NYCs experimental wizards of avant-garde, black metal, jazz-infused fuckery Imperial Triumphant return boldly into the night with Spirit of Ecstasy (available July 22nd through Century Media Records), a fusion of extreme metal meets high art that has the ability to merge worlds and impress even the stuffiest of metal purists.
Featuring a who's who of guest collaborators, including Voivod's Snake, Testament's Alex Skolnick, and FUCKING KENNY G (!!!), Spirit of Ecstasy is a frenzied, ferocious, and all-together impressive statement from a band who throws out the blueprint on each and every outing.
Founding member Zachary Ezrin sat down with Metal Injection for a deep dive into the new album and bombastic collaborations, a dissection into Imperial Triumphant's haunting live show, thoughts on mask-wearing on stage, his discovery of heavy metal and much more!
I know collaboration's always been an important thing for you guys, bringing in different voices and different musical elements. But this is really an onslaught of incredible talent on this record from top to bottom. I guess we've got to start with Kenny G, just because it's fucking Kenny G, man.
Well, pretty much everyone we work with we're either friends with or there's one degree of separation. And so basically Kenny G's son, Max Gorelick, who's an unbelievable guitar player, used to be in Imperial Triumphant for a year, and now he has his own project called The Mantle. And he's also my business partner. We have a small business in New York City.
And we were having lunch one day, and I said to him look, I got an idea for the part in this song … I want to do a duel between a saxophone and a guitar. Would you and your father be interested in doing this? And he said 'yeah, I'm down. Let me ask my dad.' Dad said yes. And then the whole process was just unbelievably easy.
I sent them the track and then he sent back a perfectly recorded call and response duel, father/son duel that just like is beyond what I could have written or imagined. And I think that's the huge benefit of Imperial Triumphant when we collaborate with people, is that they bring music to our compositions that we would never have written on our own. And we're very grateful for that.
The music video on top of that is just the icing on the cake. Recording something like that, is it as fun as it looks or is it a tedious process behind the scenes? This one in particular is just like almost A Clockwork Orange craziness and looked like it would be a blast to shoot
So I'd say, yeah, music videos are always more stressful than they look. Especially because we produce them as well. We produce and direct and edit them all. So there's a lot of work that goes in before we start shooting. Like weeks and weeks of organizing, getting permits, all this bullshit.
But I will say, that shoot for "Merkurius Gilded", easily the smoothest and most fun that it's been for a music video shoot. Everyone was super professional and also a lot of them were our friends … Max Gorelick is our friend, Andromeda is a longtime collaborator and friend. So it was a really good vibe on set.
And then also the idea of the video kind of came from the previous video, "Maximalist Scream," which was a very big production that was even more work. And we'd shot that out in L.A. over two days. Lots of different shots, like a real music video. It was a lot of work. And then we decided what would be the opposite of that? What would be something we could do in one shot and keep it interesting? Because that's less work, obviously. That shoot was super smooth and really fun.
Do you guys have a wish list of folks you might want to collaborate on a different project? Obviously bringing in folks like Snake (Voivod) and Alex Skolnick (Testament), or Yoshiko Ohara, artists from all across the spectrum. Do you sit down and physically hammer out a list? Because there is such an ensemble cast on this record.
Well, usually it comes from like we have an idea for something and then we think about who would be good for that, you know? So it's who's got the skill, who plays this instrument? Who can we call?
It more or less stems from like a necessity within the music, because at the end of the day the music has to benefit beyond getting a famous person on the album. Having said that, I would really, really, really like and my dream is to get Herbie Hancock on a song.
Everything about this band has a certain feeling and a dynamic to it. How early on early on did you decide you were going to treat this band little differently and present yourselves a little differently?
Maybe 2016 is when we started looking into our stage presentation, trying to develop that sort of thing. And it's a work in progress that we're still developing. It's a creative exercise, I'd say, that we enjoy.
Does it make performing a little bit more difficult? Wearing the types of outfits you do on stage?
A thousand percent. Yeah, it's a huge burden.
Is that something you, I don't want to say resent in hindsight, but now that you started doing it and it's a part of the make-up and presentation of the band, there's the feeling that you can't really go back now. Do you regret it in hindsight?
No. We chose masks because I didn't want to do paint on the face because it's a mess and it's a pain in the ass. After the show I take the mask off and that's it. I'm done. I don't have to like, get wipes and shit.
Switching to the production for this album, and at this stage having collaborated with these guys for so long, how effortless is it working with Trey (Spruance of Mr. Bungle) and Colin (Marston)? It feels like there's so much fluidity and freedom for collaboration and innovation in the recording process.
