Imperial Triumphant – Alphaville

Rating: 4/5
Distributor/label: Century Media Records
Released: 2020
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Zachary Ilya Ezrin – Vocals & Guitar,
Kenny Grohowski – Drums,
Steve Blanco – Bass, Vocals & Keyboards.


1. Rotted Futures
2. Excelsior
3. City Swine
4. Atomic Age
5. Transmission To Mercury
6. Alphaville
7. The Greater Good
8. Experiment
9. Happy Home


Whilst no art form can ever be exempt of critique, there are those that can rely on a cast-iron, all-purpose line of defence more readily than others. Anything that can be considered “avant garde” instantly has the barricades up and can be considered almost entirely immune to criticism. The chief counter argument to any naysaying is that the critic “didn’t get it”, and that their opinion would be different if they had spent more time with the material, did further reading, or done better at school instead of smoking behind the bike sheds. While it is true that opinions can change over time, and understanding begets familiarity begets enjoyment, it is odd that said critic is still branded a luddite for their views even after they have done their job. What if they got “it”, but just didn’t like “it” for their purely subjective reasons?

With that rumination clanging between the ears, we have ‘Alphaville’ from New York avant-garde black metallers IMPERIAL TRIUMPHANT, and the above waffle won’t be the only thing clanging about in the void between your King Lears once it’s done. Almost at once at home in jazz as black metal, yet alien from both for each genre’s apparent impenetrability, the trio’s fourth outing is a viciously complicated record awash with nuanced noodling, aggression and a constant sense of discomfort. Heavily influenced by their home city, the overall impression from ‘Alphaville’ is one of suffocating journeying about the city’s more insalubrious sights through the smog. If the words “avant-garde”, “jazz” and “black metal” didn’t immediately scream “uneasy”, the opening strains of “Rotted Futures” will set you right.

Your album opener typically goes for a quiet approach, or straight for the jugular, whereas IMPERIAL TRIUMPHANT opt for the little known third option: creeping dread. Fading in with dissonant tones, before launching into tumbling, discordant rhythms that could ably depict a chaotic subway ride, “Rotted Futures” suitably sets out the stall for the rest of the record, with nothing off-limits. Where it finishes with a shining organ chord, “Atomic Age” opens with a barbershop verse before a colossus-esque hulking riff crushes all before it. Screaming, wailing melodies permeate lending another ample slice of harrowing dread about the piece, whilst follow up track “Transmission To Mercury” proves tricksy with an opening jazz piano salvo, that later gives way to black metal extremity; blasting, thrashing and sounding as pained as the forgotten souls lost in New York’s rotting nadir.

What is remarkable about ‘Alphaville’ is that it can have absolutely every single idea under the sun, yet amongst the cacophony of noise, they don’t feel lost or like afterthoughts. The blaring trumpet that works its way into “Transmission To Mercury” sounds like MILES DAVIS succumbing to some form of mental instability, but it doesn’t come across as trite or unnecessary. Rather, much like the Taiko drums on “City Swine”, and the orchestration towards the end of “The Greater Good”, they feel like a requirement to bulk out an already cluttered and busy sonic landscape. Where that would ordinarily work against a band’s goal, it only enhances IMPERIAL TRIUMPHANT’s dark, twisted music with no boundaries.

To return to an earlier point, ‘Alphaville’ presents an incredible challenge to “get”. It is the sonic equivalent to a nightmare made flesh and riding with you on an out-of-control subway train, so does not come easy. To the untrained ear, both jazz and black metal are damn near un-listenable to some (“…it’s just random notes”/“…it’s just noise”), but there are a lot of footholds to IMPERIAL TRIUMPHANT’s work. The free-thinking, no-holds-barred approach to songwriting, crisp production, and an overarching theme around their home that works as well as a frame as it does a terrifying, obsidian portrait are all positives to note before embarking upon the journey that is ‘Alphaville’. Now that may seem a touch pretentious referring to it as a journey, but it is an album that requires considerable attention – to appreciate the impeccable musicality and chaos, you need to actually listen. It will brickwall a lot of music lovers out there, but to those that can bash through, there is some crazed, malevolent fun to behold.