Imperial Triumphant’s continual warping of black metal’s order peaks on weird ‘Spirit of Ecstasy’

Photo by Alex Krauss

The cities feel like they’re crumbling beneath us. I guess it’s kind of always felt that way, but it seems like the deterioration has accelerated and we have little time left to recover. Maybe that’s dramatic, but I don’t necessarily think it is. The concrete surrounds us as does corruption, lies, abuse, and the lack of sympathy for people who some see as different. We’re in a sea of poison, drowning.

Imperial Triumphant have been ahead of the curve in more ways than their musical prowess. The NYC black metal trio, consisting of vocalist/guitarist Zachary Ilya Ezrin, bassist/keyboard player/theremin wizard/vocalist Steve Blanco, and drummer Kenny Grohowski, who is a different Kenny G than the ones metal dorks are upset about, have been revealing this decay and dissolution ever since they got started, but that focus became razor sharp on their past few records. Their latest is “Spirit of Ecstasy,” one of the most ambitious and warped albums of their entire run, and that’s saying something considering these avant-garde masked beasts have been doing wild shit for quite some time. But this one drives into your psyche a little differently. They’re joined by a slew of guests including the aforementioned Kenny G, who brings substantial darkness to his contribution; guitarist Max Gorelick who has collaborated with the band before; Voivod vocalist Snake; the enchanting Andromeda Anarchia of Folterkammer who handles some of the haunting choral sections; guitarist Alex Skolnick of Testament; guitarist Trey Spruance of Faith No More and Mr. Bungle; Saria Woods on choirs; Yoshiko Ohara of Bloody Panda on vocals; and a slew of other players who add horns, bass, vocals, you name it to this goddamn leviathan.

“Chump Change” opens with the drumming scalding and the guitars immediately making you dizzy, the jazzy bass playing rescuing you from passing out. Then death starts to trudge and feel dangerous, the muddy playing spirals, and crazed runs and whipping sounds shake your guts, thick humidity following. The soloing scorches, the howls melt, and the playing recoils and fades. “Metrovertigo” comes in with fuzzy guitars and strange vocals squeezing you, the torment spreading and clouding your brain. The band piles on as the assault thickens, and then you enter into a weird dream state, twisting your senses, pushing you down a jagged path that slowly slips away. “Tower of Glory, City of Shame” begins with a cinematic sweep, a jazzy run turning into sludgy fury and rubbery, alien playing that veers toward zany. Chorals fill the air and your mind, loopy melodies swell, and crazed screams from O’Hara dig into your chest and increase your adrenaline. Darkness melts as trouble boils under the surface, old clips zap, and the tension ricochets and leaves ample bruising. “Merkurius Gilded” has strings stinging and we move through sepia-slathered dreams, the playing spilling and moving through mystery. Kenny G’s sax playing adds a classy and unsettling aura as the guitars begin to storm, and the fears increase. The choral section chills your flesh as the playing openly mauls, speeding up before fading away.

“Death on a Highway” pelts with drums and psychedelic keys that add a coolness element, the growls beginning to carve into your chest. Strange tones swim as cosmic backlash spreads its wings, madness swirls amid the stars, and the growls engorge before the track disappears into the cosmos. “In the Pleasure of Their Company” is a great instrumental that plays with your mind right away, horns blows out their tension, and wild jazzy noodling takes over as the track gets its legs underneath it. Warm guitars sprawl, the melodies slink all over, and the shadowy savages lurch through and leave madness behind. “Bezumnaya” sinks in chilly winds, chants work their way down your spine, and warbled Russian feels otherworldly and an imminent threat as the strange chaos gets more penetrating. Guitars increase the filth quotient, the playing combusts, and an uncomfortable ambiance takes hold and staggers into the gutters. Closer “Maximalist Scream” dawns with engines roaring and the playing following suit, mauling and thrashing as the bass plods. Snake slips in as his unmistakable voice pulls you into reality, speeding and threatening, making your demise seem imminent. The haze thickens as the warbles increase, unhinged howls erase any sense of safety, and proggy synth swallows this whole, ending the record in a tumble back into time.

Imperial Triumphant hardly have played by any rules or ever worried about accessibility, and that said, it’s still an impactful statement to say “Spirit of Ecstasy” is the band’s weirdest, most unpredictable record to date. It’s also an incredible rush, some of the most imaginative and challenging music of their lives, an album that moves beyond metal in many ways and still remains impossible heavy. This band is a on constant mission to create art that doesn’t flinch, pushes boundaries, and expands what’s possible in heavy metal while remaining an entity that’s operating on a higher level than most other artists.   

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