With Spirit of Ecstasy, IMPERIAL TRIUMPHANT’s sophomore effort for Century Media, the New York-borne experimental metal triumvirate remains the sound of a doomed megalopolis, a sonic tangle of opulence and collapse. Where 2020’s Alphaville focused on the monolithic beauty and menace of the Big Apple, spelt out via a strange brew of avant-garde metal, jazz-enabled complexities and black metal intents, inviting comparisons to the likes of Portal or Ulcerate, Spirit of Ecstasy digs into deeper, often darker terrain for the three ominous figures shrouded in black robes and gilded theatrical masks.
Not surprisingly, it was the product of a 2020, New York City as a ghost metropolis, emptied out and eerily quiet. “It felt like all of our lyrics had come true,” states guitarist and vocalizer, Zachary Ezrin. “We had nothing to do but get together and write music. The city was desolate and people were freaked out. We were able to be creative in the apocalyptic midst of it all.”
While the sound of Spirit of Ecstasy is at points darker and denser than past IMPERIAL TRIUMPHANT records, it also the band’s most instant. “I’ve worked hard on this record to make it challenging but still enjoyable,” says Ezrin. “There are still elements of songwriting in there. That’s the challenge of writing – basically to write brutal, intense, challenging dissonant sounds – and try to figure out ways for people to like it.” Once again, IMPERIAL TRIUMPHANT teamed with producer Colin Marston (Krallice Gorguts). “Like Alphaville, it was very live and spontaneous,” says bassist Steve Blanco. “That’s the advantage of being a three-piece. It’s both structure and intuition – there’s still a lot of natural improvisation going on.” “From the album’s churning opener, “Chump Change” to the sweeping, blackened sounds of “Tower of Glory, City of Shame” and the disquieting “Bezumnaya”, Spirit of Ecstasy continues to build upon the steely foundations explored on 2015’s Abyssal Gods and 2018’s Vile Luxury albums. `
IMPERIAL TRIUMPHANT remain auteurs of 20th century imagery – down to the Josephine Baker-esque, roaring 20’s era figure that adorns the album’s cover. While the music and ideas explored inside continue themes and feelings of the crush of industrialism and imperialism, it’s not all limited to monolithic, brutalist architecture. “The Spirit of Ecstasy is the official name of the hood ornament that goes on a Rolls Royce,” Ezrin explains. “Rolls Royce is a car company that in addition to being extremely innovative, also focuses heavily on the notion of luxury and the pleasure of the customer. That inspired us. You hear it in the detail we put into every aspect of what it means to be in a band. There’s a lot of songs about cars on this record!
“It’s that post-WWII American mentality of anything’s possible that felt like it fit into IMPERIAL TRIUMPHANT and that sense of dissonance, both good and bad that fits into our music, imagery and lyrics,” Ezrin explains. “It all stems from ancient Babylon, the city of Babel. That’s the genesis of that mentality. It moves from city to city over the centuries. An imperialist mentality.”
That sense of collaboration and exploration that was explored on Alphaville and 2021’s live record, An Evening with Imperial Triumphant, permeates Spirit of Ecstasy. In addition to Mr. Bungle’s Trey Spruance on lead guitar, Folterkammer vocalist Andromeda Anarchia, Colin Marston on percussion and Max Gorelick on lead guitar as well as Testament’s Alex Skolnick on lead guitar and vocalist Snake of kindred sonic souls, Voivod, the album features one very surprising guest – Kenny G. whose saxophone demolition on the song “Merkurius Gilded” is anything but the smooth sounds he’s world-renown for. “I’m good friends with his son Max [Gorelick], he was actually once a member of Imperial Triumphant,” Zachary explains. “I was thinking about a part that was a call-and-response, guitar-saxophone part and I asked him if his dad would be down with it and lo-and-behold, a few months later we got a track back that was exactly imagined it would be! They nailed it.”
IMPERIAL TRIUMPHANT’s turbulent, chaotic take on experimental noise and black metal first came together when Ezrin and drummer Kenny Grohowski first began exploring the possibilities of improvisation and darkness in 2013. Blanco would join up with the band a year later in time for IMPERIAL TRIUMPHANT’s first US tour. “Kenny and I had a lot of mutual friends in the New York jazz scene,” Blanco recalls. “We both came up playing a ton of jazz which worked perfectly with the heavier, black metal direction Zach was coming from.” The band would quickly distinguish itself via their ominous sonic landscapes and songs that examined themes of urban collapse and high society. While IMPERIAL TRIUMPHANT had developed a sizable worldwide rep for their ominous live performance and masked presence, it was with Vile Luxury that the sound and vision of IMPERIAL TRIUMPHANT fully solidified.
Having garnered intense critical praise, a Decibel magazine cover and high rankings on innumerable year-end lists with the Trey Spruance produced Alphaville in 2020, IMPERIAL TRIUMPHANT were no longer “Hell’s Jazz Band from NYC” but a weighty proposition in their own right. An invitation from Behemoth’s Nergal to open the Polish black metal titan’s epic “In Absentia Dei” livestream (which IMPERIAL recorded at New York’s Slipper Club – and would spawn 2021’s An Evening With Imperial Triumphant LP) became a peak moment in the trio’s career. “Nergal’s a fan of Imperial,” says Ezrin. “He may have seen us play at Roadburn in 2019. He’s a supporter of underground music and he could have picked a lot of bands that are bigger than us. Perhaps he saw the same attention to detail in the music, the imagery, that both bands share.”
With Spirit of Ecstasy, IMPERIAL TRIUMPHANT continues to compose soundtracks as disturbing and mind-bending as they are darkly powerful. Uneasy listening for turbulent times. “It’s designed that way” says concludes Ezrin. “It’s a lot to unpack. We want people to discover new things with every listen – not become bored of it. It’s a greater challenge but also a greater reward.”