Second Circle: An Evening with Imperial Triumphant and Phanerozoic Live
In Dante’s Inferno, the second circle begins the proper punishment of Hell, a place where “no thing gleams.” It is reserved for those overcome with Lust, where carnal appetites hold sway over reason. In Nine Circles, it’s where we do shorter reviews of new (ish) albums that share a common theme.
I miss live shows. I have been to exactly one in the last two calendar years, and that is far, far below the quota I normally like to hit. Granted, there are some very good reasons for not partaking in live shows even when they happen, but I’ve still got an itch that I need to scratch, and while I generally don’t gravitate towards live albums, this is the time when I find them hitting the nicest. Two bands that I have never had the pleasure of seeing live are Imperial Triumphant and The Ocean, and when I saw that both of them have live albums coming out today (An Evening with Imperial Triumphant: Live at Slipper Room and Phanerozoic Live, respectively), I knew I had to take the opportunity to talk about them both.
Imperial Triumphant have been right at the top of bands that I need to see live ever since I first heard them, but alas cruel fate has prevented me from being able to catch them even in good times. I’ve watched plenty of their live shows on YouTube, but even that isn’t enough to capture all the pageantry and esotericism that their stage presence encapsulates. An Evening with Imperial Triumphant sees the band pay sonic tribute to their beloved NYC in the form of an intimate live recording session at the aforementioned Slipper Room, a burlesque house/comedy venue/neo-vaudeville venue in the Lower East Side. Honestly, it’s a perfect location for the trio, and their energy fills the space in an unexpected but ultimately fitting way.
An Evening sees Imperial Triumphant perform mostly songs from last year’s astounding Alphaville while also mixing in older tracks from Vile Luxury. One of the most striking aspects of this live recording, and something that has always fascinated me about this band, is the way they can do so much with just a trio on stage. Granted, they use samples for the extra vocals and instruments present in some tracks, but you really get the sense of what the three of them can do. The jazz elements seem even more pronounced, brought out by the venue itself, and the band really comes alive when they transition to the heavier, more raw black metal side of their music. The guitar and bass tones are superbly mixed, and everything is clear and well-defined in the sound. Most importantly, it does what any good live album should do: it makes me yearn to see them play in front of me really soon.
Next up is The Ocean, my feelings on which you should already be painfully aware of. I actually confess that a decent chunk of this particular album isn’t new to me: Phanerozoic Live is a sprawling two discs, each consisting of a live recording of one half of the Phanerozoic saga. Disc one covers Phanerozoic I and is a recording of their lockdown livestream Live in Bremen. Disc two is a recording of their Roadburn Redux set, which was Phanerozoic II in its entirety. We were actually very fortunate to be able to catch their Roadburn set because, well, we didn’t have to take a week off of work and buy a couple of round-trip tickets to the Netherlands. If there is one small consolation in all this, it’s that being able to watch virtual concerts from around the world from the comfort of your couch is pretty nice, even if it’s not the same.
The Ocean put on a phenomenal show. Not quite as packed with pageantry as the aforementioned Imperial Triumphant, but solid as solid gets. It helps that there is a higher-than-average amount of musicians on stage, but even so, everything is crisp and clear and it perfectly showcases just how awesome these songs are. If you didn’t get a chance to watch these performances live, you missed out for sure, but listening to Phanerozoic Live is like being thrust back into it, almost like being on stage with the band. To me, it vividly recalls memories of the sets I saw. You feel all the energy, especially the pent-up frustration of not playing to an audience, and it translates into a spectacular listening experience. Not a single note is missed, but they also don’t simply carbon copy what is on the records. There is life and fluidity in these songs, and they also happen to be about some of my favorite subject matter in existence. Don’t forget about that part either.
There you go – a little late, but we’ve got you with the Thanksgiving two-for. Hopefully your turkey coma was everything you hoped it would be, or if you didn’t celebrate, I hope your Thursday didn’t suck.