Review Summary: Alphaville is a lavish tour of our own future, detailing the most decadent opulence and juxtaposing against the vile poverty that it wishes to ignore.
Andrew Hill’s “Flight 19” plays, upbeat but soft over the speakers. It blends quaintly with the patter of rain. You’re sat up late again at the bar, staring into the last brown drops of the third empty glass. Or fourth? Fifth? The bartender does pretty good about cleaning up your mess, so you don’t know for sure... You really don’t know how it got like this. Or at least that’s what you tell yourself. The confrontation of what’s truly ailing you might leave you something less than whole. A few leftward murmurs in the smoky dim snap you out of the haze.
Two girls further down, one tugging down her skirt as she smiles coyly at the bartender. Her friend, swathed in cheap furs, guffaws at a joke he makes. They’d never touch you. You don’t recall the last human warmth you felt. A neon glow obfuscates the wet windows of the dive, wrought by the cold, gilded skyline stretching into the heavens and the occasional passing hover car. All of it could never glow hot enough for you to feel.
Your lips purse when you glare at your wrist, fit with this stupid “AlphaBit” that you’ve been financing for months. You flip up the holographic menu and order another bourbon. Neat. How did you ever screw up this badly? You came to this city to be successful. Here you are, proving every paranoid thought that sneaked its way out to be gospel. Just a burn out, paying out the ass for scraps. Your mother told you it was a risk. Your father laughed in your face. The handsome bartender slides you your swill and it’s all thrown back. The glass touches that well worn bar the way it came. Neat. You’re drowning. Your ears perk as the door to the street opens and closes.
Your brow feels too heavy, so you keep your cloudy eye in the glass as boot steps jack closer. Strangely, the person goes unacknowledged. All the empty space in the bar and this asshole sits right next you. In your periphery, you can make out that he’s wearing a trench coat, a golden mask, and a bolero. “That’s bizarre,” you think. “This Ronald McDonald, clown-face-ass dude.” Just another weirdo in Alphaville. Like you. The mask slams over your preoccupied hand, marrying glass and bloody flesh with a caustic crash.
“You really are pathetic,” he laughs. “Look.”
With all the liquid courage in your gut you snap up to attack. With pupils now the size of dimes, you see that he...it has no face. The background is frozen. The bolero floats neatly atop a head shaped black hole. You stare in horror but cannot look away. Deep in the vantablack, you see your greatest fears laid bare. Your life crumbles. The elite will never want you in their house. You are always and forever poor. Your labor sums up to nothing and the promise that it could ever do more is an abject lie.
Your head hits the bar, clean as the glass. The song plays on.
“Reach high for the gold
That is just out of reach
No worries. The future is bright.”
A new Atomic Age of blackened death is upon us. With a broad and sweeping masterstroke, Imperial Triumphant build a door to another world. They then restrain you and make you watch it burn in it’s own fat, those sinews popping audibly in flame.
The band re-concocts their eclectic blend of metal like only they can, having truly perfected their grim alchemy with the newest outing. The aural mind*** of an opener, “Rotted Futures” manages to be indicative of what you’ll get from the entire record while leaving later shocks entirely unspoiled. Nearly two minutes of build up occurs. First with low synths that segue into desolate saxophone howls, eventually building louder into a wall of noise and sporadic cymbal crashes. You are then shown their character. Zachary Ilya Ezrin’s mind erasing guitarwork licks and slashes at the psyche, comprised of many unusual shapes and artful manipulation of his tremolo bar. Noodling rarely occurs here and when it does, it's pointed. This is bolstered by drummer Kenny Grohowski’s chaotic, jagged, jazz derived, and high concept assault. He is nothing if not a complete drummer, able to shift from very authentic fusion chops and solos into the tightest of blast beats like nothing. Steve Blanco’s bass is a mammoth phantom, slinking and weaving throughout the compositions and demoralizing you with each form it takes. It may dazzle you with how artfully it can harmonize with the guitar in one moment, and bury you in fuzz in the very next. Imperial Triumphant wash you in waves of sickness, petitioning with choked barks and demon shrieks as you drown. Somehow, they never forget their sense of swagger along the way.
To paint it clearly, they craft something equal parts abrasive, beautiful, cerebral, surreal and genuinely terrifying. Imperial Triumphant are far from a band just content to brutalize you with their drums and guitars and call it a day. In this retro futuristic hellscape, they freely incorporate diegetic sound and unusual instruments to the benefit of the story they wish to tell. Congas. Synths. Horns. Subways. Organs. Pianos. Drones. Choirs. Barber shop quartet style samples. All cocooned in waves of static and noise. These compositions stretch the listener across space time in both directions at once, the far future and the distant past. Look no further than the excellent track “Transmission to Mercury” to see the sound artistry at work. The additional trombone threatens to steal the show, first sweetly flirting with the piano in the intro and later melded perfectly into the assault of blasts and sour chord walls.
The trio manages to bring to life all of the anxieties and ennuis surrounding the future of technology in the industrial age. It’s a 60’s cyberpunk dystopia made sentient. No song exemplifies this aesthetic quite like “Atomic Age”. In the verses it lumbers like a beast sauntering after you through an alleyway, somehow equal parts drunken and metallic. Solicitatious and dangerous. Suddenly, a poor busker steals your attention as he practices rudiments on scrap metal. The threat of danger never leaves. You’re stricken with a wall of cacophony from behind, spearheaded by an unfamiliar female voice. As sure as you think the song and your life may end, you’re swept into the most beautiful paranoid fever dream. Seraphic synths and vocals pull you higher as strung out blasts shift tempo and meter beneath. The skyline is building, along with the ambition of the rich. Seeds of unrest in the lower class are visible, but the elite build on over top. However, as the song slams into the final groove, you feel the opulent towers collapse under the weight of their own greed.
Alphaville is a lavish tour of our own future, detailing the most decadent opulence and juxtaposing against the vile poverty that it wishes to ignore. It's indicative of more than musicians perfecting their craft. It's a group of artists perfecting a concept. Furthermore, this is a tome rife with lessons. Feed hungrily upon its musical bounty but never shirk its message. If you do, you may be doomed to see it become your reality.