Imperial Triumphant’s new album Alphaville is out now via Century Media Records.
2020 has hosted a fair share of metal albums confronting the futility of the individual in the face of larger powers. Pyrrhon’s Abscess of Time took arms against the slavish devotion festered by nine to five efficiency and Ulcerate examined the implications of gazing upon certain death (a sentiment not too dissimilar from this year’s landscape) and, well, being still. Yet Alphaville is the most tangible metal album of 2020 in terms of thematic resonance. Its grandeur personifies the opulent metropolis that birthed it.
Imperial Triumphant don the masks of the antagonists on Alphaville; with overwhelming technicality and brutality they embody the oppressive elite. They don’t want you here. They want to remind you that you are beneath them. The lyrics detail a thousand eyes gazing down, control states, and commercial indoctrination from the vantage point of the tallest skyscraper in the world. There are no attempts to garner sympathy because sympathy infers compassion; there is no place for compassion in Alphaville, only progress towards a mechanized, glimmering future. To suppress the underlings the powerful must flaunt their excellence, yet Alphaville is never indulgent in its technical prowess.
Instead, it serves to bank the idea of inadequacy into its subjects. Imperial Triumphant’s songwriting is too dynamic to let their technicality teeter into wankery. Solos are short, songs mutate and fluctuate, and every triumph is kept taut enough to remain focused. Every technical flourish is done in service to preserving the aesthetic of unchecked hedonism rather than divulge into a puree of musical hedonism. Alphaville’s caricature of upper-class malice is potent and – to the album’s success – revolting.
The jazz fusion Imperial Triumphant employ supplies generous variety to the sonic palette of Alphaville. The tin-pan alley sample that announces the arrival of ‘Atomic Age’ breeds an air of dystopia that’s matched by patient codas halfway through the track. Hell, listen another two minutes and ‘Atomic Age’ distorts the haughtiness of insular jazz. The track devolves into the sound of hell converging in on itself. Everything peaks as if to say Imperial Triumphant are from a world above. The neo-noir trumpet and piano melody on ‘Transmission to Mercury’ contrasts with the brutality that soon follows it. None of this is to frame a record of two distinct worlds – jazz and metal – that swim around each other without ever meeting. The New York City-based avant-garde group’s blend of death and black metal is elevated to punishing degrees by off-time grooves and anxiety-inducing jazz bridges.
‘City Swine’ tenses around a prolonged drum solo that crumbles into a crushing breakdown. It’s akin to watching a skyscraper sway in the wind then feeling every single ton of its momentous weight collapsing onto you. The final two minutes of the title track plays out like a hellish perversion of jazz improvisation – Imperial Triumphant cram ever irregular time signatures, riffs, and drum patterns into what amounts to being a quarter of the entire track. It’s chaos capped off by the maddening refrain “état de contrôle.”
As much as Alphaville grounds itself in the distinction between the decadent and the impoverished Imperial Triumphant succeed by adeptly intertwining luxury and punishment. The horror of Alphaville is the knowledge that oftentimes both traits can come from the same source, and the powerlessness to resist either.
Order Alphavilla here.