I get a lot of e-mails from bands asking me to check out their music. Roughly ninety-nine percent of them fail to grab my attention. This was not the case when Ilya, vocalist/guitarist for NYC black metal quartet Imperial Triumphant contacted me with a link for their unabashedly over-the-top and defiantly NSFW video for “Stormgod” (see above) from their latest EP Obeisance. Impressed with their classically-influenced take on icy, melodic black metal excellence, I downloaded the EP and was subsequently blown away. I sent Ilya a barrage of questions via e-mail, he and bassist Naargryl were gracious enough to respond, resulting the following interrogation…
THKD: For THKD readers who might not be familiar, can you tell us a little about how Imperial Triumphant got started?
ILYA: Imperial Triumphant was forged in the year 2005 AD. I’ve assembled what I believe to be the most competent black metal musicians in New York. Originally just guitar, bass and drums eventually we were joined by Amarok on violoncello. We’ve played shows at many venues in our home of the empiric New York City and are building up a devoted legion of followers.
THKD: You refer to your style as “baroque black metal” can you elaborate on this?
NAARGRYL: We’re very attracted to the atmosphere of Baroque music – there’s an element of that period’s composition style that’s very soulless, regal and detached. We derive a lot of inspiration from this theoretically, not so much practically. Not many of our songs sound exactly like a Baroque chamber group could play them, for example. But the contrapuntal nature of Baroque harmony and the linear song form greatly influence the way we write.
THKD: When we first started exchanging e-mails, you told me that all the members of Imperial Triumphant are classically trained. Can you tell us about your training? How does it inform your approach to playing black metal?
I: We say we’re classically trained because we’ve studied music and are well versed in tonal and post tonal theory. Some of us are attending various schools of music such as UVM, NYU and the California Institute of the Arts. This training allows us to look at black metal and its composition from a more advanced standpoint than that of our contemporaries.
THKD: Are there any specific baroque/classical composer you admire? If so, how does their music influence Imperial Triumphant?
N: Most of my favorite classical music comes from the modern/contemporary era. The poly-stylistic works of Alfred Schnittke inspire me the most, because he’ll take a very tame baroque theme and twist it into something completely dissonant and sinister. Others whom I highly admire are Shostakovich, Bartók, Penderecki, and Schoenberg. Their music comes through our compositions in different ways, either subtly in the form of atmosphere or directly in the form of a quoted passage.
I: I prefer mostly the romantic and baroque era composers like Vivaldi, Purcell, Tchaikovsky and Holst. Our song “Torches of Nero” is an interpretative cover of Chopin’s Funeral March and one section in “Raiders” is a direct quotation from Mozart’s Lacrimosa. So as you can see, we incorporate a lot of classical themes and motives into our style of black metal.
THKD: Would Imperial Triumphant ever be interested in playing with a full orchestra, or has that style of metal been done to death by the overblown likes of Dimmu, Cradle of Filth, etc?
I: I’ve actually written multiple arrangements for full orchestra that accompanied a black metal band. It’s definitely not something that has been used to its full potential because bands like Dimmu Borgir and Cradle of Filth use it in a very boring commercial way. Also I’m pretty sure they don’t even write the orchestra parts themselves. Not many composers look at arranging for metal music pieces with knowledge of the style so it ends up sounding weak and shitty (i.e. Metallica’s S&M). I would like to see a black metal band play accompanied by a John Zorn style piece. That would be grim.
THKD: Tell us about the circumstances surrounding the creation and recording of Imperial Triumphant’s latest EP, Obeisance. How does this EP compare to your previous works? Are you pleased with the results?
N: The first phase of the recording began in the winter of 2009, when Alexander and I entered Colin Marston’s Menegroth studios in Queens, NY to record the drum and bass tracks. Colin was phenomenal to work with, and instantly knew what sound we were going for. We laid our tracks over two days.
I: Our EP ‘Obeisance’ is a compilation of songs written, scrutinized and then rewritten over the last 3 years. The sessions were entirely funded by us. I was a part of the summer session that involved recording vocals, cello and guitar as well as mixing and mastering. Colin Marston of Krallice and Behold the Arctopus was the engineer and co-producer. He is really talented and managed to capture the vast ancient sound of Imperial Triumphant. We have a great sense of pride for our pride and we think it bears a standard new to US black metal.
