New York dissonant, technical black metal band Imperial Triumphant are on the verge of releasing their new album Vile Luxury next month. I had the great pleasure, thanks in part to Dan of The Hudson Horror, to have a conversation with the band's incredible drummer (just one of his many projects really) Kenny Grohowski. I caught Kenny leaving a coffee shop after seeing a 50th Anniversary showing of 2001: A Space Odyssey. He was a pleasure to speak with, despite the great distance between us, and is clearly very passionate about the project.
FlightOfIcarus: So let's start with the basics. How did you get involved with Imperial Triumphant?
Kenny: I met Zach just before the recording of the Sodom EP through Alex. he thought it would be an interesting mix of having me guest on the EP. After that, there were a few shows he couldn’t make due to touring with Malignancy and a few other bands, so i began playing more live shows with them.
Compared to other projects you've worked on, how would you rank the difficulty of IT? This is definitely not music for the faint of heart or arthritis-ridden.
Haha, not at all! Surprisingly, this group doesn’t really feel difficult in a sense due to the nature of the music. We’re all acting almost always on first instincts, and thankfully they are seemingly congruent. That eliminates a lot of the difficulty of band tightness. The tunes themselves are also fairly simple in writing, but perhaps the most taxing really is the physical/psychological/perceptive difficulties of wearing the masque.
As much as that element focuses the energy, it’s a burden. I have to take water breaks so that i don’t dehydrate on stage, and that’s with a stage fan for only 25-45 min of playing. Bands like Secret Chiefs 3, Hipster Assassins, or Brand X are 90 min sets or two hour shows with difficult music and physical requisites. the Imperial masque is all that in a focused area of the body and that has taken time getting used to. But truth be told, i’ve grown to love wearing it. It helps focusing all of whatever is going on when we play.
Yikes. Sounds unpleasant, but also fitting to the claustrophobic anxiety of the music itself. Speaking of which, this new album strikes me as even more dissonant than usual. I mean the band is already known for being harsh and noisy, but this takes it to a new level. It feels very improvisational in comparison.
Part of the apparent dissonance may be coming from the current status of the band. This is the first release in a while where Imperial has been a singular band. Abyssal Gods is essentially two bands on one album, as is the same with Inceste. It's also the first album where other members contributed as song/lyric writers and arrangers, either delivering chunks of ideas or complete songs. A lot of Vile Luxury is a reflection of how the three of us exist together as composers, arrangers, or even producers.
Take a song like "Gotham Luxe." That song was originally one I composed for the band that ended up expanding during the rehearsals. Both Ilya and Steve came up with complete sections to add to the tune, with additional lyrics from Will from Artificial Brain. The piano solo at the end was a moment where Colin was getting levels on the piano at Menegroth; just a bit of improvising on Steve’s part and Colin was wise enough to be rolling as soon as he started. It went on for minutes, but we picked the moment where all of us were making eye contact. Most folks don’t know that Steve is a rather accomplished pianist. Because of these things, this song took on a life of it’s own in a way where on past records that wasn’t the case. It’s always been “here’s a tune from ilya, here are the basic parts, take it from there.” Vile Luxury deviated from how the band has made music in the past and hopefully it shows in the music, the production, and even the live shows. Somewhat ironically, this record feels the most cathartic of all the Imperial releases, personally speaking.
I think that "catharsis" is exactly the right word. In fact this record feels more like an emotional awakening of some sort than "music" in a sense. That seems to tie in somewhat into the themes. This album was pitched to me as a bit of an ode to New York City: both its wonder and creativity along with its seedy underbelly. Care to comment further on that, because I really think you nailed it. I hear moments that legit sound like walking through a dimly lit city street with some homeless musician in the background...that is until the chasm to hell opens up. (appropriately, the haunting muted sax of "Cosmopolis" queues up as I ask this question)
Essentially, this record is in some small part a bit of a narrative of the lives the three of us live every day in this city. A sonic paradigm of those very things mentioned. It’s about the particular and obvious aspects of the city, the more subversive ones, and the shared and vastly different experiences and limited knowledge we share. All of this came to the surface through daily conversations of common interests, things we noticed, conversations of the road. Mostly stuff that we found either intriguing or annoying, to be crude and short about it. kidding aside, it’s exploration as to what we perceive to be the obvious and hidden reality of living in the birth place of some of the most earth-shattering circumstances, consequences, and objects known to mankind.
I think those guys said it better, but New York City is still a super fucked up place no matter how gentrified and owned by Disney it gets. this place is a shithole from top to bottom, full of psychopaths and sociopaths. Side note on the muted trumpet, it's played by Ben Hankle, a good friend of Steve’s and featured quite a bit on this album. We didn’t use woodwinds on Vile, but next record will have a few more variations in instrumentation and timbre.
It's really fascinating. And I also appreciate that there isn't any particular judgement placed on any of it. In a time where everyone just loves to get on a soapbox and tell you what's good and what's bad and "this is how you should think about things," this album just lays it all out and let' you interpret it like some demented sonic Rorschach test. The way I felt after episode 18 of the new Twin Peaks is roughly the same experience I have listening to this album.
