Imperial Triumphant talk Art Deco-inspired death metal, working with Kenny G on new LP, & more
Since releasing its debut record in 2012, Imperial Triumphant -- Zachary Ilya Ezrin (vocals, guitars), Steve Blanco (bass, vocals, keys, theremin) and Kenny Grohowski (drums) -- had a mission in going deep into the heart of New York City, as elegantly described on their Bandcamp, "From top floor luxury to the rotten underground." The idea of the top floor luxury only enhanced after the release of Alphaville (get it on white vinyl), their debut with Century Media. The record -- produced by Trey Spruance (Mr. Bungle) and recorded by Colin Marston at Menegroth Studios -- is grand in scope, with their largest sounding production yet. The reception for the record amongst the metal community was equal in size, and took the Art Deco-inspired trio from a local favorite to engraving their place in the metal canon. With their second release on Century Media, Spirit of Ecstasy (out today, 7/22 -- grab it on vinyl), Imperial Triumphant are stripping their sound back just enough to focus on the finer details that go into their music.
Before the glory and the golden masks, Imperial Triumphant started in 2005 as a high school project for now-frontman Zachary Ilya Ezrin. In 2012, the project first started forming what would become its signature dissonant death metal style, with flavors of technicality and metropolitan-based themes. Since developing this sound, Ezrin found the importance of collaboration to be what took the project's life span the furthest. "The one thing that has been consistent within myself is keeping an open mind." he reflected with us, "That includes taking the risks and letting other people into your work. The more that I collaborated, the better the music became."
Dwelling further into the New York aesthetic, Ezrin was inspired by New York architecture and Fritz Lang’s 1927 classic film Metropolis. The new focus would prove to be a turning point for the trio and paved the path to crafting their now iconic costumes. "It started with Art Deco." Ezrin declared, "I was walking down 59th Street, Central Park South, and there's a lot of old Art Deco buildings there. Art Deco is not exclusive to New York, it feels very New York by nature, and it's unused in heavy metal. Why not dive into that sort of thing, and do to Art Deco what Immortal and black metal have done to winter? Steve [Blanco, bassist of Imperial Triumphant] came up with the idea to do the masks, and that was a process to develop them and even more to add to them."
The theme of an Art Deco-based metropolitan landscape is one that yearned to grow larger in scope; to reach the heights of the skyscrapers as it were. This is where legendary metal record label Century Media came into the picture. "We're a pretty ambitious band and we needed a label that could support that ambition." Ezrin proclaimed, "They took a big risk on us. It wasn't like we’re selling out arenas and they wanted to make some money. They're thinking artistically, so it was their risk that wound up paying off." Alphaville garnered praise across the metal world, but it was by no accident. Imperial Triumphant spent years developing their style, and Alphaville was an accumulation of that development. "With a bit of luck and a whole lot of hard work, every opportunity can lead to another opportunity."
With Alphaville focusing on the grandness of Imperial Triumphant’s ability, the trio decided to go for something different when it came time to write the new record. "Spirit of Ecstasy is very much inspired by the name." Ezrin stated, "I got into learning about Rolls-Royce as a company and learning about these ultra luxury product companies like Rolex and such. The Rolls-Royce has this hood ornament that is known as the Spirit of Ecstasy. Much of what they create involves a lot of tiny details that are all there to benefit either the user’s experience or the actual mechanics of the product. I thought that was an interesting concept, so what if we try to apply that mentality to our music?"
Spirit of Ecstasy initially sounds more stripped back than Alphaville, but their attention to detail makes repeated listens even more rewarding. "Structurally sometimes, it's even simpler than stuff on Alphaville." Ezrin acknowledged, "We were trying to put together the next step, carve out our little niche, even further, go down the rabbit hole further and yeah, and also, building up on our songwriting as well. Trying to give people moments of clarity within the chaos that they can hold on to as they're being ravaged sonically. We wrote all these songs and then tinkered with them and scrutinized over the very minutiae. We went over the record second by second to make sure that everything is exactly how it should be." This would come in the form of adding various elements, from recorded vocals to dueling guitars with saxophones to samples of the wind blowing, all placed in a particular place to create their own hood ornament, and showcasing Spirit of Ecstasy as the product of luxury it is.
