Despite absolutely no real evidence to support it, I’m always expecting New York avant garde metal act Imperial Triumphant to shed their weirdness. 2018’s Vile Luxury was a watershed moment for not just the band, but for the burgeoning dissonant death metal movement taking shape at that time. While already known for blending obtuse black metal in the vein of Deathspell Omega filtered through the lens of Gorguts‘ skronky technical death metal to create some truly demented tunes, Vile Luxury also folded in classical and jazz orchestrations utilizing regal horn sections to pair the aesthetics of high society Gilded Era New York City against its own seedy underbelly as a neat meta-contextual experience the band continues to this day. The hard-lean on the art deco style is always a plus, as well.
The acclaim of Vile Luxury facilitated a signing to major metal players Century Media Records; a good time as any to gloss up their sound, sand down those edges, adopt more standard song structures, and incorporating clean vocal hooks. Instead, the costumed three piece collaborated with producer and Mr. Bungle guitarist Trey Spruance for Alphaville in 2020, which would go down as yet another critically acclaimed opulent slab of extreme prog that reveled in clashing anachronisms, this time incorporating more hypnotic cues from noise rock within their song structures, but nevertheless alienating.
I have no idea how I could have expected any different with personnel like Spruance and Colin Marston (Gorguts, Krallice) helping shape the band’s signature sound, and yet with each new album cycle, I think to myself, “this could be where they lose me.” But they never do, and certainly not with their latest effort Spirit of Ecstasy, which may very well be their most engaging record yet.
Spirit of Ecstasy offers more of those familiar Imperial Triumphant tricks: technical and propulsive drums that writhe and churn underneath precarious guitars that sound like they’re on the brink of collapse, with the spare parts of jazz fusion and avant garde sprinkled about where appropriate. “Chump Change” for instance feels like an appropriate opener as it encapsulates what makes Imperial Triumphant such a highly regarded institution. It’s a psychedelic track with a sort of tentative structure that moves across several loosely-connected vignettes offering shades of demented kraut rock, jazz fusion, and a deceptively catchy chugging groove metal riff towards the end. There aren’t actually that many surprises on Spirit of Ecstasy to write home about, come to think of it, because this record is plainly and unmistakably Imperial Triumphant.
The good news though is that while it’s a warmly familiar record, it’s also a perfection of all the elements that make Imperial Triumphant so fascinating. The band make stellar songwriting choices, littering the landscape with strange hooks and a delightful variation of textures and timbres break up the madness. They’re predictably unpredictable, as always. You can’t help but to appreciate the bizarro Legend of Zelda-esque orchestrations or the rapidfire start/stop channel-surfing of “Tower of Glory, City of Shame”. The smashed piano keys and twisted chimes of “Death on a Highway” are delightful, as is the entirety of the psychotic instrumental track “In the Pleasure of Their Company”. Plus, the Mr. Bungle nod with the track title “Metrovertigo” is very cute and highly appreciated. The Kenny G collaboration on the intense and debaucherous “Merkurius Gilded” is some truly inspired casting, as well.
Spirit of Ecstasy feels as though it has a broader sense of purpose and (forgive me) triumphant spirit that Alphaville never quite reached, in hindsight. Listeners know what they’re signing up for at this point in the band’s discography, and Spirit of Ecstasy should leave absolutely nobody dissatisfied. You’re getting what you want, and that’s the ultimate Imperial Triumphant record; glorious, depraved, and weird as hell, and they’re better at it than ever.
Imperial Triumphant’s Spirit of Ecstasy is out July 22nd via Century Media Records. Pre-orders are available at this location.