Release House: Transcending Obscurity Records
Genre: Black Metal
One Sentence Synopsis: Second full-length release from Californian sci-fi black metal band Imperialist.
Series: Unnamed Series (first two albums seem to be linked lyrically)
Release Date: November 26, 2021
Estimated Length: ~44 minutes
MSRP: $4.99 (digital); $11.99 (8-panel digipak CD)
Website: Click Here
Trailer/Video: Click Here
Purchase Site: Click Here
Reviewed by: Kastrophylax
Final Score: 5 Moons (out of 5)
Over the past decade or so, California has produced more than a few bands with fresh perspectives and interpretations of extreme metal subgenres such as technical death metal, black metal, and deathcore, among others. Teleporting in from environs east of Los Angeles, Imperialist engineers another exciting offering in a particular variant of black metal known as “cosmic” or “sci-fi” black metal. Taking musical and vocal elements from classic Scandinavian black metal, Imperialist creates their own unique sound with precision riffing, relentless drumming, savage yet articulate vocals, and occasional but poignant guitar solos.
After the release of their demo Quantum Annexation in 2015, Imperialist signed with extreme metal label Transcending Obscurity. In 2018, they released their debut album Cipher on that label. One can hear the building blocks of Imperialist’s epic, intergalactic brand of black metal take shape in this debut. Conceptually, in Cipher the band embarks on a cosmic odyssey with lyrics informed by science fiction literature and video games. With their sophomore album Zenith, released in 2021 on Transcending Obscurity, Imperialist demonstrates they have refined their sound with laser beam exactness and launched into a new chapter of lyrical creativity.
Singer and lead guitarist Sergio Soto wrote all the lyrics and musical compositions for Zenith. The other members of Imperialist contributed additional songwriting. Conceptually, the album takes a journey into territory outside the limits of traditional black metal. The usual tropes popularized by Scandinavian black metal (Satanism, depression, suicide, and criticism of organized religion) are largely absent on this release. Instead, Imperialist combines intellectual or scientific analysis, adventure, fantasy, and emotional wonder in a creative palette for Zenith.
The first half of Zenith takes listeners on a perilous flight through space towards a mysterious void—likely a black hole—that threatens the galaxy with unfathomable destructive power. In “Parallax Descends,” the main character vividly describes his arrival on a planet containing the remains of an ancient civilization. Soon, our intrepid space soldier begins experiencing strange visions or hallucinations during his sojourn. “He Who Mastered Shapes” introduces an evil antagonist and his invading army of alien or demonic beings, whom the main character confronts and defeats. Here, lyrically, Imperialist seems to be drawing inspiration from the mythos of the video game saga Destiny.
The lyrics for the second half of Zenith shift between narration and allusion. “Majesty of the Void” seems to indicate that he encounters the black hole and passes through it to another realm or plane of existence. The final two tracks—“Terminal Odyssey” and “Beyond the Celestial Veil”—constitute the high point of the album. In eloquent language and articulate delivery, singer Sergio Soto narrates how the space soldier arrives on Mars as the sole survivor of his ship’s crew. He thinks he will surely perish in the barren landscape as his oxygen supply diminishes. At this juncture it would seem Imperialist was inspired by portrayals of human beings’ experiences of space in the films The Black Hole, Event Horizon, and Interstellar. The lyrics become beautifully impressionistic, if not hallucinatory or psychedelic, in their description of the effects of cosmic phenomena on the main character’s mind and body, and the story ends ambiguously enough to suggest a sequel.
The production of Zenith is lush and contains many aural details that reveal themselves after repeated listening if they were missed previously. Although the musical arrangements of the songs demonstrate a classical black metal core, with swirling maelstrom riffing and fast “skank beat” drumming patterns, Imperialist continuously makes it interesting by shifting into blast beats, extended tom fills, and palm-muted riffing, elements one would find in technical death or progressive metal. Some graceful, not overly technical guitar solos are strategically placed throughout the album to punctuate certain moments in the narrative.
Sergio Soto must be commended not just for his lyrics and songwriting but also for his vocal performance. The timbre of his vocals and the effects applied to them fit the theme of the album perfectly. It is unclear if his character’s vocals belong to a human or an extraterrestrial being of some sort. They convey the image of a cosmonaut dictating his observations through the respirator and commlink of his helmet. The vocals are both savage and articulate in terms of delivery.
Finally, special mention must be made of the album art. Adam Burke has provided artwork for several other bands on Transcending Obscurity’s roster. Imperialist’s Zenith was released as a delightful eight-panel digipak CD with UV lamination. As with the LPs of yore, part of the experience of consuming programmatic music like this is to gaze on the album art and read the lyrics. Burke’s exceptional artwork, and Transcending Obscurity’s layout, facilitate this immersive experience.
Imperialist’s eclectic fusion of elements from different metal subgenres and sci-fi lyrical subject matter will attract a diverse cross-section of listeners. Fans of traditional black metal, melodic death/black metal, and technical death or progressive metal will find something to latch onto in Zenith. Whether you like Mare Cognitum and Immortal, Dark Tranquility and Words of Farewell, or Obscura and Agent Steel, Imperialist will offer something intriguing for you!
With Zenith, Imperialist has provided a heavy, majestic, and meticulously produced space drama of monumental proportions which will engross metalheads, sci-fi enthusiasts, and astronomers alike!
Theme: 5 Moons (out of 5.0)
Presentation: 5 Moons (out of 5.0)
Audience Fit: 5 Moons (out of 5.0)
Final Score (not an average): 5 Moons (out of 5.0)