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Album Review: IMPERIAL TRIUMPHANT Spirit Of Ecstasy

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It’s an old joke that rock musicians play four chords to four thousand people, while jazz musicians play four thousand chords to four people. Imperial Triumphant are what happens when you throw black metal into that mix. Spirit of Ecstasy captures the unhinged heart of free jazz and black metal while still being denser than a 20-hour Ken Burns special being played on audiobook through a lo-fi sound system.

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Let’s be honest – all metal fans need to explore jazz. Scratch the surface and the two genres are very similar. Both support dedicated scenes that thrive on small shows. Both value musicianship over marketability and are quick to call out those who don’t. The outer fringes of jazz and metal are where you’ll find some of the most talented musicians playing the most misanthropic sounds you’ll ever hear. They’ve turned blurring the line between noise and music into an art form of its own.

That’s where Imperial Triumphant come in. They may look like the Ghost's Nameless Ghouls joined Behemoth, but these New York City boys know their John McLaughlin from their John Zorn. The wild improvisational nature of their playing is very different from the cookie-cutter tremolo-blast beat formula. Halfway through the album opener “Chump Change”, it’s like hearing a free jazz meltdown filtered through black metal production. This is a four-minute soundbite of the level Imperial Triumphant are operating on. Drums flail, guitars squeal and the sound of the madness intensifies. If nothing else, it will be very different from anything else you hear this month. 

The dream cameo no one saw coming arrives on mid-album single "Merkurius Gilded": the King of Smooth himself Kenny G. It's a jaw-dropping feature, one that not even the biggest fans could have predicted. But The King fits right in among these weirdos. His appearance is not an interlude, but an essential part of the chaos taking place. His iconic soprano saxophone meshes right alongside the guitars. Kenny G might be one of the best selling artists of all time, but if he ever wants to start a solo black metal project, it wouldn't be the worst idea in the world. 

Spirit of Ecstasy is Imperial Triumphant's fifth album. It's musically similar to their 2020 breakthrough Alphaville, but with a much more defined sound that gives each instrument room to breathe. It's distinct move away from the buzzy 'trve kvlt' guitar sound of their early releases and it suits Imperial Triumphant just fine. Playing of this caliber doesn't deserve to be hidden under Darkthrone-era production.

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That doesn't mean Imperial Triumphant have gone soft. It just means they aren't pretending to be your average run-of-the-mill group. This isn't the first group to mix black metal and jazz and they won't be the last. Bands like Shining, Rivers of Nihil, and Oranssi Pazuzu have all experimented with it to some degree. But Imperial Triumphant are the first one of the first to make the jazz parts even heavier than the metal ones. Even the cinema-sized "Tower of Glory, City of Shame" is as confusingly avant-garde as anything off Alphaville.

Imperial Triumphant are following their own muses wherever they may take them. If it's attracted the likes of Kenny G, who knows what else is yet to come? We'll hold out of the Adele features for now. But nothing is ever truly off the table when it comes to Imperial Triumphant. That's just jazz, baby!

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