Sometimes reviews nearly write themselves, when after just a few spins of an album I can form an opinion and the words just spill onto the page. Sometimes, albums fight back and the review becomes more of titanic, herculean knock-down-drag-out. Imperial Triumphant’s Vile Luxury, out July 13, falls into the latter category. If you’re not familiar with this New York City-based avante garde black metal outfit, they tend to march to the beat of their own drum. Stirring horns and shifting time signatures into their black metal cauldron, as well as having elaborate costuming for the members of the band, they’re nothing if not unique.
With more than a handful of releases since 2010, Imperial Triumphant have refined their brand of metal over the years. While rightly compared to bands such as Portal, there is an air of refinement and decadence to their music that other bands often avoid. The opening to the first track on the record, “Swarming Opulence”, sounds more like a lead-in to a 1950’s detective show with bellowing horns cascading melancholic notes. Sure it’s novel, but it also works. This type of complexity is also difficult to digest at times. Tracks such as “Lower World” revel in gritty dissonance and there are few ‘handholds’ for a listener. It’s intentionally obtuse.
One of my favorite tracks on Vile Luxury is the eight-minute “Chernobyl Blues.” The lurching guitars subside and in their place are dense atmosphere and harrowing soundscapes. When the guitars do arrive in the song they’re cleaner and the chord progressions move slowly not unlike a post-rock tune. The vocals are gruff and basslines are palpable. When the intensity ratchets up, it’s to greater effect. I realized why I like this track more than any that came before it: dynamics. For a great portion of the album, the songs tend to occupy a lot of the same space and, as complex and as interesting as they are, to my ear, they can lack impact at times.
“Cosmopolis” is a song that allows Imperial Triumphant to let their city influence their songwriting. The tune begins with a jazzy introduction, and even when the song plunges headfirst into chaos, its charm never departs. Imagine a jazz trio trying to drown out a black metal band in an empty school gym and you’ll have an idea of how this sounds. It’s bizarre, but it’s also one of the best tracks to be heard on this record.
Vile Luxury really refuses to just take an easy path to get its point across. While there are songs that are slightly less complex than others and have varying run times, there aren’t any songs that feel tacked on or phoned in. This is a daunting album that is a challenging listen; you won’t be whistling the melodies after a listen. I did find the album to be a bit too long as the relentless attack was exhausting, but who’s to say that’s not the point? More than anything, I respect Imperial Triumphant for their songwriting and dedication to making difficult but ultimately rewarding music. If you’re looking for a record that can shift your perception of what is possible in the black metal genre, then look no further.
Notable Tracks: “Cosmopolis”; “Chernobyl Blues”; “Swarming Opulence”
FFO: Sear Bliss, Pillorian, Portal