Taking its title from the 1965 Jean-Luc Goddard movie of the same name, and reverberating with echoes of Fritz Lang‘s 1927 silent classic, Metropolis, everything about Alphaville (Century Media), the latest album from New York trio Imperial Triumphant, is costumed heavily in film noir science fiction. Its unique atmosphere furthered by impressive cover art from Zbigniew M. Bielak, the Polish artist noted for his work with Swedish act, Ghost.
Maintaining a completely apolitical stance, the predominant subject matter for Imperial Triumphant has always been their home town of New York City and the often horrifying contrast between the opulence and lavish excess, and squalor and decay contained therein. Taking the groundwork of previous albums, most notably 2018’s Vile Luxury (Throatruiner Records), Alphaville is a bold exclamation that stands alone within their luxurious but oppressive self-constructed, towering cityverse.
After a warped and unsettling intro rises to its clangorous crescendo, the dark, frenetic jazz of ‘Rotted Futures’ erupts with Steve Blanco‘s churning bass and Kenny Grohowski‘s off-kilter drums underpinning the jangling, discordant riffs and dry roar of guitarist/vocalist Zachary Ilya Ezrin. A swan-dive from the highest skyscraper into the deepest abyss, the eventual impact resonates with sudden, brutal force as an organ flatlines the song to its concussive conclusion.
With its arrhythmic and atonal surges, ‘Excelsior’ is a sprawling, inharmonious avalanche which only pauses briefly at the midway point for a viscerally disorienting interpretation of a train screeching to an ear-splitting halt inside a busy railway station. ‘City Swine’ is a serpentine conundrum of interconnecting and distorted sounds and rhythms which features a guest appearance by Tomas Haake of Swedish legends Meshuggah, as he joins the band on Japanese taiko drums.
Beginning with the mellifluous strains of a barbershop quartet, ‘Atomic Age’ segues into jarring, single chord strikes, and rising tension. An aeroplane flies overhead while screams and warning sirens foreshadow the mushroom cloud which eventually arrives before sombre, militaristic drums survey the catastrophic aftermath. By direct contrast, ‘Transmission to Mercury’ opens with a warm piano melody, and the smoky soft jazz trombone of J. Walter Hawkes before being jarred out of its reverie by some ornate bass work, and stentorian drums. What begins as smooth and relaxed quickly becomes dissonant and disturbing as trombone and saxophone take flight, filling the monochromatic cityscape with discombobulating, climactic turmoil.
The frenetic bass runs, bent strings, tapped notes, stops, and changes lend the lurching title track an occasionally improvisational quality, its discordant nature creating a nightmarish fusion of the past and the future. While, beginning in a more traditional style, it doesn’t take long for monolithic final cut ‘The Greater Good’ to reveal itself as another throbbing metallic chrysalis eager to transform into something even more twisted and irregular.
Closing the record, the band tackle two cover versions. ‘Experiment’ by Canadian prog-thrashers, Voivod remains true to the original while stamping their own unique identity upon it with help from Wormed vocalist Phlegeton, while the unbalanced bedlam of ‘Happy Home’ by art collective The Residents completes the record, and put quite simply, is the stuff from which nightmares are made.
Recorded at Menegroth Studios, produced by Trey Spruance (Faith No More, Mr. Bungle), and engineered by Colin Marston (Gorguts, Krallice), Alphaville is an uncomfortable and occasionally distressing record likely to draw comparisons to the likes of Oranssi Pazuzu and Portal, the often inaccessible, nebulous and seemingly freeform nature of the music not giving an ounce of comfort to the listener, even right at the very end.
A breathtaking vision of inescapable claustrophobia and unrestrained pandemonium, 2020 has its very own soundtrack, and its name is Alphaville.
9 / 10