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Imperial Triumphant - A Life Imperial, A Death Triumphant (Ilya Ezrin) - September 2012

When listening to Abominamentvm, one immediately picks up on the stark contrast that it bears to your previous output. While some traces of the baroque influences you displayed on past releases remain, these have largely given way to a less “classical” and more futuristic sound (cold dark ambient sounds, and a significant level of atonal melodies). Was this a deliberate decision, or do you see it as merely a natural evolution of the IMPERIAL TRIUMPHANT sound?

Ilya: The evolution of IMPERIAL TRIUMPHANT’s sound is actually still quite ‘classical’. The historical timeline of classical music starts: Medieval, Baroque, Classical, Romantic, Modern. I’d say we are in the Romantic/Modern stage now. Writing this album, I was listening heavily to modern composers such as Shostakovich, Penderecki, Schoenberg and Mosolov. I believe that the natural evolution of Black Metal will be towards more dissonant and deconstructed forms.


In terms of the lyrical front, there is still a seeming preoccupation with themes of war, power, and destruction. Would you care to elaborate upon any of the influences (be it writers, films, or pure flights of fancy) from which you draw inspiration when writing lyrics?

Ilya: The lyrics have matured. I’m very much into futurism and see it as an untapped subject for Black Metal. We also stopped thinking we want to be Vikings, and started looking at our own culture. We don’t come from a Nordic or nature-focused background. We were raised on concrete and iron from the greatest metropolis on earth. This is our culture – New York City.


Speaking of lyrics, the following lines from the song “Crushing The Idol” caught my attention: “In chains you were born, in chains you will die. From whips you were born, from whips you will die.” This lyric seems to echo some of the writings of a couple of prominent philosophers – Jean-Jacques Rousseau, Friedrich Nietzsche and Michel Foucault. When Rousseau famously said that “Man is born free, and everywhere he is in chains”, he was lamenting the “chains” put on man born in society; that society/civilization eventually swallows man and negates his natural freedoms. Is this purely coincidental, and do you view Black Metal as a means of either a) rejecting/”escaping” society, or b) radically reassessing of what it means to ‘be’?

Ilya: In fact I did read a lot of Nietzsche and Rousseau when we were writing lyrics. To many people Black Metal is a vessel for spiritual freedom. I’d say those lyrics are more about religion swallowing man’s natural freedoms rather than society. To be ‘born in chains’ is to live your life with a myriad of religiously justified social and psychological limitations.


If one digs a little deeper into the second line of the abovementioned lyric, is it fair to deduce that “From whips you were born, from whips you will die.” Seems to mirror Nietzsche’s assertion that pain had “civilized” man; that memory is the result of pain and torture exercised on the body? Whether it is the Christian’s fear of divine punishment, or the fear of torture and/or prison that causes man to pay tribute to his King or taxes to his government? When all is said and done, is violence the only language that man really understands?

Ilya: Religious people seem to like restrictions on their freedoms and pleasures. They fear their god and believe that purification only comes through the sanction of torture and suffering. Christianity condemns the bold and creative as “evil”, and so forms this feeble, obedient worm of a person. So I say if you are born a slave, you will die a slave. I’m speaking metaphysically of course.


Staying with the abovementioned themes of torture and punishment, one also has to link them with concepts of ‘power’ and ‘truth’. The French philosopher Michel Foucault wrote that power and knowledge/’truth’ are intrinsically linked, stating that the atrocity of torture was an enactment of power, which also revealed the ‘truth’, i.e. the truth of a crime, or the truth of a ruler’s authority. The site of the application of this truth – the human body – has to be “retheatricalized” in the public sphere anew with each new re-enactment of power.


I believe one can apply Foucault’s theories to the spectacle of the live Black Metal concert. With their corpsepaint, death masks, and even sadomasochistic garb, Black Metallers essentially represent the effacement of their own bodies, and via the grotesque carnival-esque performance, also project power and the ‘truth’ of their message. Whether this message amounts to absolute death, nihilism, or non-being, it ultimately amounts to a form of absolutism. As such, Black Metallers reveal themselves to be operating from a rationalist, Enlightenment-based conceptual framework, and not from a relativistic post-modern one as many of them often claim. The irony of this is that this absolutism essentially reinforces Enlightenment values of democracy, the affirmation of life, principles of liberty and so on. These are often the very same values that Black Metallers have attacked, either by way of National Socialist ideologies, nihilism, or the invocation of so-called “absolute death”. Given this inherent contradiction, what does this imply about the currency and credibility of Black Metal as a protest language?

Ilya: I cannot speak on behalf of National Socialist ideals. I won’t [can’t] represent the entire Black Metal community because it is about individuality. All I have is my own opinion. In terms of nihilism I think it is really quite simple. Why would I ever be so arrogant to think that out of the billions of people on this planet ‘I’ was put here to do something different or special? Regardless of the lack of meaning in our lives, I think it is important to embrace life and death. One needs to be aware that what we know as ‘life’ is truly valuable and short, and to waste it on prayer and worship is one of the most foolish and ridiculous concepts I’ve ever heard.


Turning to issues of identity and individualism, the conflict between individuality (or hyper-individuality, if you will) and group identity is also very characteristic of Black Metal culture. On one hand Black Metallers often assert that their music is a way of channelling their true identity – an expression of their Will to Power, where the normal and the rational gives way to the wild, hungry, primal urges of their inner self. Yet, on the other hand, Black Metal is also strongly rooted in group identity, and acceptance within the Extreme Metal scene. What are your thoughts on this, and can one truly argue that Black Metal is an expression of individualism when the use of pseudonyms, the masking of one’s face via corpsepaint, and a general culture of anonymity are so part and parcel of the scene?

Ilya: I would agree with the former. We grew up in New York City where there is literally no Black Metal “scene”. It’s just a handful of groups doing their own thing. In this situation there is definitely more of an individualistic channelling of a band’s identity through expression of their beliefs and musical styling. The result is that each band in NYC sounds completely different from one another.


Alright, enough philosophical rumination for the day. Thanks again for taking time out to do this interview. Good luck with your future endeavours! The last words are yours...

Ilya: I appreciate the interview and support. Stand by for a new music video to be released this coming winter.

Neil Pretorius

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