Imperial Triumphant’s newest album, Alphaville, might be the most versatile album of the year. To call the black metal trio strange would be an understatement; their latest work is a raging, depraved inferno that combines brutal death metal, jazz and even doo-wop to disorienting effect.
Despite Alphaville’s colossal battery and sheer weirdness, the album has its mellifluous moments. The constant variation in genre, tone and energy expertly paints a picture of Imperial Triumphant’s worldview — metropolitan and decaying, yet tangible and stimulating.
One needs to look no further than the album’s vexing opener, “Rotted Futures,” to get a taste for the band’s verve. The song swaps feverishly between organic whirring, whimsical blast beats and a haunting, odd meter guitar riff. “Value established / Society elated / Alas, the eclipsing hour / Where our fear turns to profit” singer Zachary Ezrin bellows, describing consumption and decay as two sides of the same coin.
Mind-boggling rhythms become a crucial trait of Alphaville, especially in the opening melody of “City Swine” and the overpowering dirge of “Atomic Age.” Musical patterns are anything but uniform; they more closely resemble the erratic thuds of a Godzilla on his nightly rampage than even beats. The album’s perspective on modern existence is bruised and warped, so its time signatures are too.
Beyond provoking some crazed headbanging and horrified facial expressions, Alphaville incorporates beautifully intricate melody amid the madness. The opulently jazzy intro of “Transmission to Mercury” is a breath of unpolluted air before the song diverges into primal growls and breakneck speed. Yet, the most satisfying aspect of the track — and largely the album itself — is its willingness to bring together the angel and the demon sitting on its two shoulders.
The dancing brass notes eventually do return to “Transmission,” overlaying death metal drums and a dissonant choir. The record is at its best when it adamantly refuses to sacrifice one style for another. Creating an entire runtime dedicated to these clashes in genre would have likely been too inaccessible for any audience. So instead, Imperial Triumphant opts for something more multicameral, patiently building up contrary ideas until there is no choice left but to fuse them. The results are short lasting but explosive, perhaps most successfully on the bridge of “Atomic Age.” This passage, a few ascending melodies smashed violently onto a wall of sonic chaos, always incites a relisten from me.
Predictably, another one of these exultant peaks arrives at the title track’s chorus, which can only be described as a cross between “The Twilight Zone” and symphonic metal. The juxtaposition of a feeble, Vaudevillian tune over brazen, guttural chanting haunts me. It’s simply glorious, like the sun flares of a dying star shining through storm clouds from another dimension.
Between Code Orange’s Underneath and Loathe’s I Let It in and It Took Everything, 2020 has been a fascinating year for metal fusion. Alphaville fits nicely into this dynamic, despite being the quirkiest of the bunch. While the inherent barrier to enjoying such an experimental release may shorten its staying power, Alphaville is undeniably one of the freshest and most challenging metal albums of the year. Even though listening to the entire album in one sitting can be an overwhelming demand, Alphaville is more than worthwhile.