Basically any institution that still tries to convince an individual or group(s) that there are two sides, or good and bad, us and them, is a witting or unwitting tool of the very thing that makes New York City what it is. The ultimate of dupe outs. Another side note: i’ve yet to see any of the nee season and trying to remain pure until that happens. I love [Lynch's] work and take that as super high praise. Surely the guys would feel the same.
100% agreed. The world is far more complex than broad strokes of good and evil. and I will avoid spoilers. Suffice it to say it's the best television I think that I have ever seen and it's Lynch's masterwork
That is the word on the street!
Were there any other major inspirations that spurred this album on? Other music you all were listening to or other mediums?
On a personal level, tons. Musically, I was listening to a lot of the metal that was happening at the time or somewhere around, bands like Plebeian Grandstand, Dodecahedron, Wormed, Car Bomb, Meshuggah, but also a decent amount of 90’s death and other bands, Gorguts particularly. All the really fun metal that’s been happening, but also going back to a lot of the music from my childhood, stuff like Miles Davis’ Nefertiti, Tony Williams’ Emergency & Lifetime, Living Colour, as well learning a ton of music for John Zorn and the fusion band Brand X, another band i grew up listening to that i’ve been touring with lately.
A lot of the music we worked on for Shanir Blumenkranz’ ‘Abraxas’ - part of John Zorn’s Masada: Book of Angels. Abraxas is volume 19 and the unofficial band name- latest release, ‘The Book Beriah: Gevurah’, as well as Secret Chiefs 3’s ‘The Book Beriah: Malkhut’, had big impacts on both how i arranged and wrote music and drum parts for Vile Luxury, as well as certain musical ideas and timbres and instrument approaches. There’s a decent amount of playing that one wouldn’t really consider musical, but it’s usually what felt musically correct either in the moment or in the writing/rehearsal process
Throwing out a few favorite songs I've been listing to,
Dodecahedron rule btw, as do Car Bomb. We have similar tastes. I've reviewed a number of these bands.
Yes they do. All of those songs/drummers capture in essence, what I aim for musically. Their humanity and musicality are very apparent beyond what they play or how they play it
That's quite a broad scope of influences, and I hear elements of a lot of those things coming across. Do you have a favorite song on the album?
Favorite moment of the album is the synth solo in "Gotham Luxe," all the way to the end of "Cosmopolis." Perhaps the most amount of music I’ve ever made
As long as you mention Car Bomb and Artificial Brain, shameless plug incoming, are you going to IndexFest in NYC this July?
There’s a chance! A friend and fellow New School alum, Dan Sher, will be playing with his band, Horse Torso. I will be doing a few shows that week with Brand X, Stu Hamm, and Gyan Riley, but if possible I will grab a ticket. It looks like a great line up and a few newer bands that will do well with the musical pairings
It's going to be awesome. We are co-sponsoring with a number of other sites. I am just sad that I'm on the wrong coast to see it.
One shitty part about doing music for a living is generally missing a lot of live anything. hence the need to see 2001 in 70mm!
I imagine. Looking over your projects it seems like you keep pretty busy. Where is the best place for people to find and keep up with you?
These days are thankfully busier. Anyone who dabbles in creative stuff knows how quickly the well can run dry. It’s been rather fortunate lately. The best would be either at the website, www.kennygrohowski.com, which will soon be renovated, or instagram and facebook, kennygrohowski and kennygrohowskidrummer, respectively.
Anything else you want people to know about the album or Imperial Triumphant moving forward?
As far as IT is concerned, we’re looking forward to hitting the road later this year with Uada. By then, we may have a few new additions for the live show that we’re working on now, as well as a bit more video/online content. We’ve been performing parts of the new album lately, as some fans noticed, but expect more of it after it’s released. As is, we’ve all individually begun writing new material, about 3-4tunes in, depending on how you look at it.
Last one: name one underground metal band you feel deserves more attention and why.
Naming underground bands has always been personally tough since I feel I find out about new bands way after the fact. What comes to mind initially is Child Abuse, but they have been going for a bit. However, they are a lot of fun. Cleric. might be another, but it seems they are doing better these days: focused, out there. Larry is crushing it. They’re certainly no underground band, but the drummer from Ion Dissonance is impeccable and nobody talks about him, same as the drummer on Neuraxis’ Asylon- that guys sounds great! Perhaps musicians are easier for me to pick out than bands
Great choices. That last Cleric. album was godly
Love it. they toured with Secret Chiefs while they wrote that record, and between those two bands it was a night of pure spiritually charged heaviness
I will have to catch them live at some point.
Definitely worth seeing live- they’re an in the moment kind of band.
Well thanks for taking the time for all of these great responses. I hope to catch you on the West Coast one day. And let me know when you get a chance to watch Twin Peaks. I have much to say
Word, thanks for your interest in all this! Def will keep in touch.
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- Written by FlightOfIcarus
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