Metal's endless malleability has never been more widely exploited than it is in these genre-hopping, rule-defying times, but IMPERIAL TRIUMPHANT will still make your synapses throb in confusion. Building on and casually surpassing the jazz-infused madness of 2018's "Vile Luxury", New York City's masked masters of malevolent madness have upped the ante again with their fourth and most flagrantly unhinged work to date.
Opener "Rotted Futures" has been festering and coagulating online for a while now, but it remains startling on every spin: this is wildly progressive extreme metal, but not in a form that anyone has previously attempted. Intermittently grotesque and majestic, it steals its freewheeling intensity from jazz, but its ugly heaviness belongs more to the avant-garde of SLEEPYTIME GORILLA MUSEUM or PAINKILLER than to some clinical, finessed idea of jazz-metal. This is absurdly evocative and unnerving stuff. "City Swine" feels like some midnight crawl through municipal sewers, with a soundtrack built from a lurching, dissonant post-metal that is blackened by squalor and disdain, rather than the hand of Satan; "Atomic Age" is like four-dimensional shoegaze performed by holographic gargoyles, with a strong whiff of film noir subterfuge and war zone tension.
"Transmission to Mercury" morphs from bleak, somnambulant chamber jazz to a sustained rush of multi-layered psychedelic fury, with ghostly vocal harmonies and an unmistakable sense that everything is teetering on the edge of saxophone-fueled chaos; the title track is a flailing nightmare, full of seething blastbeats and clanging chimes of doom, and with a final tangential skip into pendulous, poisonous avant-doom that whips the sonic rug from under our feet and plunges us into yet another unprecedented hall of musical mirrors. Closer "The Greater Good" is fervently cinematic, despite often sounding like the end of the world. The song concludes with rippling waves of vexed synthesizer that are simultaneously soothing and disturbing.
By the time you reach the final two tracks, even the brains of hardened left-field music fans may already be beginning to disintegrate. Fortunately, while IMPERIAL TRIUMPHANT are plainly dealing dark cards here, there is also a delicious theatricality and swivel-eyed verve to everything that makes it almost accessible as a result. The covers certainly reflect that multifarious mindset, a barbarous smash through VOIVOD's "Experiment" and a wholesale demolition and reconstruction of THE RESIDENTS' "Happy Home", each fits perfectly in IMPERIAL TRIUMPHANT's claustrophobic world, while revealing tantalizing information about where all this craziness comes from in the first place. But don't be fooled: "Alphaville" sounds like nothing and no one else in 2020. It's one of those albums that will take multiple listens to truly absorb, but as a reward, your dreams (and nightmares) will be a lot more fucking interesting.