Imperial Triumphant has long been one of Extreme Metal’s best kept secrets, their music a startling amalgamation of dissonant Black Metal mixed with a vortex of Avant-Garde inspired Sturm und Drang. While already arguably one of the best among their peers, their new album Vile Luxury is sure to catapult them into their own league. Psychogeography is the study of the effect the environment has on one’s state of mind and it seems to be a particularly useful term when discussing the new album. This New York city based trio not only revels in the dark underbelly of the city and manifests this in their sound, but they seem to specifically capture a unique and highly decadent state of mind. They mix in not only the sonic skree of Free Jazz and Modern Classical music, but more traditional Jazz sounds as well in a cinematic invocation of their city. This is the sound of Gorguts covering George Gershwin’s “Rhapsody in Blue,” Brooklyn’s St. Vitus Metal Bar reimagined as The Cotton Club, the Five Boroughs reborn with the decadence of the Weimar Republic. Vile Luxury is an absolute colossus of an album, and the trio took some time to discuss the new release.
Congratulations on the new record. I’ve felt you guys have always been one of the best bands in your style, but Vile Luxury seems like a huge leap forward in terms of scope and ambition. Has your writing process changed at all leading up this release?
The writing process has shifted to a group dynamic. Everyone has a voice in every instrument and as we are all pushing towards the same goal, the finished product is quite refined and perfected.
You hinted in your previous interview with Cvlt Nation kind of the direction you were heading and what this record was going to be like. When did you start actually planning out who was going to appear on the record? With the brass section for instance, did you have the parts written before you found the players?
Yoshiko was always going to be on the record somehow. We are friends and fans of Artificial Brain so asking Will was an idea we entertained. Of course, we are honored that he agreed. It was a great session, and he knocked it out of the park.
Ben & Jay Walter are friends of Steve’s, Jeff, Joe, and Jonathan are friends of Kenny, and Dan is good friends with Colin, all of whom are not only colleagues, but top-notch players in the New York Jazz and Classical scene as well. Ben was slated to do the Cosmopolis opening trumpet solo, and he ended up in the brass section, as well. Both he and Jay Walter put down fantastic performances, and we love the results.
From what I could find, some of those horn players come from a pretty traditional musical background, did they know what they were getting themselves into with Imperial Triumphant?
All were pretty much prepared for their roles and for what was needed. The brass were tracked live- with the exception of one performer – and for pretty much every section where the brass intersects with the band during the chant, the rondo, and the final chorus, it was far easier for the brass to phrase with the band than without. Most of them, Dan Peck and Jonathan Powell in particular, have a bit of history with metal of extreme types and pretty much everyone else is exposed to Metal to some extent, despite their training and proclivity. Musicians never need to discriminate musically if they understand what music, as a whole, truly is. We only work with like minded individuals.
Also in that previous interview, you spoke to the influence of modern composers such as Shostakovich and Penderecki, but it seems Jazz is a big influence as well. Moments of Free-Jazz/Improv have always been there, but even more traditional influences seem to pop up as well, like the swing beat in the song “Gotham Luxe” or the noir-ish trumpet work in “Cosmopolis.” What kind of relationship do you have with these genres?
Music is music to Imperial Triumphant. It spans genres, and can be limitless (at times). The three of us will be equally at home listening to a Ligeti string quartet, a solo Monk record, some wild Berber street music, or a Portal album, etc.. Jazz is very close to us. NYC has always been a mecca for the world of Jazz. The genre absorbs all kinds of music and then spits it out anew. Improvisation is a huge part of playing music. You pick up an instrument, then you start bashing, plucking, strumming, whatever…That is the dawn of creating as a musician. Applying that to a sophisticated form, and you have something really deep to work from. Make it loud and heavy, too. Of course, it’s going to get into our albums. It’s who we are.
Considering the bulk of our musical upbringing and influences come from this larger umbrella of Jazz and other musics the world over, that influence and taste is going to exist within the music no matter what we play; we’re now beginning to let it come to the surface. Given the historical and contextual significance of Jazz as cultural catalyst within the American Zeitgeist during its most art deco time period, we decided to exam the circumstances, the music/film/art/culture, and socio-political happenings as inspiration to draw from. We’re reaching back to the past with as many pieces of the puzzle we can handle to create the musical pastiche that is Vile Luxury.
Speaking of “Cosmopolis”, you also have a Free Improv piece called “Metropolis”. Is there any relationship between them?
There is but that connection will be revealed at the right time.
New York City has always been an important if not primary theme in your work. How has your treatment of this approach evolved over the years?
As one goes through life, he has the ability (if he so chooses) to look at the world with an ever widening lens. New York is certainly the apex of modern times; Glorious, dazzling, decrepit, and filthy. It is the sum total of tens of thousands of years of civilization. Whatever greatness humanity may have, you can be sure it has been here. Whatever evil, the world possesses you can be sure it lives here. NYC is so massive and multi-layered that inspiration can be found daily. Imperial Triumphant continues to examine it, finding our sound within…
The lyrics for “Chernobyl Blues” were written by a Sasha Davydova. How did this particular collaboration come to be and what did her lyrics bring to the table that is different from your Own?
Ilya met her in NYC and they briefly dated in high school. She’s the daughter of a famous russian actor. They reconnected 10 years later and she explained that she was a ex-heroin addict and now works in a tattoo parlour in Florida. Ilya asked her to write lyrics for a Chernobyl Disaster song because he felt she knew about darkness on a different level than he. It’s now one of the more popular songs on the record.
The videos for “Crushing the Idol” and “Swarming Opulence” both focus on the decadence of the upper crust of society, but “Swarming Opulence” really seems to address the disdain the rich have for the poor and a sort of amoral outlook the elite have for the rest of society. Is New York City somehow a metaphor for these kind of Class or Power relationships?
It’s less about a struggle between the rich and poor and more about the entire city struggling towards an empty dream. Money is the golden calf of NYC. This is a real evil. Not a devil worshipping, anti-christian kind. And we’re not trying to point a finger or invoke any change. It’s just the way of the world and the darkness that surrounds us.
Are there any books or movies, whether about NYC or anything else, which have influenced your thematic approach to the band?
There are too many. The great cinema works of Kubrick, Tarkovsky, Bergman; Films like Taxi Driver, which is extremely NY-centric, with its disgusting view of human existence, as seen through an existential character of a most heavy philosophical struggle, and the nasty taste it leaves; Or the misanthropic masterpiece of ugly truth There Will Be Blood, are certainly dark enough for Imperial Triumphant. There might be some French New Wave stuff influencing a song on the next album.
Catch our vibe in books such as Nauseau, The Possibility Of An Island, A Brave New World, Propaganda (by the father of modern marketing, Edward Bernays). This is just the tip of the iceberg. All three of us have varying tastes and interests, which influence each other in a good way.
Finally, it looks like you are gearing up for a lot of live performances. Given the way this album was done, are you worried about reproducing it in a live setting?
Absolutely not worried at all. Listening to Imperial Triumphant live is a completely different experience than on the record.
Creating a piece of sonic art and cultivating a memorable performance are two vastly different efforts for Imperial Triumphant.
We don’t stress out about reproducing anything. The music is gonna breathe back to life on the stage and it will be just as terrifying.
The aim is always excellence first, so whatever is required to do so gets done in either setting. Terror is not written in a riff or a blast, it is a mindset; a spirit, a sliver of paradigm of everyday existence and experience. One can listen to Vile Luxury and feel that intensity as it was captured and sculpted in a moment over time, or you can witness it and tangibly feel it in person. We beckon all to join us.