Consider, if you will, the splendor and aura of a classic detective film noir. One where the men all wear suits with bowler hats calling ladies dames while they chain smoke in a diner somehow just called Diner. Naturally, it is set in New York City and viewers will eventually hear the sounds of buskers playing drums, the bustling noise of a train station or maybe even the dulcet tones of a barbershop quartet.
Imperial Triumphant’s Alphaville brings to mind, and even directly features, some of these elements in a way that it becomes like you’re listening to the soundtrack for such a film. This album, however, would not be the soundtrack for the old detective talkie your Nosferatu-looking granpappy took his sidepiece, Loretta, to for a nickel back in 1945. No, this is a modern reimagining done by a craftily erratic hand, like David Lynch, that embraces the weird and the jarring as he turns the sociopathic killer into the protagonist instead of the copper chasing him or those Marilyn Monroe wannabes that play his victims.
As such films are wont to do, Alphaville opens with drawn-out notes from a trombone on “Rotted Futures.” The trombone is devoid of its expected charm as the notes are warped to immediately set you at unease. Soon the brass is cut off by the crashing of traditional heavy instruments and the demonic voices from within our killer’s mind begin to rant about the filth of the city. Choral singing is subtly laced into the mix throughout the track, but also provides an exceptionally strong backing to the repeated line “Behold the future.” “Rotted Futures” ends on a jarring single organ note that comes out of nowhere and is held for a bizarrely long time; an ominous sign of what horrors are to come.
Halfway through “Excelsior,” we find ourselves in a train station unencumbered by any other sounds than those of footsteps, announcements and the normal noise of people in motion. This moment of reprieve is prime for our Alphaville killer to be seeking his first victim. All of a sudden the peaceful sounds of the station are interrupted by noisy industrial crashes repeatedly dropping as prey is locked onto. The crashes get louder like Godzilla stomping on buildings.
The vile protagonist feels joy as he begins to follow the apple of his deathly eye, so in comes eerily clean guitars over steady drums that create a warped brand of island music to begin “City Swine.” Meshuggah drummer Tomas Haake’s taiko drums provide a more elevated brand of street drumming while our characters wait on the subway platform. The train arrives and as the doors part, each step they take closer is greeted by an off-key piano chiming single notes in seemingly random intervals creating a sense of dread not dissimilar to the announcement of the lion’s arrival in Jumanji. Eventually, those individual notes become piano runs that gel with the music as the train disappears into the darkened tunnel and our screen fades to black.
We hear a barbershop quartet singing over that blackness as “Atomic Age” begins, but then a riff section kicks in sounding like a more pissed-off brand of Primus. We see the world from the view of the Alphaville Butcher, but what is before our eyes lacks clarity. There are lightly plucked notes and soft drum rolls, but as they build a female chanting enters the mix and battles for focus with an inebriated chattering. At the 3:50 mark, any semblance of confusion is shattered by a piercing high-pitched scream and the murder taking place is in plain sight as it torturously goes on for more than a minute. Our villain has succeeded in his goals and a triumphant stretch of horns and keys narrates his escape. Only horrors are left in the room behind as the world turns into a collapsing brand of a breakdown that sounds like Athiest’s take on a Meshuggah song.
Finally, a detective is involved; we find him gripping and slowly sipping a glass of scotch on a stool as he’s serenaded by a wash of contemplative piano and wistful trombone befitting of a hotel bar. The music of “Transmission to Mercury” provides the sense of a mad dash around the city as an idea sparks. Some clue finally fits into place for our inquisitor. The screams of those he couldn’t save haunt him as he progresses, but the horns and choral chants imply a blessing of his duty; he is on the right track. The final sustained scream echoes away as he falls asleep knowing he’s just this close to catching the one who torments his city.
Another batch of searing guitar notes fade in and out returning us to the sociopath as he stares in the mirror facing a breakdown and knowing his end is near. During the title track, he says to himself “move past the scum toward gilded light” and “beg for it, my child. Beg to be absolved of adversity.” The middle section of the song gives off video game vibes that tell us this monster doesn’t view this version of the world as real and he’s ready to go beyond.
“The Greater Good” means this tormentor of the city must be stopped at all costs. It begins with one of the album’s most straightforward death metal passages; our chaser and the chased have found one another. They begin to fight and the more streamlined moments are blows in favor of the investigator, but the ever-present erratic notes let us know the killer is winning. There’s a brief pause four minutes in when powerful jumping bass lines pop in to reveal the very city around these two is coming to life to end the terror that haunts it. Violent female screams trade-off with our standard death metal vocals in a metaphor for the Alphaville killer being overpowered as his death-fueled rants cease. We fade to synth and key sounds that slowly wind down as he takes his last breath allowing the city to once again be at peace.
A serial-killer movie metaphor is a bit schlocky when compared to the more nuanced critiques that Imperial Triumphant offers in their lyrics, but Alphaville continues to exhibit their greatest strength in the unpredictable. Even with multiple listens, you’ll find notes and moments that seem to come out of nowhere. This effort even shows in the tracklisting as they close out the album with two cover songs; one of which is a cover of Voivod’s “Experiment” with Phlegeton of Wormed on vocals.
A unique experience like this warrants the investment of your dollars. The band is certainly suffering like every other artist who can’t tour right now, so to paraphrase a famous line from that old black-and-white gem Angels With Filthy Souls – when you buy the album, let them keep the change ya filthy animal!