“Breath Of Innocence” stirs to life as a choral piece; a twist on a Requiem, maybe. You want to find a comparison to orientate yourself, but Imperial Triumphant’s influences are cloaked in the fabric of nightmares. Suddenly, guitars and drums are spewed out. Ilya, leader of this evolving cast of collaborators, growls over his gnarled tree limb of a guitar riff. “Breath” then fractures into a jazz fusion break. As the bass buzzes like a downed power line, the song shifts again, pushing the melody to a soporific, Lynchian whistle while a music box containing chamber instruments is hit with a hammer. The distortion soon returns, spilling over with a woozy groove. Drummers Grohowski and Cohen (Epistatis, along with bassists Blanco and Malave (Pyrrhon, whose frontman — full disclosure — is Stereogum contributor Doug Moore), are as kinetic as a car crash, but their polyrhythms are as precise as they are forceful. By the way, we’re only halfway through this thing. Later, engine-revving drum patterns segue seamlessly into something that could accompany Eastern overtone singing. The voices from the opening now howl, bray, and groan; the Requiem moved many miles and traditions away. Same thesis, though. And, same beginning, same end: silence. Just a few uncomfortable moments spent with yourself.
OK, a couple things:
Spencer Kornhaber’s “How To Listen To Music” book review touches on how the tear-down-this-wall ethos of early file sharing could’ve built a generation of “super listeners” driven by curiosity and cherishing the resulting eclecticism. That, uh, didn’t come to pass on a wide scale. As a sales model, comfort won out.
However, Imperial Triumphant are curious. Ilya doesn’t shy away from discomfort, as cringe-y NSFW videos demonstrate. Inceste, Imperial Triumphant’s new EP, makes its allegiance with discomfort by being, according to the PR, ” … an interpretation of the works of … the Marquis de Sade.” Centuries later, de Sade’s kinks still raise eyebrows, even when rubbing scarred shoulders with petabytes of the internet’s heart-sinkingly barfiest. And that’s what Ilya seems to be after. In a 2015 interview with Cvlt Nation: “I want to make music that’s scary, and let’s be honest; people aren’t scared of the devil anymore.” Libertinism it is then, which makes sense since the band doesn’t shy away from dalliances with other genres.
That’s the bigger thing at play here. There was a time when the idea of uniquely American black metal was a joke because black metal was so tied to its reference points. Since then, black metal has become bedrock: an easily recognizable and solid sound on which one can build anything.
Ilya said this about using New York as a muse, again to Cvlt Nation: “This place is so different than, say, Oslo or somewhere else in Europe. All those Norwegian guys sing about their heritage and surroundings. They’re so environmentally focused. We have none of that. I would have been a poser to sing about great, dark forests, ya know? You’ve gotta sing about what you know.” This isn’t a revelation: Most of the press surrounding Imperial Triumphant’s back catalog, including two well-received full-lengths, makes the NYC connection. But it gets at where Imperial Triumphant have been and where they’re going. In the same way Naked City sounded like Weegee’s flash, Imperial Triumphant are the prosperous sprawl and rotting-out-from-the-inside blind spots of a modern metropolis; ugly, dangerous, limitless, and beautiful in the right light.
This is more about the metropolis as an eclectic melting pot, though. Imperial Triumphant is black metal, death metal, doom, classical, jazz, avant-garde, and anything it wants to be, really. It’s all of these things because these things have a place and are given a reason to coexist. So yeah, surprise: uniquely American black metal happens to be a whole mess of things. Of course it is. That said, black metal, this black metal, is still waging an existence-long push and pull with comfort and provocation. Same beginning, same end. Listen.
Inceste is out 4/15 on Redefining Darkness.