Piercing the Veil #2: Imperial Triumphant Channels the Glamour and Mystery of New York City
Piercing the Veil is a new column that aims to dive deep into themed bands, exploring what makes their concepts more than just a gimmick.
Believe it or not, Manhattan-based trio Imperial Triumphant have no interest in being impenetrable. It's true that their stark presentation could be misconstrued as disengaged and high-brow: in concert they have an intermediary announcer communicate with the audience, their music videos are constraining messes of expressionism, and they adorn near-identical gold tinted masks. Based on this, a thousand different people with thousands of differing ears could produce a thousand different perspectives on the group’s avant-garde jazz-cum-metal. Guitarist and vocalist Zachary Ilya Ezrin welcomes them all. He has no hidden agenda. "We’re conveying the reality of New York City. We’re just telling the story of the city from a myriad of perspectives."
Ezrin credits the energy, the skyscrapers, and the decadence of his birthplace, Manhattan, as being as influential as the filth underneath Wall Street. He founded Imperial Triumphant in 2005 but believes the group didn't fully emerge until 2018’s Vile Luxury, where they planted their sonic flag in hazy Lower Manhattan. On that album, the band took cues from film noir, another genre entrenched in Manhattan’s history, by using saxophones in long jazz segues to add a layer of smog. The addition of jazz wizards Kenny Grohowski (drums) and bassist Steve Blanco crystallized Imperial Triumphant’s representation of their city. "New York is a multi-dimensional place. Our music needs to reflect that. It has to have something for everyone," Ezrin says. Last year’s Alphaville was the trio’s tightest release, taking Fritz Lang and Art Deco stylings as inspiration along with a reverence for Jean-Luc Godard’s dystopian noir thriller "Alphaville".
The group has long tinkered with accentuating their iconography of New York City. Imperial Triumphant don mannequin-like masks to enhance this visual component. "It represents the visual capacity of the music," Ezrin notes. I’m always thinking about how we can make the live performance reflect the music. Art Blakey said they see you before they hear you, and that’s a great quote because a lot of people don’t know us." Their album artwork, especially Alphaville’s, draws from Fritz Lang’s classic film "Metropolis." Ezrin sees the movie as an analogue for New York City, and he’s not incorrect: the film was inspired by Lang’s visit to the Big Apple.
"There’s duality and juxtaposition in New York, where on the same street you can see the most beautiful woman in the world and then next to her is a person covered in their own shit," says Ezrin. In concert, Imperial Triumphant embellish this contrast. They overfill their chalices with wine that laps over the rims and dashes along the floor with a disregard for conservation in lieu of austerity. It’s an overindulgence reminiscent of Ezrin’s fascination with Art Deco. Imperial Triumphant espouse the style’s super fine craftsmanship of wealthy materials and mentality that luxury is progress through polished-gold visuals and tight musicianship.
If Imperial Triumphant’s visual flair draws from glossy architecture, then their music is the sewage gurgling underneath. The band composes long pieces filled with sweeping horns, ghastly vocals, errant time signatures, and passages navigated by unbridled ferocity. Though they’re a more polished act now than on their 2015 blackened death scorcher Abyssal Gods, they’re by no means an easy listen. In fact, the group’s jazz explorations could make them even more challenging. Ezrin maintains it’s merely expressive: "It’s not about trying to write something crazy. We just write what comes naturally, which comes out as intense." Oftentimes, their music is a skyscraper collapsing in on itself. It’s as pummeling as it is intellectual, but Ezrin claims this approach is transient rather than intentional. Instead he directs his attention to listenability. "It’s a balance of making it interesting to listen to every single time, but not making it overwhelming to the point where it’s homework for the listener." Imperial Triumphant hit that mark with sophisticated jazz pieces enveloped by oppressive black metal atop murky production. "When we were reviewing masters of Alphaville, we made sure there was still lots of haze in the mix. If there’s a song that needs to be recorded at a lower fidelity to convey our ideas, then why not? It’s all for the benefit of the music." Beyond that, the group implements colourful additions like a barbershop quartet interlude and noir sketches that harken back to Bohren und Der Club of Gore. All of this boasts the many facets of New York City and highlights the schism between high-class and low-class.
When I told Ezrin how I interpreted Alphaville -- the disconnected upper class flaunting their opulence as if to dismiss the have-nots beneath them -- he was excited but noncommittal as to his intentions. "The only concrete answer I can give you is that we like to make pieces that draw on curiosity." Imperial Triumphant mine every crevice of their muse, from the sparkling clean bowel water of the upper class to the rat infested bile flowing into the Hudson River. The masks, the disconnect from emotion, the peculiar sewing of styles, and the compounding brutality provoke insularity, yet Ezrin is always thinking about how to improve the audience’s experience. For this, he returns to Art Deco’s underlying philosophy: to make the best art possible with the means available. "We’re always over budget because we’re always pushing the production as much as we can in whatever way we know." When asked about the band’s trajectory, Ezrin answers in his typical up-to-your interpretation style; "to the moon."
Alphaville released July 31, 2020 via Century Media. Grab it on white vinyl, exclusively in our shop.