16 Jul 2022 - Stephan
Avantgarde Black Metal | Century Media | Release date: 22 Jul 2022
A “Maximalist Scream” it is indeed. The first single for Imperial Triumphant’s new album could easily have been its title track, as these two words so truly encompass the essence of Spirit of Ecstasy: A bonkers more is more assault of layered chaos with an army of guest musicians from all over the spectrum performing multiple genres simultanously within an avant-garde black metal tornado that sticks its gloriously cacophonous vortex right into your wide open, shell-shocked mouth.
Sounds familiar? Well, if you share my personal opinion of the predecessor Alphaville being the standout extreme metal highlight of 2020, there’s no doubt you will also love what the trio brings to the table this time. Imperial Triumphant have figured out their sonic and conceptual framework a while ago and justifiably don’t feel the need to change it radically. Their take on disharmonic black metal, which is rooted in a jazz mindset and driven by deep explorations of urban civilizational angst, specifically coined by their home moloch New York, probably has enough potential to feed their discography until our beloved capitalism has reduced all our natural resources to ash and dust.
So Spirit of Ecstasy once again delivers variations on their theme, packed in eight bundles with an average length of around six and a half minutes. And to call it exciting what an abundance of ideas and madness Imperial Triumphant can squeeze into that time would be a friendly understatement.
Let’s start with that impressive list of guest musicians - without actually listing them all here, because I still have other plans on this weekend than only writing this review. It’s a mix of instrumentalists and singers which at first sight seems all over the place, including metal legends side by side with jazz greats, avant-garde madmen and lesser known artists. On closer inspection though, most of these names have established direct connections to the band or the New York music scene, so any surprise on your side should soon give way to an affirming nod of approval. You know the meme with that bearded guy, right?
Trey Spruance of Mr. Bungle fame adds lead guitars? No biggie, since he’s already in the room recording and producing the whole thing like he had done before last time. Brass, strings and choir vocals have also been vital elements of the Imperial Triumphant sound for years, so it’s pretty much a given to expect them here. Testament-axeman Alex Skolnick? Woah, that’s something! It still is, I’m not downplaying his presence here, but since he has established more than just a side hustle as a jazz player for a long time, he’s quite a natural choice to join a band so much at home in both worlds.
Another thrash metal legend participating had already been revealed on “Maximalist Scream”. Voivod are very easy, down-to-earth guys and for sure loved Imperial Triumphant’s excellent cover version of “Experiment” on Alphaville, so getting Snake to lend some of his dirtiest screams and alien weirdness to the track must have been a piece of cake. Speaking of the Canadians, the influence of the godfathers of everything dissonant in metal can of course be felt throughout the whole album. It already starts with the opener “Chump Change”, where almost every guitar riff could be recontextualized Voivod material, whereas the subsequent “Metrovertigo” foregoes Steve Blanco’s more typical jazzy running lines for a gnarly wiry sound that is very reminiscent of Blacky’s blower bass.
Back to the guest list and to the name that will undoubtly spread most confusion: Admittedly he hasn’t been on my personal radar until now, but Kenny G actually is a very famous soprano sax player with a rather schmaltzy reputation, who noone would expect to participate in the sick maelstrom of apocalyptic noises that is “Merkurius Gilded”. At least that is until you learn that his son, death metal guitar YouTuber, IT-friend and regular collaborator of the band Max Gorelick is also on board. But even without that connection I could imagine talent recognizing talent and Kenny G just doing this thing for the fun of it. You metalheads should never underestimate the wild shit those jazz cats are doing in their leisure time!
I guess with one smooth jazz heavyweight like that on board, a fretless fusion bassist of Brian Eno- and Soft Machine-fame like Percy Jones shouldn’t come as any surprise anymore. Furthermore mentionable are funeral doom singer Yoshiko Ohara and Swiss black metal / operatic vocal switchtress Andromeda Anarchia, who has worked together with Imperial Triumphant’s Zachary Ezrin in their project Folterkammer before.
What all of these appearances have in common is that they don’t come across as an end in themselves just to show off, but that every one of them is purposeful embedded as an equal piece of the whole. That whole would already be a compelling album if Ezrin, Blanco and outstanding drum beast Kenny Grohowski had done it completely on their own, but with the constant opulence of ecstatic aural maximalism washing all over the trio like unstoppable forces of nature playing with the protagonists of a global disaster movie, this grows to a pillar of extreme metal art rivalling Toby Driver (who’s also a friend of the band) at his most heavy and chaotic, like on Kayo Dot’s Hubardo or Choirs of the Eye.
If you have no experience with similarly flamboyant dissonant extreme metal like Blut Aus Nord or Oranssi Pazuzu (Ad Nauseam or Ulcerate if you’re leaning more towards death than black metal) or really anything on the borderline of noisy guitars, orchestral avant-garde and free jazz, Spirit of Ecstasy will be a challenge. Good news for noobs: Even with some experience in those realms this will still mess with your brain - in the very best way.
Just listen to the consecutive instrumental jazz metal freakout “In The Pleasure of Your Company” and the shattered and splintered front walk to the gates of hell that is “Bezumnaya”! If you don’t cut off your ears and throw them into the trash afterwards (sorry, didn’t want that to happen), you will at least be awestruck and out of breath. Or even better you’ll already know that this is one of the top contenders for your metal album of the year. It surely is for me. In my ears the only unsurpassable obstacle on the way to the very top seems to be Voivod’s Synchro Anarchy. And that’s an assessment Imperial Triumphant themselves surely won’t rally against.
I cannot wait for my vinyl copy of Spirit of Ecstasy to arrive in the mail and to see how this also phenomenal live band will pull all this new madness off on stage! Imperial Triumphant will tour Europe from August to early September and support Zeal & Ardor in North America immediately afterwards.