Performing Arts: Music
September 29, 2020
As a member of New York City’s “avant-garde,” I feel comfortably surrounded by like-minded weirdoes who are into similar sorts of weird things as I, all of us making art that can generally be termed by those not in the community as “weird.”

Growing up Catholic in the South, I did not have this luxury. When you are a young weirdo with few fellow weirdoes around, choices of subversive content are considerably limited. An accessible choice for many who grow up like me is heavy metal music, particularly “nu-metal,” most prominent in the 90’s– 2000’s. I still listen to some of it: Slipknot, Killswitch Engage, and many more foreboding names.

There are others who incorporate progressive or “prog” rock, such as Opeth and Dream Theater. These bands are intense and scream a lot, too, but they are also melodic, typically better players, and are more rhythmically and harmonically adventurous. New York City-based avant-garde metal band Imperial Triumphant brings jazz into their work – something I never thought I’d see, but New York? Avant-garde? Anything is possible! They give me Slipknot vibes in that, if you Google them, they are mostly masked. In the comments on their most recent music video for their single, “Atomic Age,” a listener reminisces on the band’s previous single, “Chernobyl Blues.”

Furthering the personnel’s mystique, the video for “Atomic Age” features no live performers, but a nightmarish assemblage of animations and video clips from World War II, put together by Zbigniew Bielak. We see, interspersed with the band’s H.R. Giger-esque branding, cartoons of atoms undergoing nuclear fission, art deco architecture, stock footage of mid-century American domestic life, soldiers marching, and bombs – lots of bombs.

The track is an exercise in aural radioactivity. A structurally unpredictable chain of volatile chunks, the closest we come to stability is a motivic groove, which, even then, is in alternating subdivisions of 4+4+3+4 and 4+4+3+3, keeping the listener ungrounded amid distorted dissonance.

Chaos aside, sections change on a dime, precisely synchronized alongside Bielak’s visual journey from innocent, educational animations to bombs dropping. Layered throughout are images of planes, phallically inserted into frame, until mushroom clouds are ironically double-exposed with ostensibly benign product placement, as well as iconic structures from Ancient Egypt to the present day.

Imperial Triumphant maintains that its music impartially represents the sound of New York City, which they go on to bleakly describe as that of a giant’s corpse. Aims for objectivity suspect as best, a charged point of view is impossible to deny when guest vocalist Yoshiko Ohara (of Bloody Panda), death growls to images of Nagasaki and Hiroshima’s devastation. As I write this on the 19 th anniversary of the September 11 th attacks, the same charge is emitted when, late in the video, one of those phallic planes rises through the One World Trade Center Freedom Tower. Imperial Triumphant absolutely has a commentary; however, what exactly beyond a sort of universal doom and gloom remains unclear.
RYR ON THE ARTS, NY -- Jonathan Matthews

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