The secrecy surrounding Gojira’s possible new album makes it one of the most anticipated records of the year along with Carcass and Haken. Imperial Triumphant are on this elite list thanks to the magnificent avant-garde black metal stylings of their 2018 album, Vile Luxury. It’s rare for the hype machine to be wide of the mark, especially when the momentum driving the buzz is from the underground. So, is this the breakthrough opus that puts the New York trio in the premier league of contemporary metal?
Before we analyse the music, we must start with the pedigree. Trey Spruance (Mr Bungle/ ex-Faith No More) is the project lead tying everything together as producer and Tomas Haake of Meshuggah and Colin Marston (Gorguts and Infidel?/Castro!) add their creative output with guest appearances. Century Media seem honoured to release the music on their label rather than the other way around.
The names are as impressive as the wide range of music critics interested in this release beyond the metal world. It should be impossible to fail and, thankfully, this is the case with Alphaville. But there are one or two surprises along the way that will make even the most high-brow listener drop their Miles Davis vinyl to the floor with mouth agape. First up, the band’s decision to embrace a full-on Voivod direction is unexpected, with ‘Rotted Future’ and ‘Excelsior’ drawing from the dissonant guitar work of the French-Canadians’ 2018 album for their template. It’s not a homage, but it’s a notable change in sound. Fortunately, they don’t forget their New York jazz roots on these numbers and sprinkle each composition with plenty of bass shredding and unusual drum accents to keep things interesting. The chugging riff and industrial transformation in the latter make for a satisfying experience.
Another change is the near absence of black metal. It’s rare we get a tremolo riff or an atmospheric blast worthy of a wander in the midnight forests, but that’s more than compensated by the unique guitar work on ‘City Swine’, which is pure jazz in its chord formations. Towards the end, it descends into a riff of brutal down-strokes with a flurry of graceful piano splashes. Veds Buen Ende are the nearest comparison, but this is as original as it gets.
All seven compositions here are lengthy yet never tiresome. Alphaville’s strength is the way it gets better with each track. ‘Atomic Age’, ‘Transmission to Mercury’ and the title-track are masterful in their execution and admirable in their iconoclastic experimentation. ‘Transmission to Mercury’ is like they’ve all decided to play their own thing with the challenge to stay in time. It’s a fine piece of metallic jazz improvisation that will blow your mind with its many competing rhythms. ‘Atomic Age’ evokes the 2002 Dillinger Escape Plan with Mike Patton EP and explores the epileptic intensity of Naked City before settling on a Godflesh outro. And we also get jazz blast beats!
Only one reservation persists throughout this record. The monotone growls lack that zestful misanthropy required for extreme metal. Sophisticated music demands sophisticated vocals, but we get only a Darth Vader-esque voice that sounds like Obituary’s John Tardy with a bout of bronchitis. The band surely need to expand this on their next record.
Many end-of-year lists will feature Alphaville, and for good reason. This is not over-hyped nor is it pretentious. Imperial Triumphant are at the cutting edge of contemporary music and stride into the aristocracy of metal like the New York financiers who dominate their home city.
Release Date: 31/07/2020
Record Label: Century Media
Standout tracks: Rotted Futures, Transmission to Mercury, Alphaville
Suggested Further Listening: Voivod – The Wake (2018), Dillinger Escape Plan with Mike Patton – Irony is a Dead Scene (2002), Mayhem – Grand Declaration of War (2000)