Imperial Triumphant’s Alphaville soundtracks our civilizational suicide by capitalism | Music Review | Chicago Reader

Imperial Triumphant’s Alphaville soundtracks our civilizational suicide by capitalism 

Sign up for our newsletters Subscribe

click to enlarge Imperial Triumphant

Imperial Triumphant

Alex Krauss

The overlap between extreme metal and avant-garde improvised music is admittedly slight, but that tiny patch of ground produces some extravagantly bizarre fruits—among them New York City trio Imperial Triumphant. Drummer Kenny Grohowski frequently collaborates with downtown-scene daddy John Zorn, most notably performing his music in Simulacrum with guitarist Matt Hollenberg of Cleric and organist John Medeski. And bassist Steven Blanco not only has a history as a jazz pianist but also plays bass in PAK with guitarist Ron Anderson of Molecules and Rat at Rat R fame, alongside Cleric drummer Larry Kwartowitz. The dissonant, shape-shifting tangle of black and death metal on Imperial Triumphant’s new fourth full-length, Alphaville, uses improvisation only in its details—these are unmistakably composed pieces—but it does adopt the avant-garde stance of insisting that you come to it. Frenzied, decadent, and spring-loaded with unpredictable shifts in mood and intensity, this chaotic but tightly controlled music has no special interest in catchy riffs, and it doesn’t care if you’re tired of waiting for a chorus—it’s not going to meet you on your terms. Grohowski, Blanco, and guitarist and front man Zachary Ilya Ezrin used a producer for the first time on Alphaville, working with Trey Spruance of Mr. Bungle (who’s also enlisted Grohowski for his band Secret Chiefs 3). The resulting arrangements are the most jarring and florid of the band’s career, incorporating an elegant unaccompanied piano-and-trombone duet, delirious choral vocals, an interlude of nonidiomatic taiko drumming, corny silent-film organ, and even a barbershop quartet that’s draped in static like a dusty old 78. Blanco’s bass takes the stairs three at a time, indulging in gymnastics and convolutions that might read as “jazzy” if it weren’t for his weird harmonic choices; he constantly changes his angle of approach to Ezrin’s spindly, laddering riffs, whose high-wire act is broken up by nerve-wracking wobbles of tremolo and tense, queasy intervallic leaps. Grohowski’s formidable drumming almost makes the music’s metrical oddities comprehensible, even as he shifts between light-footed, impossibly fast blastbeats, snarled tech-death, and loose, splattery fills. Even in black and death metal as bastardized as this, misanthropy is de rigueur, and Imperial Triumphant give theirs a special New York flavor. Their lyrics, which Ezrin delivers in a clotted howl, convey a bilious contempt for the city’s wealthy parasites—and the cover of Alphaville, with its sinister art deco imagery, links their amoral excess to America’s civilizational suicide by capitalism in the 1920s. Our own self-immolation is well under way—U.S. billionaires have grown more than $600 billion richer during the pandemic, while almost 40 million Americans have applied for unemployment—and it promises to leave the country uninhabitable for everyone but the white-collar criminals who’ve persuaded the world they’re its elite. To indict this towering corruption, Imperial Triumphant enact a furious boiling over of the human energies it exploits.   v

Support Independent Chicago Journalism: Join the Reader Revolution

We speak Chicago to Chicagoans, but we couldn’t do it without your help. Every dollar you give helps us continue to explore and report on the diverse happenings of our city. Our reporters scour Chicago in search of what’s new, what’s now, and what’s next. Stay connected to our city’s pulse by joining the Reader Revolution.

Are you in?

  Give $35/month →  
  Give $10/month →  
  Give  $5/month  → 

Not ready to commit? Send us what you can!

 One-time donation  → 

Related Events

  • Rotting Christ, Borknagar, Wolfheart, Abigail Williams, Imperial Triumphant

    Rotting Christ, Borknagar, Wolfheart, Abigail Williams, Imperial Triumphant @ Reggies’ Rock Club

    • Sat., Feb. 20, 6 p.m.
    • Buy from TicketWeb

Comments (2)

Showing 1-2 of 2

Add a comment

 
Subscribe to this thread:
Showing 1-2 of 2

Add a comment

More by Philip Montoro

Agenda Teaser

Galleries & Museums
September 01
Performing Arts
April 30

Popular Stories