LW – For those people who are just now discovering Imperial Vengeance as a result of this album could you talk me though how Imperial Vengeance came about ?
CEA – It started as a creative outlet for me. I was becoming increasingly disillusioned with the bland and uninspired creative process of the band I was with, and found myself often writing on my own as a kind of release. After a while songs started forming, and a personality was beginning to grow. I asked Dave if he’d be interested in being involved and he quickly added a new dimension to things with lyrics and visuals. It was clear we were on the same page, so we ran with it.
LW – You describe your “genre” as being “Dark Aristocratic Metal” how did you come across this phrase ?
DB – True, we have used the term “Dark Aristocratic Metal” before, really to illustrate some of these ludicrous tags that bands and their critics apply. Genre tags are generally ridiculous, and I don’t like them, as it has always reeked to me of lazy journalism and something practised by those no longer bothered to actually critique an artists’ work, and that many just feel that to merely compare X to Y to Z, tick a few ‘clever-clever’ boxes in a media friendly sound bite means ‘job done’ and off to the pub. So rather than be incorrectly tagged as Black Metal or War metal or whatever by some 15 year old fan of BMTH who wasn’t even a foetus this side of Master of Puppets, I personally feel it is easier to sometimes give people the information ourselves.
Joking aside, Imperial Vengeance IS a metal band – extreme or otherwise, the roots of which are embedded in many of the genres that exist, but an actual all-encompassing category or description is beyond me. This one is a good stop-gap for now.
CEA – Yes we are definitely a metal band. ‘Dark Aristocratic’ is really the heart of the creation, as it describes the eccentric ‘Englishness’ but also the inherent sinister quality. We decided to coin the phrase before journalistic buffoonery stepped in and labelled it ‘Hat Core’, or something equally idiotic. It’s also a term that avoids genre specific musical words which is allows us a lot of freedom.
LW – Back to your current album. I notice that you have used audio from people as diverse as the occultist Aleister Crowley, the author/former gangster Dave Courtney through to Therion soprano Lori Lewis and Vulture Industries vocalist, Bjørnar Erevik Nilsen. How did these collaborations come about ?
DB- Some of the songs necessitated the inclusion of a wider range of characters, and we thought it would be interesting to invite some more players into our world for a while.
CEA – It has always been important to us that we always inject authenticity into what we do. So if we are dealing with the Enochian language then Crowley needs to be the voice, since John Dee wasn’t answering my calls. Since the album is centred around the underworld of London, of course we need Dave Courtney as the narrator. Lori and Bjorner were simply the right voices for those characters, and the tracks were brought to life by them.
LW – I have to say from what I have scene of the artwork it looks stunning. The attention to detail is second to none even down to the inclusion of the “Penny Dreadful” publication. How did the publication come about ?
DB-Glad you like it. When I was growing up, the albums were all vinyl, therefore large format. As a consequence there was more of an interaction with the music as you would devour every detail of the artwork and the sleeve notes etc, much more than you would with a CD booklet. What we wanted to do was to issue something that the listener could get absorbed by, and would encourage a kind of retro-interaction that I believe just is not around in the listening experience anymore. I also think that the booklet allows us to expand the concept of what were “are” as a creative unit.
Scenes of Inked Treachery;
It is a scene setter. The “cross-hatched scenes of grey” – refer to the 1872 publication London: A Pilgrimage, written by the journalist Blanchard Jerrold and illustrated by the artist Gustave Doré. It is a catalogue of the lifestyles of the denizens and classes of London, and often a very bleak and horrifying read. Doré’s lithographs indeed reveal many such “scenes of treachery”.
This is the walkthrough of the streets of London. Think the opening of ‘From Hell’, only in the day time and minus the ‘Cor Blimey Guvnor!’ mockney accents. It is also where we set the musical tone of the album, being more ‘cinema’ than ‘metal intro’. It is the overture, and carries the entire personality of the album.
Black Heart of Empire;
Essentially the song is further exposition of the prologue. It has to be said though, this particular vision of the metropolis is essentially a euhemerism, one perpetuated by writers such as Anthony Hope, and Dickens; where the horrors of the rookeries, the poverty of the general populace- with class divide more prominent than any other time; and the poor shivering in their doorways- ragged humanity clutching to the spectre of life is commonplace.
