Imperial Triumphant are a New York based experimental black metal trio who have been making waves this year in the heavy music circuit with their third full length album, Vile Luxury. It’s a testament to their home city, a statement about New York’s dichotomy between lavish wealth and opulence and disgusting underbelly co-existing together. Get it? Vile Luxury? I thought it was pretty clever.
I’ve mentioned before on this blog how I feel about albums with long run times. Sometimes they’re great, and sometimes they begin to push their luck. Usually the first thing you see when you fire up an album is how long it’s runtime is, how many songs there are, and how long each of the songs are. I don’t have the greatest attention span, so albums over 45 minutes are usually a struggle with me to complete in one sitting. I’m also big on trying to get into the mood or atmosphere of an album, so I try my best to listen to albums all the way through, front-to-back on the first time I take a crack at them. It’s a weird issue, but it’s how my brain works, for better or worse. Vile Luxury clocks in at just under an hour, and is bookended by a couple quick tunes dancing around the six minute mark. Yes, you read that right. The head and tail of this beast are dwarfed by a monolithic block of eight and nine minute songs in the middle. I’m not even a big black metal fan. What the hell have I gotten myself in to?
As Above, So Below, or Something Like That
First thing’s first. I have to commend Imperial Triumphant for their ambition. This is an album they went all in on. Doubled down on. Redlined on. They took the chaos and nightmarish aesthetic of Deathspell Omega and brought in jazz harmony and improvisation into the fray. It’s clear from the ringing, majestic horns that open “Swarming Opulence” that the jazz is meant to symbolize the upper crust, standing high above the masses, while the turbulence and havok wrought by the black metal assault that swiftly takes over represents those not so fortunate writhing and churning below them.
Something of note for Imperial Triumphant is that they do manage to blend the jazz arrangements and the metal arrangements together fairly successfully. Jazz doesn’t only mean horns though. The guitars (Zachary Ilya Ezrin) manage to bring some dense harmony, jazzy chords, and lead lines throughout the album, and manage to pull through the entire hour with a surprisingly low gain tone. I know, low gain black metal is an oxymoron, but Imperial Triumphant do manage to integrate the two of them pretty well. I can’t say that I like it, but it’s there. Piano and synths sneak in here and there for more contrast between soundscapes, with the nearly eight minute long “Cosmopolis” containing a full blown jazz piano solo over swung drums and walking bass that pretty sneakily morphs back in to black metal.
I understand what Vile Luxury has tried to do, blending these two nearly opposite genres of music, but I think the reason it falters for me is because while they pull from opposite ends of the musical spectrum, Imperial Triumphant don’t separate the two enough in my eyes. They’ve integrated the two together in their songwriting like Fleshgod Apocalypse has melded orchestral classical music and technical death metal, but they decided to make noisy, cacophonous black metal and dark, dissonant free jazz duke it out in your ears, despite both already sharing many of the same qualities. Dissonance, odd time signatures, and harsh noise for emotional impact and colour calls both these genres home, and when put together they get along a little too well for me to get the “juxtaposition between high society and urban decay” they claim they’re aiming for. One look at the new Zeal & Ardor record (review coming eventually, maybe) shows me how to cohesively blend two conflicting ideas in a way that is exciting and engaging all the way through.
Ya Like Jazz?
I really wanted to like Vile Luxury. I really did. I like jazz, and weird, experimental music will always pique my interest whether end up liking it or not. I think Imperial Triumphant had their vision and stuck to it, but unfortunately chose to pursue it in a direction that misaligned with my tastes. My favourite moments on Vile Luxury are by far the full blown jazz moments, which unfortunately don’t come often enough. The full swing section described above in “Cosmopolis” is the closest we get to what I wanted out of this album. Maybe it was the fact that the heavier section it leads in to is more traditional second-wave black metal fare that I can get behind as opposed to the shades of Deathspell Omega and Gorguts that loom over the rest of the album.
More Ain’t Always Better
I found myself constantly waiting for the next moment that broke from the chaos and harsh noise, which quickly started sounding very samey. The layers upon layers of dissonance just ended tripping up on themselves and despite the surprising amount of stuff crammed into this album, I found there wasn’t enough building and release of tension to keep me really engaged the whole way through. It’s never a good sign when you start sneaking a peek at the timecode of the song to see how much is left and feeling the anxiety of possibly finding out there’s far more of the song left than you think. When I started catching myself doing that after the third song on the album, that was the moment that sealed Vile Luxury‘s doom for me. You might chastise me for “not letting this album soak in, man” and that I’m not giving it a fair shot by only listening to it once, and blah, blah, blah, blah. Sure. You’re right. And I’m okay with that. If the day comes where Vile Luxury slithers it’s tendrils back into my mind and beckons, I’ll give it another listen. Maybe on a second listen it’ll click and I’ll love it, or maybe it’ll just sit well enough with me then for me to spend more and more time dissecting it further in the future. But until then, I don’t think I’ll be giving this album any more of my time.