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The contrasting nature of both jazz and metal music is more than apparent to the naked eye, yet there are some major similarities, which link them inexorably. On a surface level, these two music genres couldn`t be any farther apart stylistically, yet especially in the technichal subgenres of metal, plenty of jazzy influences and trademarks are to be found. In addition to that, back in the days of the prohibition, which was in effect roughly a century ago in the United States, jazz was associated as seedy underground music. It revelled in its artists´ decadence, who usually performed at so-called speakeasies, pubs and bars that were secretly selling high-percentage alcohol. Imperial Triumphant is a relatively new band from New York City, who made it their goal to fuse dizzying free jazz eruptions with the ounishing heaviness of extreme metal.
Riffing off the idea of being degenerate decadents, the enigmatic three-piece have constructed an aura of mystery surrounding them, wearing long, black cloaks and richly ornamented, golden face masks. Can Imperial Triumphant make this fusion of styles seem organic or do they lose any potential listeners with their unabashedly exhausting style?
According to interviews with Ilya, the main compositional force behind Imperial Triumphant, who is on dual duties with Guitars and Vocals, the main musical ingredient is in fact jazz. This dates back to the desire of wanting to give his home city, New York City, a testament through music. As mentioned earlier, jazz music used to be connotated with vile, degenerate debaucheries, especially in the urban areas of the 20s of the last century. Of course, New York would become a focal point of these perceived transgressions having such a rich, diverse history and quickly becoming one of the most prosperous cities around the world.
Therefore, in order to properly honour the extravagance of New York City, Imperial Triumphant was formed with equally extravagant music to bolster. At the root oft he music, a form of free jazz clearly lingers and occasionally erupts through, creating true cacophanies, which border on noise, However, by putting an alloy made of black and death metal over the jazzy core, the music transforms into something truly haunting and wallows in a genunine evil atmosphere born out of urban decadence.
Lyrically, Imperial Triumphant offer a contemplative look on current issues, especially with regards to the ardorous process of building and maintaining an entire city and the inevitable fallout that comes with a rising metropolis. Often focused on the perverse luxury of the ruling people, the narrative lens also focuses on the struggle of those, who do not prosper like the rest and are forced to live in squalor.
Both sides of the urban argument are represented within the lyrics, yet in collusion with their elaborate costumes, Imperial Triumphant clearly steer towards the more callous and indifferent elite. The choice of additional instruments like saxophones, brass trumpets and odd percussions like the Japanese Taiko drums (handled on Alphaville by Tomas Haake of Meshuggah fame) illustrate the vile opulence that Imperial Triumphant are eagerly criticising. Every now and then, there are passages and titles in Russian, since Ilya´s heritage tracks back to Russia, with songs like „Chernobyl Blues“ and „Bezamnaya“, which translates to crazy.
If the point of urban decadence and the continuous desensitization of people living in cities hasn´t been hammered down yet, the cult-like live performances will sway anyone who is still in doubt. The elaborate masks adorning the robed silhouettes of the three madmen already give out a vibe of cabals being made in secret. It is no surprise, that these masks, with their art deco style and emotionless faces, bear a striking resemblance to those worn by the secretive cult depicted in Stanley Kubrick´s final film „Eyes Wide Shut“, which happens to be set in New York City.
Bearing this in mind, it comes across not as a mere coincidence, but as a deliberate effort to further demonstrate the intent of Ilya´s band. During their frenetic and weird live shows, the three guys behind Imperial Triumphant bask in the glory of Moloch, celebrating the depraved ways on which each modern city is erected and maintained. To crown the whole experience, each and every time a bottle of champagne is spilled across the audience to heighten the depravity and decadence that comes with living in a metropolis. The dazzling musicianship, where no power chords are played, accompanies and guides the audience through the depths of human depravity.
The debauchery of abundance is present in every fibre of Imperial Triumphant´s musical endeavors. Sheer technical virtuosity meets soundscapes bordering on noise. Everything surrounding the band screams ambition; from their elabroate costumes and inhuman playing capabilities, especially the drums and bass leave jaws hanging on the floor. This is jazz taken to its perverse conclusion, coated in a metallic alloy.
Imperial Triumphant transcend mere genre boundaries with their blend of technical death/black metal bordering on the avant-garde. This is a band where the label avant-garde is truly fitting, since it is derived from French, meaning vanguard. With their utter insanity of a musical onslaught, Imperial Triumphant are trailblazers of an untapped source of music and will certainly inspire future bands to follow down their distinct path. What does that path look like exactly, though? Are any of the words of praise justified in any meaningful way?
The band was originally formed back in 2005 as a neoclassical black metal project, which the first two albums clearly testify. That approach was kept for ten years, but as soon as bass wizard Steve Blanco joined the band in 2015, things were starting to move into a different direction. Back in 2012, current drummer Kenny Grohowski entered the fold and has remained behind the kit ever since. These two gentlemen play off each other so well that it required a complete change of pace musically.
The release of the third album „Vile Luxury“ would mark the turn into a new, vitriolic band that has a unique approach and vision. This change is already apparent in the first track „Swarming Opulence“, which starts with a wild array of trombones and trumpets, setting the mood to a deliciously different form of evil.
Compared to the previous efforts of Imperial Triumphant, this album shifts gears tremendously and openly embraces the twisted world of urban decadence. Even tubas can be heard, and all the brass instruments fit into a cohesive whole, instead of sounding out of place at the hands of a lesser band.
Two years later, the follow-up „Alphaville“ was released, which would fully cement Imperial Triumphant´s status as a force to be reckoned with. The individual songs get more time to breathe and evolve, without ever becoming tiring or even boring. „Rotted Futures“ and „Atomic Age“ are clear highlights on this record, forcing the listener to bear witness to a dystopia, which does not feel to far off from the real world. There are even two bonus tracks, both covers, by the mighty Voivod and cult underground band The Residents, that are transformed into Imperial Triumphant´s sound effortlessly.
Another two years later, on July 22nd, their fifth album „Spirit of Ecstasy“ was released through Century Media Records and stands firm as the most focused release to date. Each and ever song has a unique twist that rewards multiple listens, as does the rest of Imperial Triumphant`s splendid discography. It`s music for music lovers who crave new exciting combinations of sound, and the patience and perservance will certainly pay off for most music aficionados.
Songs like „Merkurius Gilded“, which features a mind-blowing saxophone part, or the closer „Maximalist Scream“, which has the inimitable Snake of Voivod providing guest vocals, deliver both a punishing and cathartic listening experience. The three men of Imperial Triumphant keep on evolving into a beast, which has not been heard like this before and will surely alienate some, but those who appreciate challenging music will have something to gloat over for years to come.
Desperate to broaden your musical horizon just like Imperial Triumphant manage to do? Then join the club of mukken.com, an online music platform that has a dedicated team of music lovers working around the clock to satisfy every musical itch. The blog keeps on growing on a daily basis, featuring ranging topics such as features, coachings and specific knowledge of instruments and/or music programmes. More fascinating topics are being looked upon and prepared for inclusion on the blog. If the blog isn´t enoug, then feel free to check out the networking aspect of mukken.com, where active musicians can connect and make their craft prosper together. Come on in, because music brings people together.
Originally published on February 2, 2023, updated on March 4, 2023