Musically this track is obviously deeply connected to the previous. It’s hard edged but with a heavy element of ‘pub music’ of the era. I used an old out of tune piano to add some Uncle Albert quality to the middle section. I also used some recordings of various church bells around London and arranged them around one of the riffs.
The Voice of Thelema;
Is a layered allegory that in one instance centres around the fall of the self-styled “Beast666” Aleister Crowley, and in others alludes to other more contemporary figures that have tried to pick up the dark mantle.
This was an opportunity to explore some middle eastern instrumentation and orchestrate in a totally different way. The huge ‘desert’ theme that comes in around half way was fantastically responsive to instrumental colour shifts, and the whole song heavily contrasts Black Heart of Empire. It’s rooted in the opium dens and Golden Dawn meetings, full of faux exotic promise. You can almost smell the poppy seeds and imported fanny.
The Ghost Light;
As a wonderfully conceited double bluff, “The Mystery of the Ghost Light is ghost story, ghost written by Franklin Granville- which we are delighted to present in the “Penny Dreadful” – A kind of proto- Lovecraftean style story whose wonderfully gothic doomed lovers’ night time adventure in a supposedly deserted Music Hall find considerably more than they bargain for . waiting for them in the wings.
This is all music hall. I used smaller ensembles for this to give it a more intimate nature, and feel more like a theatre than a spooky black metal forest. The wurlitzer organ at the start is my favourite sound on the album. Apart from the sound of my own voice, obviously. It’s very odd arrangement wise, lots of quirky bouncing of ideas from one instrument to another.
Veiled Threats Over Cocktails;-
With it’s roots in Peter Greenaway’s 1982 movie: “The Draughtsman’s Contract”- the song is about a Jacobean period aristocratic society whose protagonists have nothing better to do with their lives than snipe at each other in a deadly game of conversational one-upmanship. Of course this goes on today, but without the magnificent wigs.
Musically this was the hardest of the album to write, apart from the Black Idol. It is heavily inspired by, definitely not stolen from, Nyman’s music for ‘The Draughtsman’s Contract’. There’s a kind of arguing between the instruments in the middle section, as each one tries to out perform the other.
The Devil in the Detail;
John Dee, arch mage and Ambassador to the Elizabethan Court was the first man to coin the phrase “British Empire”, and with our guest Ms. Lori Lewis singing in the magical language of Enochian; and providing the “Voice of the Angels”, we are plunged in to Dr John Dee’s world of spiritual conferences. The mood is further enhanced by an appearance (via séance) from Mr Aleister Crowley with whom we delighted in his posthumous portrayal of Dee in this recitation of “The Call Of The First Æthyr.”
I abandoned all the standard orchestral instruments for this, in favour of traditional Elizabethan Viols, Harpsichord and Recorders. The result is, I think, a very distinctive sound that opens the door to John Dee’s world but stays in the realms of metal. The hardest part was actually the intro, because there are extremely strict rules about the counterpoint that need to be obeyed to stay authentic. I got there, but I’m pretty sure a counterpoint teacher would still be handing it back to me covered in red pen with ‘”see me” written at the top.
Out Went the Candle, and We Were Left Darkling;
over to you Charles
This is a piece I wrote in an evening in the middle of December, after a sudden wave of inspiration. I actually have no idea how it came together, it just happened. An album like this needs an interlude from the chaos, and this piece provides it. It does contain themes from other tracks hidden within. I also layered in some EVP recordings and a waterphone to fill out the atmosphere.
Upon The Stair;
A story about a foe from outside of time that dwells in every photograph; and from particular sequences in certain 1920’s silent films.
I was really thinking more about Hitchcock when writing this. There’s an obvious Bernard Herrmann influence to the music, anyone who doesn’t spot that isn’t trying hard enough. Half way through the track runs away with itself and a started using nursery rhymes as a jumping off point for the ideas. Finding the right voice for the ‘Fiend’ character was tough, but Bjorner gave it even more than I could ever imagined anyone could. Absolutely mental.
