On January 31st, enigmatic metal provocateurs Imperial Triumphant will kick off their first North American tour of 2023, along with supporting acts Cloak and Couch Slut. The tour will begin in Newark, NJ, heading west towards Cincinnati before winding southeast to Miami. It will then head northward through the Atlantic corridor, eventually ending in the band’s home turf of Brooklyn, NY.
Formed in New York City in 2005, Imperial Triumphant has remained one of the most consistently fascinating acts in modern extreme metal. The band’s current lineup consists of vocalist and guitarist Zachary Ezrin, drummer Kenny Grohowski, and bassist/keyboardist Steve Blanco. Every member of the band has formal university training in jazz or classical composition, granting their music a degree of sophistication that brings to mind the vaunted progressive rock acts of the 1970s. (To further illustrate the band’s unusual musical pedigree: former Imperial Triumphant member Max Gorelick is the son of saxophonist Kenny G, who made a cameo in the music video for their song “Merkurius Gilded”).
Imperial Triumphant’s lyrical themes and overall concept are just as ambitious as their music. Taking a skeptical view of their home city, the so-called Capital of the World, the band’s releases portray New York City as a postmodern sci-fi dystopia, ruled by a cabal of shadowy oligarchs whose decadent lifestyles are fueled by the suffering of the lower classes (sample lyric: “We forget our lavish life/ And seek luxury in death/ Emptiness through decadence/ And madness through beautiful greed” from “Swarming Opulence”). The band is famous for performing in elaborate Greco-Roman death masks, which appear to be a perversion of the Statue of Liberty’s face.
“Barbecue, omakase, bodegas. They all are influences on our view of New York City,” guitarist Ezrin told us. “NYC [history] over the decades presents us with a myriad of lyrical concepts. The well has still not run dry.”
Imperial Triumphant is currently touring in support of their most recent album, Spirit of Ecstasy, which was released in July 2022. As with their previous release Alphaville (2020), the album found the band refining their signature blend of dissonant death metal, avant-garde jazz, and classical music.
In discussing their artistic influences, the band cited the similarly chaotic and conceptual death metal band Portal of Brisbane, AUS, as a primary inspiration; ever the eclectics, they also listed Russian composer Alfred Schnittke, Moroccan Gnawa musician Mahmoud Guinia, and hard rock groups Rush and Heart among the artists they pay homage to.
Although Imperial Triumphant will not be playing St. Louis on their current tour, the band expressed their appreciation for the STL metal scene and their desire to play here again in the future. Their most recent St. Louis show was on October 21st, 2021 at Red Flag, where they performed with Pyrrhon, another highly technical and avant-garde-minded death metal band based in Brooklyn.
Hailing from Atlanta, GA, Cloak is a black metal band consisting of Scott Taysom (guitar/vocals), Max Brigham (guitar), Sean Bruneau (drums), and Billy Robinson (bass). The band released their self-titled demo EP in 2016, which was followed by two studio albums: To Venomous Depths (2017) and The Burning Dawn (2019).
The band recently finished recording and mixing their third album, which they expect to release through independent label Season of Mist in May of this year.
“It’s definitely what we feel is going to be our best album [to date],” said Taysom. “We’ve been sitting on the fucking thing for so long, just because the [vinyl record] plants are really backed up. It basically dragged out to about a two-year process.”
Taysom described the frustration that many musicians experienced as a result of pandemic disruptions. Touring was all but impossible from 2020-2021, and although many bands used the forced hiatus as an opportunity to write and record new music, industry-wide disruptions made booking studio time difficult. As Taysom indicated, even the physical production of music media was impacted, due both to factory shutdowns and a glut of demand that quickly followed the re-opening of the entertainment industry.
“We spent a lot of 2020 and 2021 writing the new album. I was afraid of a massive influx of records coming out [in 2022 and 2023] but I feel like it’s evenly spreading out, as best as it can. I would say most bands got their stuff out last year, so maybe now we’re coming out more into the normality [of post-pandemic release schedules].”
Cloak can be generally considered a black metal band, although they clearly take influence from more traditionally American styles of rock and metal as well.
