Interview: Imperial Triumphant
A lot of it is inspired by the vibrancy, the majesty, and then the filth and decay that kind of boils underneath. There’s a lot of duality in the city that you can experience here.
With their latest record Alphaville, Imperial Triumphant have released their best album yet and that is a big achievement given how momentous their first three albums were. With this fourth album, the New York avant-garde black metal band have made an epic and majestic collection of music, as sublimely heavy as it is expansive and we are talking album of the year contender, it’s that good. Gavin Brown had the pleasure of talking to Imperial Triumphant vocalist and guitarist Zachary Ilya Ezrin to hear all about Alphaville, as well an Imperial Triumphant guide to New York, how the city influences the band and their picks for the best NY metal bands.
E&D: You have just released your latest album Alphaville. How did the recording and the creation of the album go?
Zachary: It was a different process for every single song. We started writing in 2018 and every song has a different story basically. Some are completely written by one member of the band and written out on sheet music and just give everyone their parts, and then we play them. Then some are created based on just one rhythm we brought into the rehearsal studio and just chatting for a few months.
E&D: The song ‘City Swine’ from Alphaville features Tomas Haake from Meshuggah. How did his appearance come about and what did he bring to the song?
Zachary: He’s a great guy and obviously an amazing player and we were really happy to have him play on the album and work with him. He was really excited about playing taiko drums, I don’t think he’d ever played one before and neither had anyone in the band.
E&D: Was that always the idea for him to play the taiko drums?
Zachary: Well, we wanted taiko drums on the album. That was something we talked about since we’d been mixing Vile Luxury and we were saying, maybe we should ask Tomas if he wants to play on them and he was super excited to play on it. The whole session went really smoothly and it was a really fun time.
E&D: When was the album recorded, did you have it all done before the lockdown things happened?
Zachary: Yeah, it was recorded in December at Colin Marstons Menegroth Studios in New York.
E&D: Can you tell us a bit about the video for ‘City Swine’?
Zachary: I actually didn’t work on that. Steve, our bass player did, but it’s kind of portraying the two perspectives that we were singing about in the lyrics and the strange similarities between the super high up and the super down low.
E&D: Trey Spruance from Mr Bungle also plays and worked on the album. How was it working with him and how did that opportunity come about?
Zachary: That opportunity came about when we were playing a show in Santa Cruz, near where he lives and he came to the show and he spoke to us and just basically said outright, I want to produce your next album. We were very excited about this idea because we had never worked with a producer before and we thought it’d be kind of interesting to bring in an outside set of ears to help with the creation. I think as far as producers go for your first one to be Trey Spruance, it’s not too bad!
E&D: Was the process different, working with him and he put in his own input?
Zachary: Yeah, he did, and you know, of course we were a little unsure of what he would bring to the table, but very quickly that disappeared and we realized that he shared the exact same vision as we did. He completely understands the music, our goals, and what we’re trying to sound like, so it was just like having another creative force in the band helping push us forward.
E&D: Would you work with him again? Was there any sort of indication?
Zachary: Yeah. Between him and Colin, it was just like these two really creative really well-educated producers and engineers working together to bring out the best of this beast.
E&D: Do you think that Alphaville is your most vast sounding record so far and was it your your intention before to make that sonic vastness as it were?
Zachary: Absolutely. A hundred percent. Yeah, we’re gonna just keep pushing ourselves on every record to make it wilder and wilder.
E&D: You cover songs by Voivod and The Residents on Alphaville. What made you choose those particular songs for the album?
Zachary: They’re very far from the style of music that we play and I though it would be to our benefit to try to do something out of our comfort zone really. I wanted to really think out the box as much as we really can.
E&D: Is there a story as to why you named the album “Alphaville”?
Zachary: The name Alphaville comes from the 1965 film by Gianluca Dar by the same name and in addition to the content, which was a big inspiration to us. The actual literal name of Alphaville is French for number one city which was a huge inspiration to us because we felt, even though the film takes place in Paris, this kind of a mentality also applies to the New York state of mind.
E&D: Obviously, your New York hometown is still as big an influence on Imperial Triumphant and your music as its always been. Did you want to want to expand on that even further than you did on your last album Vile Luxury and go even grander?
Zachary: Absolutely. You completely nailed that. That’s exactly what we were planning.
E&D: How are things in New York at the moment sort of regarding the Covid-19 situation?
Zachary: It’s definitely getting better and we can only hope that it stays this way and you know, we don’t have any resurgence or anything, but we’re just grateful that it’s getting better in our city so that we can resume music videos and more jamming and possibly even doing a live stream or something.
