Looking back across the decades of parents, religious groups and self-appointed moral guardians with too much time on their hands during the 60s, 70s and 80s really didn’t know how good they had it. Anyone complaining about the unholy racket bands like the Rolling Stones, Led Zeppelin or Judas Priest produced would have – quite literally, I suspect – shat a brick had they heard Imperial Triumphant. It’s almost as if the sound is perfectly tuned and arranged to rattle the subterranean halls of the Devil himself. An ugly disorientating sound that could easily give the impression that it was the product of four blokes locked up in an asylum with badly tuned guitars and a damaged capacity for human emotion. But, as we all should know by now, even in the darkest of places there is beauty and even a sanity of sorts: it’s all a matter of perspective really. The asylum is the urban hell of New York and the discordant cacophony it produces – two words that no review of Imperial Triumphant should really ever be without – is, quite simply, enthralling. The sickeningly flat, sliding riffs exhibit a callous disregard for your mental stability and are alternatively used as a percussive battering ram to knock down the doors of your psyche.
Once you get over the unsettling queasiness of the sonic landscape spewing forth from Abyssal Gods, the doors to Imperial Triumphant’s psychedelic chaos unlock and you’re off down a very slippery slope. I came across Imperial Triumphant’s previous release Shrine to the Trident Throne last year after they signed with Code666: a compilation of the band’s only previous full-length and the EP Goliath. I liked it a lot. Like a more volatile Deathspell Omega perhaps or, at a push, a more martial Mayhem but far more stylised than either. And any band, as it did on the Goliath EP, that features a painting of an execution by elephant on its cover will almost certainly get my attention. Weaving together a disjoined sound that almost threatens to demolish itself into its constituent parts but then always holding itself together, sometimes almost mind-bendingly and mesmerizingly so.
So, as you might detect, I had high hopes for this latest release. But Abyssal Gods has exceeded them by a long way. The soundtrack to a chaotic parade of sickeningly formed demons marching through the night to some bacchanalian event. Tracks like From Palaces and Dead Heaven are a lesson in the nuts and bolts of Imperial Triumphant’s sound – taking us to some very dark places indeed. Then everything that follows begins to add layers of form and texture as the band fleshes out the flayed sinews of its sound on the rotting altar of your consciousness. There’s a little dabbling in effects and orchestration but the bottom line is that these guys are using their instruments to stunning effect. The slower, swampy track Krokodil brings new emotional lows to the album while tracks like Opposing Holiness and the excellent penultimate track Black Psychedelia are a tightly wrought adrenaline rush that bring a mesmerising light to the claustrophobic darkness.
I guess one question to pose about Imperial Triumphant is whether its ultra stylised approach warrants any cynicism. But to be honest when the product is this good who cares? The band is clearly drawing influences from outside the black metal scene – classic music and specifically, the band says, post-surrealism composer Krzysztof Penderecki as well as giving the nod to the aforementioned Deathspell Omega. In fact this might appeal more to fans of death metal bands like Gorguts as it is likely to the average black metal fan hankering after a return to the 1990s. Imperial Triumphant is pushing the boundaries and producing something unlike much of what you’ll hear in black metal at the moment and when I listen to this it gives me heart that we are at last beginning to find ourselves putting some distance between Under a Funeral Moon and now – something that I think is perhaps lost on some bands. If it’s time to move on, then bands like Imperial Triumphant are here to lead the way. So find a nice stable wall to lean against and brace yourself for a gut wrenching ride. Imperial Triumphant mean business and they will turn whatever darkened hole you’re living in upside down.
(8.5/10 Reverend Darkstanley)