Imperial Triumphant continues to pursue opulence with songs that have the listener riding through dystopian wastelands in a Rolls-Royce on Spirit of Ecstasy. Gathering their usual ensemble of characters, as well as a few special additions such as members of thrash heroes Voivod & Testament, and saxophone legend Kenny G (huh?) (more on that below), the trio have crafted another opus for the dissonant death metal canon, and one that will challenge listeners to dig for more in its 55-minute runtime. "I think it's one of those records that people will grow to like the more they're listening to it." Ezrin asserted, " It's very challenging, but then very rewarding."
read on for the full interview below this video from the new album...
What are some of the things, whether it be general elements to the city or works of art in any medium, that inspired you to revolve Imperial Triumphant around and embody the sounds of New York?
Ezrin: We try to embellish the sonic landscape of New York City and the various dynamics of that. Visually, there's a huge influence, and one that's pretty unique to our city. It’s such a dense place, that there's so much to be inspired by in various ways. There's history in the city through all fields, from the musical pedigree of it to the infrastructure. Everything can be brought into some aspect of Imperial Triumphant.
There’s also such a sense of state nationalism that comes from New York. Even people that move here are proud to be New Yorkers. What are you proud of? You're living in a coffin! People get really fucking excited about being in New York, and the more I travel, the more I'm thinking this is definitely not the greatest city on earth. Within that however, a concept for a song is born. The veil of metropolitan pride and self achievement is such an interesting concept to explore.
The aesthetic of Imperial Triumphant comes together in a bigger sense than the art. How did you evolve your sense of including the crowd more in the show?
I had my girlfriend and my brother's girlfriend put on cloaks and give out masks to the audience during live shows. Back in those days nobody ever moshed to our music, and we were trying to think of ways to make the vibe better in the room than classic Brooklyn people staring at you. We thought that if they were all wearing masks, then it becomes a group ritual and we're all part of this. There's more mosh pits at our show now, but still people show up wearing masks, like the guest masks that we sell on our merch store. Some people get dressed up for our shows in all sorts of ornate costumes. I want people to feel included in our concert and that it's not just a performance, but rather like a ritual that we're all taking part in.
What was the decision to make "Maximalist Scream", the final song on the record, the first single?
We put that song out simply because we really liked it and we thought it was a bold song. It's aggressive and a wild journey. We also shot this huge video for it out in LA. In regards to releasing the final song first, I never thought about the "risk" I suppose. It's the last song on the record because it fits the flow of the record being the last song. But I think as a single it stands on its own and it doesn't feel like a B-side.
What are some of the elements and instruments you’ve included in Spirit of Ecstacy that make it more "authentically" New York, and what were some of the challenges you had to jump through in accomplishing those moments? What was the process of getting everyone together for Spirit of Ecstacy, and how did it differ from previous records?
There weren't really challenges with making this record, and the process was pretty much the same from Alphaville. We always have our cast of regulars that appear on records like Sarai Woods, Andromeda Anarchia, and Yoshiko Ohara, amongst other vocalists. We have Ben Hankle and J. Walter Hawkes, horn players that frequent Imperial Triumphant music. Those performers are simple to call on and already understand what we're doing, so there's little explanation needed. We have our list of guests that we'd like to invite onto the record and see if it works. Pretty much everything and everyone that we asked for, people delivered above and beyond.
What does "Colin Marston on YouTube" mean?
In the mixing process, sometimes we'll sample stuff that we take from YouTube. Stuff like wind samples. There’s no reason for us to go out into a field and record wind when you can find it on YouTube. We were like, "Oh, how funny would it be if under [Colin's] credits we added YouTube," and then nobody decided to change that, so we just kept it. Most things we're gonna make ourselves. The stuff that sounds like old movie samples, we're gonna make that ourselves. But for something like wind? Give me a break.
How did you get Kenny G and Max Gorelick featured on "Merkurius Gilded"? How about Snake (vocalist of Voivod) and Alex Skolnick (guitarist of Testament) on their respective tracks?
