Imperial Triumphant is one of the most interesting acts to come out of New York in recent years. It’s a difficult task to sustain a title like that since their hometown has been an epicentre to America’s mind-boggling avant-garde underbelly, with sister acts like Krallice, Pyrrhon, Artificial Brain and many others serving as much inspiration as the city itself. Imperial’s twist, however, comes with crushing death metal layered upon cataleptic, circular and chic jazz infusions melding into their sound. A soundscape recognizable in both Portal and Thelonious Monk.
Since releasing Vile Luxury through Gilead Media and Throatruiner, the band has been en route to european grandeur. Almost six months after its release, the band confirmed passage through Roadburn and a co-headliner tour with incredible Pagan Records prodigy Mord’A’Stigmata. Hours before closing down Het Patronaat in legendary fashion, we had the privilege to catch up with the trio behind the scenes. Without the masks and cloaks, we spoke about the band’s chemistry, the cultural shock in Europe, the New York scene and much more.
My first question would be concerning Imperial Triumphant’s beginnings. What were the band’s aspirations and ambitions at its inception?
Zachary - It’s kind’ve been just a name I’ve been operating under since I was a teenager. So you could say that any work that I put out prior to 2012 is almost a completely different band and with completely different aspirations. However, since our debut album Abominamentvm, we’ve been progressing towards this refinement of an extremely intense sound, and since 2015 we’ve solidified our trio here and this has been the perfect ingredient to create the highest quality avant-garde music we can.
Kenny is a big jazzhead and Steve has only been with the band for close to 4 years. How did they join the project?
Kenny - I came into the group through the previous drummer Alex Cohen. He and Zach thought it would be a cool idea to have me guest on an EP that we did a few years back. Just a “hey let’s get this guys who’s affiliated with Secret Chiefs 3 and John Zorn. Could be cool to have this jazzier approach to the material”. That was sort of the beginning of our relationship and at that time, just before Steve joined the band, still with Erik Malave from Pyrrhon, the three of us were rehearsing in the studio with a great vibe, having a lot of fun and since that time, Alex was getting busier doing side-man stuff and session work. That’s more of his cup of tea. He prefers to be in the studio than tour, so it just worked out that I was always available for the tours that came up and the relationship grew from there. We realised we had a very good sync together, a little bit like-minded more so.
Steve - I actually did something that I never do in life and I answered this weird online classified add that a friend sent to me. He was like “dude, you should try this band”. An add that he also never does (points to Zach), and it just happened to be amazing chemistry. It just worked out.
Z - Yeah, so embarrassed to do this. We needed a bass player for the tour. This guy knocked it out of the park.
In three months time, Vile Luxury turns a year. How is it aging for you?
Z - Wow, I didn't even think about it yet. It’s crazy. I’m not getting tired of playing the songs yet.
K - It’s one of the only albums, of all the albums I’ve ever recorded in my career, that if it actually comes up in the shuffle, I won’t skip a song. I think it’s easy to say we’re proud of what we did with that.
S - Definitely proud of the work.
Just a couple of days ago, you played Moscow on the 12th and only a day or so later, you’re in mainland Europe, to play at Roadburn. Must’ve been a long flight. Still coping with jet-lag?
Z - (laughs) Certainly. Russia was nuts, but we can’t wait to go back already.
K - The russian portion of the traveling was not so bad. It was actually kinda nice. The airport in St. Petersburg, beautiful. Very easy to get on the plane there, no problem.
S - Yeah, playing in Belarus was very interesting. It was a cool experience. They call it the museum of the Soviet Union, cause it still looks like that over there. So that was a nice cultural energy to be in that zone. Everyone was very pro, very pleasant with whatever they had. They do so much with pretty much nothing and they mean it. Very great people, very enthusiastic, very supportive.
If I’m correct, it’s the band’s first time touring overseas. How does it feel to finally bring the show over to Europe and what differences have you noticed compared to back home so far?
Z - Correct. Completely different experiences. I mean, it’s pretty much like every one said, they treat you so much better here in Europe. But what’s really great, is the audience here. You know, we’re playing packed shows every night and we didn’t even tour for years here building a following. I guess people have really been waiting for us to arrive.
