasco and Kenny Grohowski created something that was beyond a mere metal album. They took a piece of their home, deconstructed it and put every piece of it to music in a swirling, angular, dissonant masterpiece (I love this album, in case it wasn’t apparent). Vile Luxury saw the band gain much well-deserved critical acclaim and go touring all over Europe and North America. The question I had on my mind when I grabbed Alphaville was “where do they go now?” Apparently, they’re still content in New York, as Alphaville continues right where Vile Luxury left off, with the city’s prominent architecture being the immediate attention-grabber. Thematically, where Vile Luxury captured the past and present of the city, Alphaville looks to the future, big and bright and full of systemic shifts and toppling constructs.
In keeping with their traditions and their embrace of New York City, the band once again recorded at Menegroth, The Thousand Caves, in Brooklyn, with the man himself Colin Marston, who rounds out a truly impressive list of special guests featured on the album. Alphaville represents something of a sonic departure from Vile Luxury, although there are plenty of similarities kept consistent. The tumultuous, seemingly formless and avant-garde black metal that the band is known for returns, albeit with more crisp and clean production than Vile Luxury. It lends itself well to the new songs, giving them a lot more room to breathe than the previous release, which prided itself on never quite letting up from start to finish. The jazz elements, while not completely gone, are not at the front and center like they were either, with the band instead opting to draw in atmospheric and post-metal influences, along with some other surprising, but ultimately on-brand, elements. Every element, from the producer and studio to the taiko drums recorded in a dojo in Williamsburg and played with the help of superstar Tomas Haake, to the doppler-effect like siren and rattling-train drum fills seeks to replicate the sounds of New York City. Metal Injection released a short documentary about the making of the record that goes into much more detail than I can, but for the second time in a row, Imperial Triumphant thought outside the box in order to bring the city they call home into the studio with them.
One thing that is plainly obvious on Alphaville is that all three musicians (hell, all of the many people who played on this album) are in perfect form. The band’s songwriting philosophy revolves around intentional but loose compositions that can equally evolve from jamming or thoughtful arranging. Lead single and opener “Rotted Futures” best showcases just how heavy this album can get. Blasco’s bass is very prominent in the mix here, complimenting the cleaner guitar tone that sets up the backdrop for the huge throb that propels the song into pummeling blast beats, futuristic synths and one of the many appearances of the carefully curated choir the band utilized, made up of Yoshiko Ohara, Andromeda Anarchia and Sarai Chrzanowski, among others. “Excelsior” and “Transmission to Mercury” see the band return to the jazz influences that brought them praise, but that’s not the most unorthodox Imperial Triumphant gets. “Atomic Age” opens with, what else, a barbershop quartet number before diving into lumbering, dissonant chugs and finishing with something close to atmospheric black metal, but with the requisite Imperial Triumphant spin. The vision pursued by the band on Alphaville is once again impeccable. This album succeeds so much because it was made with a purpose, and there is nothing here, however out of the ordinary, that is out of place or unnecessary. Every nasty riff, every jazz fill, every bass run, and yes, every barbershop vocal, is carefully thought out and perfectly executed.
Alphaville is as much of a triumph as Vile Luxury was, and it’s once again leaving me wondering where the hell this band can possibly go. Every time they release an album, I have my doubts about whether they’re going to top the last one and they always do. It could be because they have a specific vision that they are uniquely able to capture, it could be that they have a plethora of friends and collaborators willing to lend themselves to the project, or it could be that they are just a bunch of really talented, extremely unique musicians who are masters of their particular craft. It’s probably all three, but regardless, despite their continued dominance, it looks like the only way is up for Imperial Triumphant. I cannot wait to see what comes next, but in the meantime, I’m going to be spinning Alphaville for a long time to come.