Let me tell you man, it's pretty effortless. Especially on the second time around. You know, I got to say, it's like a hive mind almost where we're all sharing the same thoughts.
And any one of the five of us; me, Kenny, Steve, Trey, Colin, any one of us could have an idea in the mixing process, recording process and everyone else, 98% of the time, would go 'yeah, that's a good idea that.' That helps the music, that helps the song.
So it's really, really helpful. It's really nice. It's been a great environment and there's no egos, I guess, which makes it really easy because nobody's thinking for themselves. They're just thinking for the greater good of the song. And that means I can very easily be like turn the guitars down, they're too loud, which sometimes isn't the case with bigger egos.
Does the live show change from day to day? Is there improvisation? I'd guess that, by definition, the type of music you guys do, incorporating the avant-garde black metal elements, the jazz elements, there is a lot of frenetic energy. There's a lot of bouncing back and forth and fluidity. Are you guys having a laugh, tricking each other on stage or going in different sorts of directions? I'd imagine it would be difficult to make music like this stale.
I wouldn't say anyone's tricking anyone. It's more like the opposite. Everyone's helping each other. It's very challenging music, but it's unbridled. We're not recording to a click and we're not performing live to a click track. So if things slow down or speed up in the live presentation, then so be it. That's fine. That's how it's going to be that night.
And the benefit of this band is that the music can change over time and night by night. You could go see Imperial Triumphant play the same set five nights in a row and it'll be different. And then you can go see Imperial Triumphant play the same set five years in a row and it'll be wildly different. And that's kind of exciting to me. For me, I don't want to go see a live band and have it sound exactly like the record. I want to hear it a little more raw. You know, especially you'll see a band like Metallica. They sound great live because it's so much dirtier compared to the super polished records. Stuff like that I really get into.
Thinking about Imperial Triumphant's first album Abominamentvm, which just turned ten years old. You mentioned that if you had seen this band ten years ago versus present day it's probably a very different experience. Can you go back and listen to those songs from the debut album the same way now?
We still play songs from that first album … It was just me back then writing everything. And the rhythm section was completely different. That record basically just represents my compositional spectrum fresh out of music school and what I was able to put forth creatively, and it's definitely a little more linear and a little less experimental as are more current stuff. But you know, it's still recorded by Colin Marston. Still sounds great.
Thinking back to your younger years, a lot of us have that memory of the moment of discovering heavy metal. Does something like that stand out for you? Discovering a band or a particular album?
That was "Blackened" by Metallica. Until that moment I'd only heard like Led Zeppelin and Jimi Hendrix. I was a big fan of both, but that was like the heaviest thing I'd ever heard.
I had a couple of CDs from blink-182, and I had a CD from Nirvana, and they were both like distorted guitars, but not really that heavy, you know what I mean? And then I heard …And Justice for All, and I was like yeah, that's what I was looking for the whole time.
For the uninitiated who haven't had the opportunity to see you guys live, whether it be at a festival setting or on this upcoming tour with Zeal & Ardor. From your perspective, what is an Imperial Triumphant show like? How would you describe that experience?
It's hard for me to say because I'm the one on stage, you know? So I don't know. I don't have the best view. But it's definitely, I'd say, more dynamic than most metal shows, especially if we're doing a headliner set or 45 minutes. There's quiet parts, there's moments that are subtle and those moments work really well to make the heavy, loud parts heavier and louder. And it's definitely an extreme experience.
And I will say this, like I said, I can't experience it for myself, but I will say I hear this all the time that people say the live show is better than the album. And a lot of times the music clicks for people live more than it does on the record. You know, people always say 'oh, I couldn't get into your music, and then I heard it live and it made more sense to me.' So I hope that rings true for a lot of people and they enjoy coming out to the show.
9/11 — Brooklyn, NY — Warsaw
9/12 — Philadelphia, PA — Underground Arts
9/13 — Cambridge, MA — The Middle East
9/15 — Montreal, QC — Le Studio TD
9/16 — Toronto, ON — Opera House
9/18 — Detroit, MI — El Club
9/19 — Chicago, IL — Bottom Lounge
9/20 — Minneapolis, MN — Turf Club
9/23 — Calgary, AB — Dickens
9/24 — Edmonton, AB — Starlite Room
9/26 — Vancouver, BC — Rickshaw
9/27 — Seattle, WA — The Crocodile
9/28 — Portland, OR — Hawthorne Theater
10/1 — Denver, CO — Bluebird Theater
10/3 — Phoenix, AZ — The Crescent Ballroom
10/4 — San Diego, CA — Brick By Brick
10/5 — Los Angeles, CA — Echoplex
10/7 — Berkeley, CA — The Cornerstone
10/8 — Sacramento, CA — Aftershock Festival