All that glitters is not gold.
In a contemporary world of pandemic concern and political unrest, the aphorism you see above has proved to be ever so true today. Economic disparity and the effects associated are but one of the many things often overshadowed by media sensationalization and luscious depictions of unessential matters at hand. With the practice expected to continue, art comes into play with a significant role in steering audiences away from the glorified world that is spoon-fed every day. Hailing from one of the world's cultural meccas, New York's IMPERIAL TRIUMPHANT stand with the insight needed to reinterpret the Shakespearean concept in the form of one of this year's most special records, that being Alphaville.
Arriving on July 31st via Century Media Records, Alphaville serves as a towering follow-up to 2018's Vile Luxury. As lead single Rotted Futures can attest, the composition proves to be an exemplary statement in black metal elegance. The swarming complexity of IMPERIAL TRIUMPHANT's hymns are amped and complemented by intricate visuals that play a significant role in the story at hand. Polish artist Zbigniew M. Bielak tapped into his architectural expertise for an album cover that unfolds new details with each analytical glimpse. You can expect results this grand when a seamless collaborative process took place between New York's trailblazing trio and one of metal's greatest artists today.
We go Behind the Cover of Alphaville with IMPERIAL TRIUMPHANT frontman Zachary Ilya Ezrin to learn more about how this audiovisual powerhouse came to be:
‘Alphaville’ is well on the way and eagerly awaited by thousands on a global scale, speaking to the musical prowess that lies within your ranks and really the following you’ve built through your neoclassical take on black metal. In transitioning from a widely successful ‘Vile Luxury’ to ‘Alphaville’, where did you find yourselves wanting to take the new release?
Ezrin: Basically, we wanted to refine our sound and take another step forward into the world we’ve created. We tried not to repeat the past.
People really caught on and connected to the band’s persona in recent years, creating their own takes on the band via fan art and simply engaging with your material in a different manner. Does this speak to you in any way?
Ezrin: I reckon it’s both the fans and the band making more effort to make a connection. We’re not a black metal band that is afraid to talk to our fans or post on social media. It’s super important. It has been nothing but rising upward for us.
That’s crucial, especially in these times where live shows aren’t a possibility in our near future. Upon presenting ‘Alphaville’, audiences were immediately blown away by the artwork. You worked with Andrew Tremblay for 'Vile Luxury' and have now enlisted Zbigniew Bielak for what is truly a breathtaking album cover. With many choices to pick from, what drove the decision to go with Bielak? Perhaps a previous album cover of his or even his architectural work?
Ezrin: We worked with Tremblay for a very long time, and we still work with him. He’s been a foundational artistic contributor to the band and is pretty irreplaceable.
At the same time, Bielak approached us and said he wanted to do our next cover. We were definitely curious as to see what he would put forth because we’ve seen his past work. It’s very interesting and you’re right, he does have a background in architecture, which made us think he would pair really well. We were very happy with the output. It was a very amicable exchange of ideas and development process.
You couldn’t have gone with a better choice than Bielak in terms of the architectural structuring present in ‘Alphaville’. When he approached you with the idea, what were you both looking for in terms of inspirations and concepts for the cover?
Ezrin: I’ll admit he did a lot of the heavy lifting when it came to creative conceptions. One of the ideas that I brought forward very early on was that I wanted something that was extremely detailed yet extremely bold and recognizable. As beautiful as this cover is, a lot of people are going to see it one inch tall on their phone or computer screen. They’re not going to see it very big. I wanted it to be very recognizable from afar as well as be something you can dive into super close to explore all of the idiosyncrasies of the design. He really nailed that idea.
With vinyl pre-orders now live, it speaks to the investment you all put on the visual ends of the record. Sometimes that value can get lost with the accessibility of a digital release.
Ezrin: To anyone reading this, if you’re thinking of picking up the album, go with the vinyl. It’s going to be the most interactive and most elaborate as far as artwork goes. Zbigniew put a lot of hidden secrets and little messages and gems into the artwork, layout, and really everything. It’s really something special to behold.
Touching on the scope of the work, landscape art and architectural photography is seemingly a huge influence to the cover. Were there any particular works or creatives that guided your direction in any way?
Ezrin: Zbigniew did an amazing job for someone who’s never been to New York. It’s funny because he actually had a trip planned in March to come to New York. I was going to give him a tour but of course that got cancelled when the travel ban went up. I basically sent him a big group of photographs of some of my favorite skyscrapers, architectural motifs, and the New York art deco scene. He drew upon that to create the facescape of the cover.
Perspective plays a key element in the cover with the elongated version of the cover uncovering new details after analyzing it under a different orientation. I’d argue it’s representative of your music, which is of course a rewarding listen to those who are patient. In composing this complete audiovisual experience, was there an intended reaction you set out to provoke upon the audience?
Ezrin: You pretty much hit the nail on the head. Even more than just musically but lyrically, we sing about the perspective of life in New York from the fucking peaks at the top and richest of the rich to the lowest, poorest, most underground perspectives. You’re literally seeing the city from two worlds and that played perfectly with the duality of the cover.
That’s a perfect segue into my following point. For as radiant as the design may be, there’s darkness among these gold coated buildings, speaking to a world that exceeds beyond the New York streets.
Ezrin: There’s secret things here. At the bottom, there’s a man falling and you’ll see that he jumped out of a building basically, falling into his death. It begs the question, “If someone’s life is so good, why would they kill themselves?” There’s also a few nods to the songs in the piazza that he laid out at the bottom. The bottom has got a bit of a ‘Somewhere In Time’ vibe.
