Set with the task of following up their 2018 head-scrambler ‘Vile Luxury’, Imperial Triumphant have gone all out on ‘Alphaville’, throwing everything and the kitchen sink into their hellish, avant-garde vision.
And, by “everything”, we’re talking choirs, lounge jazz, Japanese taiko drums, and barbershop quartets, all layered atop a relentless, dizzying assault of dissonant extreme metal. Imperial Triumphant are one of those bands, one that you want people you know to listen to just to see their reactions. ‘Alphaville’ is as about as ‘out there’ as music comes, by turns demanding, fascinating, and sometimes maddening.
On a conceptual level, the album is a near-total success. A nightmarish tour through the murky urban underbelly, the presence of New York City looms large over ‘Alphaville’. With its art deco artwork and Gershwin-style jazz intro to ‘Transmission To Mercury’, the fictional city of its title becomes a stand-in for NYC; a big apple with a rotten, infested core.
The title track describes a “population complacent, suffering in black filth”, while ‘The Greater Good’ details a soulless landscape, where “commerce is subsistence” whose inhabitants “reach high for the gold that is just out of reach”. Such vivid urbane imagery is unique within extreme metal, and is the album’s most intriguing and accomplished trait.
‘Alphaville’ often plays out like an especially intense version of Stanley Kubrick‘s Eyes Wide Shut; an oneiric guide through nighttime city streets, down steam-shrouded alleys and opulent lairs. This focus on the urban experience, the human’s place beneath the glistening, imposing skyline, is especially intriguing for a black metal influenced band, given the genre’s famously elemental and wilderness-heavy aesthetic.
Musically, Imperial Triumphant‘s cacophonous approach to their songwriting is both hugely impressive and quite often overwhelming. The sheer creative bravado on display is wonderful to experience, if occasionally exasperating. When it works, like the eerie, choral vocals on ‘Rotted Futures’, or the jaw-dropping melodic transition on ‘Atomic Age’, you find yourself completely in step with the band’s vision, wholly swept up in the strange journey. However, there are also moments that test your commitment, such as the relentless title track or the punishing stabs of noise at the back end of ‘Excelsior’.
Impressively, though, the more outlandish moments never feel random or purposeless. Although Imperial Triumphant share some of their eccentricities, ‘Alphaville’ isn’t a Mr. Bungle style, ironic, weird, just for the sake of it experiment. Rather, it’s deadly serious in its commitment to challenging the listener via every means at its disposal. Whether it’s exploring bold thematic concepts or assaulting us with its deconstructed, free-jazz-inspired sound, ‘Alphaville’ earns the right to be classified as a wholly singular work of great vision.
How far you’re willing to let it lead you into the dark will be a test of even the most open-minded listener’s resolve. There’s real danger here, but adorned with an opulent and glistening surface. Imagine being hunted through a labyrinth of backstreets, the glimmering skyscraper lights shining high up above, as you run through the night, soon to be enveloped by the darkness of the city.