Of Insect and Allegory;
Again another vignette of body-horror, which has it’s influence in Kafka’s 1915 story, “Die Verwandlung” (The Metamorphosis) –a tale of a salesman who awakes one day to find himself transformed into a monstrous insect. The story deals with his struggles and eventual death at the hands of his family. Again, like most great stories from this period, it is an allegory -an extended metaphor for escape, life disillusionment and the demands of an impersonal society.
There’s a Eastern Bloc feel to this, as a reference to communism and the world evil it represents. The song evolves as the character does, until it becomes something entirely ‘un metal’ at the end. Just as the character changes into something despised by it’s surroundings, this song evolves into something that doesn’t fit with the rest of the album. Not much more than a ‘look how fucking clever we are’ musical allegory really.
The Black Idol;
The point of reference, is Kupka’s 1903 ominous aquatint illustration “Resistance – The Black Idol” which is an image to which I have returned again and again during my life and with never a lessening sense of sombriety. Essentially, the lyrics are a metaphor for the transient nature of political power and dominion, and that all great empires will be ravaged by history, becoming dust.
This is the highlight compositionally speaking as far as I’m concerned. I won’t go into detail about the whole process, because it will make me sound like the self satisfied, utterly detestable wanker that I am, but there are a lot of things happening throughout this track. There is a big dissonant theme that represents the Idol itself, and recurs throughout. Then there are a number of other melodic and harmonic themes that are worked in. The last part you hear is the beginning of the next album…
LW – What is your favourite track from the album and why?
DB- I think Veiled Threats Over Cocktails is my current favourite as I love and relate to the subject matter on a lot of levels. It marries the ludicrous and the sublime perfectly, sonically it has a fantastic diversity, and the title is as far away from most metal bands as possible.
It changes from day to day, I don’t really have one.
LW – What up and coming bands from the underground/extreme metal scene do you recommend keeping any eye on right now ?
DB- I don’t really “do” scenes. Amebix have just released a new album called “Sonic Mass” after 24 years. They are the ultimate underground band, and without them I don’t think half of the bands in extreme music would exist. Another artist that again has been active for years in what we term “the underground” is sound artist Lustmord. I recently caught a live show from him and I think it was the loudest and most brutal assault on the nervous system I have experienced.
CEA – There are a lot of great musicians appearing right now, I’m loving Animals As Leaders, although they are probably a bit much for the casual listener. They do have an original sound for sure. I do struggle to find new bands that aren’t just a pale copy of 30 year old scenes, and I believe the metal scene is in desperate need of some originality and bravery. Learn your art, create your sound then grow some balls.
LW – What bands do you recommend keeping an eye on from the more mainstream acts for want of a better phrase ?
Are you asking ‘what mainstream acts do I like’? here? If so: Iron Maiden and Rammstein – I have nothing but admiration for the total conviction that these two diametrically opposed acts have to both what they do and how they do it, equally on disc and live.
Yes, Rammstein keep pushing the boundaries and that makes them extremely exciting and worth paying attention to.
LW – Do you have any plans for a UK tour ?
CEA – The live thing is where we are focusing now, so hopefully way more than the UK.
LW – Do you have any plans to play any festival dates next year ?
CEA – We are booking them in now, so yes there will be some.
LW – So far you have released an album based around the First World War (“At The Going Down of Sun”) and now the Victorian era. Do you have any plans for your next album ?
Yes, but it would be disingenuous to reveal anything right now.
CEA – I know roughly what the next album will be, but it’s too early to talk about it yet. The themes we explore tend to be just backdrops, and not necessarily the entire album anyway.
LW – Are there any messages that you would like to pass on to your fans ?
CEA – I’d personally like to thank all the fans and journalists that have taken the time to understand what we are trying to achieve, and for being open minded enough to enjoy it. I really hope to see you all out on the road, and am very appreciative to everyone that has helped us to get to this album being released.
Black Heart of An Empire reviewed: https://www.planetmosh.com/imperial-vengeance-%E2%80%93-black-heart-of-the-empire-cd/
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