K - And there’s a stronger live music culture here. Flat out, doesn’t matter what genre of music it is, because we have the same experiences whether it’s afro/cuban music, jazz or what we’re doing. Audiences here, “if there’s a band in town, we’ll go see it, we’ll support it, we’ll maybe buy a merch”. Back in the States everyone’s so distracted that if you can get a 100 people at a show, they think that’s amazing. We brought a 100 people to Moscow and the booking agent was disappointed in the numbers (laughs). It was a good show! The room was packed. But he really was not thrilled with the turn-out. But that’s the difference. In the States we did that tour with Uada, and at some of those shows there would be 30 or 40 people, and you know it’s Uada, Imperial and Panzerfaust. These might not be super established bands, but all known bands in their own right. All have toured in the States. People are so distracted in general with whatever they think is going on, to go see a show it’s like “oh maybe I’ll go check it out” or “I’ll catch them the next time they come around”.
S - In New York that’s especially true because everybody passes through New York at some point. The “catch them next time” thing is really prevalent there.
K - Here, there’s just a little more hunger to see live music in general. No matter what you’re doing.
After Roadburn, you’ll be touring from here on with the polish Mord’A’Stigmata. A band that fit pretty well with Imperial’s aesthetics and visual presentation. How did the tour come about? Was the pairing between the two bands intentional?
Z - It was all done through our booker Pierre at Dead Pig Entertainment, and he reached out to us last year, saying he wanted to bring us out to Europe and we didn’t know much about his company but every step of the way he’s been knocking it out of the park, so our confidence with him is really strong. I have no worries that touring with Mord’A’Stigmata is going to be anything less than spectacular.
Imperial Triumphant live at Roadburn 2019
Last year, we interviewed Mord’A’Stigmata’s label-mates, Furia, and we mentioned how Poland has held one of the most interesting black metal vanguards in recent years. Somehow, I feel the same has been taking place in the New York scene with names like Krallice, Woe, Yellow Eyes, Liturgy, Mutilation Rites, yourselves and many others. In what way do you feel that the New York scene is special?
K - I mean, it’s unique only in its environment. The way the Polish scene is evolving is because of where they live. What are the circumstances behind their existence in every day. It’s the same thing for New York, I mean New York is this crazy cesspool melting pot of shit that’s constantly churning, and I think that translates into the music even in bands who aren’t necessarily branding themselves as a New York-centric band. Krallice has a bit of New York, even though most of them are transplants, it just sounds like the city because they live it every day in a very specific way. You know, they might not be consciously analyzing and making it a part of their sound but it’s there. And that’s sort of the beauty of the way technology works now, it allows us to actually discover everyone’s individual isolated scenes and share it with the world. Whereas 20 years ago, you couldn't do that unless you had a friend who went there and brought back a cassette and dubbed it and shared with their buddies. It’s changing now, it's kind of easier to almost globally preserve these little scenes and connect them. This tour is an example of that. This really cool band from Poland, and this really cool band from the States, they’re somewhat distantly paralleled and it’s coming together. It’s a beautiful thing.
S - Krallice is a really cool band. We love those guys. We worked with them, we know them and Colin recorded Vile Luxury and that EP we did too.
Colin is very much involved in the scene as well because he spends a lot of time with the bands and producing the records. I guess that sound moulds into other bands in a way.
K - Yeah definitely. His room has a very particular sound to it and you can get the essence of almost anything he records. It’s nice and special because he puts a thumbprint on the whole thing.
S - And he’s a great guy (laughs).
Last question. What have you guys been listening to lately?
K - Shit, I'd have to look at my phone. I usually put this shit on shuffle and let it put whatever’s in there play, so right now I had a playlist with some Miles Davis on it, some Brand X songs I’ve got to learn for a tour, some other metal infusion stuff. Just anything.
S - I’m not good with the names. I’ve just been listening to a lot of motorcycle podcasts lately. Just podcasts about motorcycling (laughs). Not even music right now, just to get out of it for a while.
Z - I’ve been digging to a lot of McCoy Tyner, I’m also getting in this Chopin Nocturnes binge, very much getting into those and than a lot of Rammstein (laughs). Cause they rule.
Imperial Triumphant live at SWR Barroselas Metalfest 2019