E&D: Is that something that’s on the cards, a livestream?
Zachary: Possibly, I mean, it just depends on a lot of factors, because in the first couple of months of Covid-19, our studio was locked out, so we couldn’t even get into our instruments.
E&D: How have you been keeping busy during this strange time?
Zachary: It’s been really difficult because we’re all professional musicians, so we didn’t have like a job to work from home. We have all been kind of trying to teach lessons online as much as we can and trying to find some remote work, just basically stay afloat until we can start touring again, so it’s been challenging, but you know, we’re always just gonna just keep fighting.
E&D: Have you got any tentative touring plans at the moment, hopefully you’ll make it back to the UK at some point.
Zachary: Yeah, absolutely. It’ll probably hopefully be 2021, but we can’t wait to get back to the UK, it’s such a great experience playing there.
E&D: If there was an Imperial Triumphant guide to your all time favorite New York spots, what would be on it, landmarks, venues, record stores, that sort of thing. What would you recommend?
Zachary: That’s a great question. I think everyone in the band would probably have different things on their list. I would say, start out at a diner or for breakfast and then take in the sights in Central Park and Midtown and so you can see all the skyscrapers then explore some fine dining downtown and catch some live music, maybe at Zinc Bar or even, get a little dirty with it and go to the Fat Cat or even if you feel like going to Brooklyn, hit up Saint Vitus, the legendary metal bar, that does not disappoint and make sure you end your night with some dirty hole in the wall pizza joint.
E&D: That sounds great! What are some of your favorite musical memories that relate to you to New York, both with, you know, personally and with the band?
Zachary: That’s a great question. I don’t know, I’ve been playing in New York city since I was like 15, cause I grew up here, so playing gigs since then, high school, little talent shows and stuff out in Manhattan on the Upper East Side, we were playing talent shows in high school and stuff, and that was kind of fun. What has been really great is this band has been around almost 10 years or so and just seeing all the bands that we grew up with starting to grow with us, you know, Pyrrhon, Artifical Brain, Couch Slut, all these classic acts. We were all kind of the same age in some ways and just kind of playing together, helping each other out and really everyone kind of pushing the boundaries of music in their own way. It has been a kind of exciting journey.
E&D: How much of Imperial Trump triumphant music is inspired sort of by New York’s vibrancy and its majesty?
Zachary: A lot of it is inspired by the vibrancy, the majesty, and then the filth and decay that kind of boils underneath. There’s a lot of duality in the city that you can experience here, even as a tourist and it’s really inspiring, even the sounds, the constant sirens and the chaos, we try to reflect that in our music as best as possible.
E&D: You obviously have a black metal influence in your music. How did you discover black metal in the first place?
Zachary: It was probably in my teenage years, a friend of mine was showing me a Dimmu Borgir record. I was very naive and just excited about the double kick sounding amazing, and then slowly just going down the rabbit hole. I got really into Immortal when I was in high school. I think they were probably my favorite. I liked it because, I always enjoy death metal as well, but to me, death metal has always been about brutality and technical proficiency proficiency while black metal was that you didn’t really care if you were good or bad, it’s just about the atmosphere and while everyone in my band can play, we are at the end of the day, only concerned with how does it sound in and it shows in our music because some songs will have parts in 5/8 time signature, and then we’ll have songs that are entirely in 4/4 because we don’t have anything to prove. Technically it’s just about delivering the atmosphere that we’re striving for.
E&D: Do you think you’ve hit on that atmosphere, with every record, there’s a different atmosphere?
Zachary: Completely, and we’re honing our sound and trying to develop it in the best way possible, so, you know, every record will be getting better and more true to ourselves,
E&D: Going back to New York, is there any new, New York heavy bands that you could recommend to us at the minute?
Zachary: I mean, I just named a few. Artificial Brain are amazing, Pyrrhon, also amazing. Couch Slut are really brutal. Krallice are the godfathers of this whole weird little New York avant-garde scene. They’re unbelievable and every single member of Krallice is in like 10 other bands that are amazing. Thats where I would start if you’re trying to get into New York heavy metal.
E&D: What have been some of the most memorable moments in your career with Imperial Triumphant so far?
Zachary: The first one that comes to mind would be the Roadburn show we played a year ago. It was one of our debut performances in Europe, our first festival in Europe and it was just such a warm reception and we were able to put on such a crazy show that, and also, the shows we played in Russia were really nuts because that just felt like we were so far away from home and here are people coming out to see us. That’s a very validating feeling, like okay, we’re doing something good.