Longtime readers of this site know that we’ve been on the tip about Imperial Triumphant for quite a while now. Between profiles, interviews, podcast episodes and, of course, album reviews (of which I’ve had the distinct pleasure of supplying two, plus a review of their tea collab), I think it’s safe to say we are pretty well sold on their particular brand, nebulous as it may be at times. Even though Alphaville is barely two years old as of this writing, Spirit of Ecstasy feels like a long time coming. Maybe it’s just because I can’t get enough of what they put out.
As you may have guessed, there’s not really much more to say about the New York City trio that hasn’t already been said, and seeing as how they have been on a sharply upward trajectory ever since 2018’s Vile Luxury, you probably know a thing or two about how they operate, so I’ll skip the usual preamble. Alphaville saw the band dial back on the jazz influences that featured heavily on Vile Luxury in favor of much more avant garde and post-metal tendencies. This was the right choice to move their sound forward and stop them from being pigeonholed as “the jazz metal band,” but what made Alphaville a standout release even more than that was the staggering amount of guest features that contributed to the overall soundscape in ways that pushed the band into sonic territory unexplored by them, or anyone, for that matter. On Spirit of Ecstasy, a nice middle ground is found between the more straight forward black metal and jazz and the wild weirdness of experimental sounds, but the secret sauce is once again the guests featured, because it gets even wilder. Of course Colin Marston is back behind the desk and featured on electronic drums and “YouTube” (you’ll see when you listen to it), previous contributors Andromeda Anarchia and Yoshiko Ohara are back with vocal contributions, but among others there are a couple of headspinning guests that really set Spirit of Ecstasy up for success: Snake of Voivod lends his voice to “Maximalist Scream;” Percy Jones of Brian Eno and Brand X (and also PAKT with Kenny Grohowski and Alex Skolnick) adds bass; Alex Skolnick, Trey Spruance and Max Gorelick all lay down guitar solos, and yes, Max’s father Kenny Fucking G supplies his signature smooth soprano saxophone like you have never heard before. It is a testament to the skills and nature of this group of people to have this many friends in high places, and once again this level of skill and diversity makes Spirit of Ecstasy an almost immediate triumph.
This is to say nothing of the chops of the three main figures behind the gilded masks. Kenny Grohowski is an absolute legend behind the kit, and Spirit of Ecstasy is no exception. One listen to the “Hot for Teacher” style drum intro that kicks off the album will immediately let you know that there hasn’t been a second of slouching in the short time since we were graced with Alphaville. Bassist Steve Blanco’s grooves switch effortlessly between jazzy walks and lumbering grinds, all holding down the fort while taking subtle moments to shine in the spotlight. All cylinders are firing, and as stated above, what we get is sort of a blend of Vile Luxury and Alphaville. It’s not a 50/50 blend, but the jazz and traditional black metal influences peak themselves out a little bit more here than they have in the past, which manifest themselves in some mighty tasty riffs from Zachary Ezrin, as in “Chump Change” and “Maximalist Scream” in particular, the former of which also features what I would bet my life is an Alex Skolnick solo (but hey, correct me if I’m wrong). Truly, the guitar solos are some of the best parts of this album, interjecting a vital energy in between moments of sheer chaos, helping to ground things before they start becoming too overwhelming. Of course, Kenny G’s sax solo on “Merkurius Gilded” is sheer chaos incarnate, but something about the fact that you know it’s Kenny G helps keep things on stable ground. It also has to be said as well that Spirit of Ecstasy needs to be seen as well as heard, as the music videos that accompany singles “Merkurius Gilded” and “Maximalist Scream” are effortlessly cool examples of artistic cinema, expertly directed by Blanco and produced by the band.
Another success in a long string of successes, it seems Spirit of Ecstasy finds Imperial Triumphant right where we always knew they deserved to be. It is the culmination of technique, talent and artistic vision all coming together in a package that, while definitely not mass-produced for mainstream consumption, begs to be unwrapped and explored in depth, all with a little help from some friends. I am completely hooked on whatever it is that they do at this point, and I hope it gets weirder from here on out.