“[Cloak] has the spirit of a black metal band, but also elements of everything from ‘80s heavy metal to late ‘80s thrash metal… It’s an amalgamation of a lot of things. I guess we have the spirit of a black metal band with the energy of a rock ‘n’ roll band,” said Taysom.
“Black metal to me is a spiritually-based music, and our output is cemented in those roots. I know that we don’t sound like a purely traditional Norwegian-style black metal band, but I think more and more, our music is leading more towards that. We’re not really a death metal band, or a black metal band, just a ‘metal’ band.”
When Cloak finishes the current tour with Imperial Triumphant, they plan to return to Atlanta to prepare for the upcoming album release. The band expects to release singles from the new album by March, and will be playing new material on the upcoming tour: specifically, the songs “The Holy Dark” and “Seven Thunders.” The band is excited to share the stage with Imperial Triumphant, who they have not seen perform live yet.
“It’s strange!” said Scott of Imperial Triumphant’s music, laughing. “They’re definitely a pretty unique band.”
“They have a unique theme for this style of music—it sounds like trains grinding in New York City. It’s got the jazzy element. I don’t think anyone’s really heard anything like it.”
Like Imperial Triumphant, Couch Slut are New York natives. The band’s current lineup is vocalist Megan Osztrosits, bassist Kevin Hall, drummer Theo Nobel, and guitarist Amy Mills.
Stylistically, Couch Slut’s music harkens back to the great noise rock/sludge metal bands of the late ‘80s and early ‘90s (Big Black, Eyehategod, Acid Bath, etc.). Much like those bands, Couch Slut’s music paints a disturbing portrait of the evil lurking beneath the surface of American life, touching on themes of drug addiction, domestic violence, and self-hatred.
“I sometimes like to imagine us as a noise rock band that was interested in black metal,” said drummer Theo Nobel. “Like a missing link after the fact, but conceivable considering everything that was happening in the late ‘80s and early ‘90s.”
Vocalist Osztrosits brings an uncanny intensity to her performance, lending the music much-needed credibility in its unwaveringly intense accounts of misogyny and sexual victimization. One of the band’s most notable songs, “Someplace Cheap,” is a harrowing narrative account of a group of friends being drugged and abducted by a biker gang before eventually escaping and swearing revenge.
The band’s first album, My Life as a Woman, was released in 2014, followed by Contempt (2017) and Take a Chance on Rock ‘n’ Roll(2020). Like Cloak, they will be debuting new material on the upcoming tour.
“We’ve been carving away at material for our fourth LP, which we’ll be honing on tour and recording in March,” said Osztrosits. “One of the pieces will feature Steve [Blanco] from Imperial Triumphant on piano, so we’re very excited about that.
“We’ve also been tinkering with material for a fifth LP, as well as a more experimental piece featuring ambient noise and woodwind instruments.”
The members of Couch Slut are personal friends with Imperial Triumphant, and have played with them several times in New York and Philadelphia. Couch Slut even made an appearance in the video for Imperial Triumphant’s “Merkurius Gilded” (the same video that featured the now-famous Kenny G cameo).
Although the Imperial Triumphant/Cloak/Couch Slut tour will not be coming through St. Louis, we will be covering their show at The End in Nashville, TN. Nashville black metal band Threnodian will be the local support for the show. Stay tuned for our review, which will feature photography by Zach Johnson. | David Von Nordheim
For those who can’t make it, here is a playlist featuring recent setlists from all three bands.
01.31 | Newark, NJ @ QXT
02.01 | Pittsburgh, PA @ Black Forge (sold out)
02.02 | Cincinnati, OH @ Legends
02.03 | Nashville, TN @ The End
02.04 | Atlanta, GA @ Boggs Social
02.05 | Mobile, AL @ Alabama Music Box
02.06 | Orlando, FL @ Haven
02.07 | Miami, FL @ Gramps
02.09 | W. Columbia, SC @ New Brookland Tavern
02.10 | Chesapeake, VA @ Riffhouse
02.11 | Philadelphia, PA @ Underground Arts
02.12 | Brooklyn, NY @ Saint Vitus Bar