Continuing on that topic. Visuals and all, where does ‘Alphaville’ stand in our pandemic-ridden, contemporary society?
Ezrin: It fits in perfectly. This record is coming out at the perfect time and I wouldn’t want it to come out next year, last year, or any other year but now. It is truly the album for 2020. Things always seem to fall into place like that.
‘Alphaville’ is really a world in and of itself, reminiscent of that of the 1965 film of the same name, which I’m fairly certain served as an inspiration and played a role.
Ezrin: It is definitely an inspiration. The movie played more of a bigger role in the song ‘Alphaville’, which was written by our bass player Steve (Blanco). We were on tour last fall in England and drove around just thinking about what to name the album. We’re not really a band that ever prefers to do an album title named after one of the tracks, but ‘Alphaville’ popped up and it fit so perfectly. Aside from the movie, it’s perfect for what this album is about. It’s about New York City and ‘Alphaville’ is French for number one city. It’s appropriate and it stands strong.
Speaking again to the film, it introduces one to a dystopian society ruled by a technocratic dictatorship. Within the shiny and gold is plenty of darkness and depression, something that the record touches on.
Ezrin: Even beyond that, it takes place in a dystopian future of Paris, however there’s nothing really futuristic about it. It was just filmed in regular Paris, which makes so much sense. You can definitely apply that to New York City as well. We’re living in a dystopian present.
Paris isn’t too far from New York I’d say as it is also assumed to be this glorious, luxurious city with darkness among the streets. That’s depicted really well in the ‘Alphaville’ cover. To be honest, it can be hard to catch the guy falling towards the bottom because you’re so captivated by the golden beauty towards the top.
Ezrin: That’s why I say you have to get the vinyl. It’s going to be so big and glorious.
Agreed. The amount of depth and atmosphere here is likely the result of a strong collaborative process between you and Bielak. What did that look like from start to finish?
Ezrin: It was a lot of back and forth emailing, discussion of ideas and so forth. He definitely takes his time and I appreciate the honesty. He’s not someone who’s going to bullshit you or put forth any fluff. When he delivers, it’s a work that you can see he put a lot of thought and planning into. Everything is just so articulate. I’m curious to see what he’d say about it.
I don’t know that man to half ass any of his work. The covers he did for Possessed, Watain, and really everything has been just amazing.
Ezrin: The Portal cover is amazing too.
The guy may take his time, but the result is truly worth it. From vivid gig posters to intricate cover paintings and illustrated novels, you place a heavy investment on the visual ends of Imperial Triumphant. Do you feel as though that’s as essential as the music itself?
Ezrin: Maybe not as essential. I see myself as a very creative person, more of an artist than just an actual musician. I’m fortunate enough to have built this brand of Imperial Triumphant that I personally feel applies to more than just music. It’s been a lot of fun to think of what else we can do. We’ve done a lot so far and we’re going to do a lot more. We’ve done coffee, graphic novels, tons of exotic merch items, music videos, animated music videos and there’s going to be even more exciting things in the future I hope.
There’s no end to the creativity there. It’s album covers like Bielak’s work on ‘Alphaville’ that really spark an interest in the artistic ends of music, instilling curiosity and encouraging engagement with physical media. For those awaiting vinyl pre-orders, what can you say about the layout and added bonuses that come included within?
Ezrin: If you have Spotify and Apple Music, listen to it on that but I promise you’re going to want to buy the LP. It’s a beautiful double gatefold. You get to see the artwork in full, not just the square version but the full foldout. I’d encourage buying it even if you don’t have a record player, but simply just to look at.
I would encourage bands to do the same. There is way more digital listening than ever before and that’s just the way the world is, so you have to make the effort to create something that people are going to want to buy a physical product that goes beyond the music. With a digital version, you don’t get all of the lyrics, artwork, and majesty that comes with it. That’s why we really give a shit.
Vinyl collectors would agree that it’s definitely a different listening experience. Mandatory question for us here at Heaviest of Art. Do you recall a time when an album cover made you pick up a record or even change the way you engaged with it?
Ezrin: This is probably the most common answer you’ve ever gotten, but the Cannibal Corpse album covers. They’re just stupendous, they’re amazing, and they really do add to the listening experience. Their covers are morbid but in a way that draws you in. It’s not just raw violence. It makes you think about what’s going on in the drawing. Once you listen to the music, it gives it another dimension and perspective.
You wear New York on your sleeve, paying homage to the city whether that be through merch, architectural illustrations and really the lived experiences as expressed in your lyrical themes. What is New York to you, other than a home state?
Ezrin: New York City is all I've ever known as far as a home. For me, it's an endless tap of inspiration and a cultural playground. Even though everyday the city becomes more disgusting, more corrupted, and more crowded with excited little transplants, it is still a capital in art that I try to appreciate as often as I can.
As you enter the 15th year of the band’s existence, Imperial Triumphant has reached new heights and is now at the culmination of years of growth, recently signing to Century Media and expanding reach. Was this at all where you anticipated to be when this all began in 2005?
Ezrin: Yes and no. I always wanted to be a musician and have a successful band. People I admired have always told me that you can never have a plan B when it comes to this sort of career. It requires full and absolute devotions and true sacrifice in the name of art. So while signing to Century Media was certainly a surprise to me, I have worked tremendously hard to bring this band to where we are now and we are still going higher.
Alphaville arrives on July 31st via Century Media Records. Pre-order your copy HERE.