Max Gorelick is a close friend of mine and used to be a member of Imperial Triumphant, and we run a small business in New York City together. We were having lunch one afternoon and I just asked him, "We got this part in the new Imperial Triumphant record, I'm imagining a dual solo situation where there's a guitar fighting, or rather dancing with a saxophone, would you and your father be interested?" He said yes, he asked his dad, who also agreed and then they just came back with an absolute masterpiece. When you work with people that get what you're doing, you get a stronger product. I could never write what they played. It benefits the music and it's putting your faith into other people's talent. People might have a conception about Kenny G and they don't know he's actually a monster player and Max is a monster shredder.
Kenny plays with Alex in a free improv quartet. So that was a pretty easy ask. For Snake, we found out because Voviod is on Century Media too, that they liked our cover of [Voivod’s] "Experiment '' that we did for Alphaville. So Century Media pretty much told us if we wanted a guest spot, they could make the connection. Something that Imperial Triumphant will never do would be to have a guest on the album that is just for the name.
Whenever there's someone coming in, no matter how famous they are, what they're bringing has to benefit the music first and foremost. Everything after that is only sugar.
Pick up the new album "Spirit of Ecstasy," "Alphaville" on exclusive white vinyl & IT's recent live album, HERE. Imperial Triumphant will be on the road for a lot of the rest of 2022. All dates below...
IMPERIAL TRUMPHANT 2022 Tour Dates:
U.S. Headline Shows
July 29 – Baltimore, MD – Ottobar
July 30 – Youngstown, OH – Into the Darkness Fest
July 31 – Rochester, NY – Montage Music Hall
European Headline Dates/Festivals
August 10 - Jaroměř, Czechia – Brutal Assault
August 12 – Oxfordshire, England – SUPERNORMAL FEST
August 13 – Manchester, England – The White Hotel
August 14 – Glasgow, Scotland – Stereo
August 15 – Belfast, England – Voodoo
August 16 – Dublin, Ireland – The Grand Social
August 18 - Somerset, England - ArcTanGent Festival
August 19 – London, England – The Dome
August 20 - Méan, Belgium - MÉTAL MÉAN
August 21 - Brittany, France - MOTOCULTER
August 23 - Madrid, Spain – Moby Dick
August 24 – Barcelona, Spain – Sala Upload
August 25 – Toulon, France - L'Hélice
August 26 – Mantova, Italy – The Academy
August 27 – Winterthur, Switzerland – Gaswerk
August 28 – Strasbourg, France – La Maison Bleue
August 29 – Nijmegen, Netherlands – Merleyn
August 30 – Hamburg, Germany – Hafenklang
August 31 – Aalborg, Denmark – 1000 Fryd
September 1 – Oslo, Norway – Bla
September 2 – Goteborg, Sweden – Fangelset
September 3 – Copenhagen, Denmark – Hotel Cecil
September 8 – Leipzig, Germany – Bandhaus
September 9 – Tel Aviv, Israel – Gagarin
Zeal & Ardor, Imperial Triumphant & Sylvaine North American Tour
September 11 – Brooklyn, NY – Warsaw
September 12 – Philadelphia, PA – Underground Arts
September 13 – Cambridge, MA – The Middle East
September 15 – Montreal, QC – LE Studio TD
September 16 – Toronto, ON – Opera House
September 18 – Detroit, MI – El Club
September 19 – Chicago, IL – Bottom Lounge
September 20 – Minneapolis, MN – Turf Club
September 23 – Calgary, AB – Dickens
September 24 – Edmonton, AB – The Starlite Room
September 26 – Vancouver, BC – Rickshaw Theatre
September 27 – Seattle, WA – The Crocodile
September 28 – Portland, OR – Hawthorne Theatre
October 1 – Denver, CO – Bluebird Theater
October 3 – Phoenix, AZ – The Crescent Ballroom
October 4 – San Diego, CA – Brick By Brick
October 5 – Los Angeles, CA – Echoplex
October 7 – Berkeley, CA – Cornerstone