THKD: Several of the songs on Obeisance promimently feature cello playing. What is it about the instrument that make it conducive to heavy metal?
I: I think the cello provides a timbre that combined with the crunch distortion of guitars creates a unique and complex sound.
I: It was one of the coldest winters New York had seen in a while. We had only our pelts and leather to keep us warm. Regardless it was a very exciting experience running around the city in the night, shooting in various locations (some illegally). Jorge Torres-Torres is a great director and we plan to star in a movie he wrote currently titled ‘Heathen’. It’s still in preproduction but we test shooting will begin this summer.
THKD: “Stormgod” features a break with some Gregorian-sounding chanting. What inspired you to incorporate this style of singing into the song?
N: It actually arose from a Latin text that Ilya discovered a while ago. It is a prayer that Christian monks would use to protect themselves from Norse invasions, hence “Normannica” in the text. I envisioned my choral vocals in this musical scene as imitating a monk’s singing style, and thus Gregorian chant was my logical inspiration. The chant was not truly Gregorian though – it incorporated instruments, forbidden in the Church at that time. It is a mockery of holy music while simultaneously drawing from it. Amarok and I contributed the orchestration, on cello and contrabass respectively.
THKD: The song “To Novgorod” appears to be about Czarist Russian and if I’m not mistaken includes some lyrics in Russian. What inspired this song?
I: We enjoy the study of war and history. “To Novgorod” is about the Ivan the Terrible’s massacre of the city of Novgorod. I sing in Russian as I can speak a bit of it as well. We were drawn to the concept a tyrant destroying his own people and churches. I enjoy these stories of dictatorship, power abuse and domination.
THKD: You also touch on themes of war and Norse mythology on the EP. What is it about these themes that that you find inspiring?
N: Norse mythology played a large part in our development as a band. From a very young age we read the sagas of the great skalds and drew inspiration from them, both lyrically and visually. We revere the tales for their values of might and courage, and all that the deities stood for. Our ideology is developing, though. The gods have become symbols to us now, and we revere them not as sentient, intangible figures, but as tangible ideas. Recently we have found the works, literary and musical, of the Italian and Russian Futurists to be highly inspiring. A more Futurist outlook pervades the lyrics of our new compositions.
THKD: Let’s talk about the cover art for Obeisance. Is it taken from a classic painting or was it created specifically for the EP?
I: The work is called “The Martyrdom of St. Agatha,” painted by Sebastian del Piombo in 1520. The Romans sentenced her to public torture for her Christian faith. Her breasts were clamped and then removed, and then she was burned to death. We believe that this painting signifies our devotion to the war against Christianity, as well as the futility of resistance.
THKD: Imperial Triumphant has a Bandcamp page. What is the appeal of using this site to promote your music?
N: We believe that myspace is dying. Bandcamp is a much better site on which to share music. Myspace degrades the quality of the music but Bandcamp allows the songs to be played in full quality, how we intended them to be heard. It also functions as an independent online store.
I: Bandcamp is far more professional than myspace for musicians. It’s cleaner looking and has no advertisements or games or any of that bullshit. We also just launched a website: Imperialtriumphant.com. It has all of our information, media and updates.
THKD: Does Imperial Triumphant play live often? Will you be doing any touring in support of Obeisance?
I: We don’t play live often. We haven’t had the opportunity to perform as much as we’d like due to us all attending universities in different states. We have some local shows lined up this summer in July. Once we find a label to support us I can imagine a tour would look quite possible.
THKD: What does the rest of 2011 have in store for Imperial Triumphant? Are you working on any new material?
N: Imperial Triumphant are constantly writing new material. Ilya and I have worked on many compositions since we cut Obeisance, and the musical language is consistently more advanced in all of them.
I: With our album and the music video release we’ve been getting a fair amount of press. We’re shopping around for a label to combine forces with. 2011 looks to be quite prosperous for us.
THKD: Are there any final thoughts you’d like to add?
I: We shall will nothingness with the spirit of Dionysus.
N: Our music will drown out the seven trumpets of the angels in the end of days.