Disclaimer: these interpretations are those of the writer and do not reflect the intentions of the lyricist. If you would like to contribute to the conversation or offer a different point of view, feel free to comment or contact Metal Utopia at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Back in July, Imperial Triumphant graced us with their third album “Vile Luxury”, which continues the themes they began exploring in the middle of their career after shifting from the standard black metal imagery of satan, paganism and whatnot. Their brand of dissonant and disjointed black-death metal tell stories of unrestrained greed, depraved abundance and luxury, hateful cultural chauvinism and mad hubris of the affluent and powerful (similar to the imagery in for instance the film “The Wolf of Wall Street”). They’re not that uncommon themes in metal, but Imperial Triumphant poignantly chose to assemble them and present through their gnawed and twisted musical aesthetic, a properly metal lens focused on the darkness within. It’s no coincidence, as they resonate well with some sentiments about today’s state of the world – the absurdly rich accumulating wealth and luxury, leading opulent careless lives interwoven with perverse debauchery as obscene displays of their power, blind to the existence beyond their golden palaces. But these manifestations of vanity are supported by colossal grinders of flesh and soul, the not so well-off toiling in conditions of near-slavery, despicable squalor, hatefulness and suspicion towards their fellow men, seen as nothing but fuel for the eternal machines of commerce. It is also no coincidence that Imperial Triumphant hail from New York, “The Imperial City”, an experience which is an obvious influence in their lyrics and aesthetics (just check out the video for “Swarming Opulence”). The city, a world-hub of human economic, social and cultural activity that also manifests some of the most radical examples of inequality, the rich and powerful residing in Babylonian towers that rend the sky, while the impoverished huddle in the filth below, snapping like hungry wolves at one another. We’ll be looking at the lyrics of “Swarming Opulence”, the first song off the new album to explore some of these motives.
Exalted golden creature
Bright shining spectacular
We are useless to ourselves
This stanza is a bit tricky, but my first guess is that it refers to wealth. Exalted, worshipped above all, gold, the symbol of value since time immemorial, but also – creature, not just a life but also a mind of its own, which cares not about the concerns of men – impure ungrateful, but still demands, and always achieves, reverence and worship. Bright shining spectacular – attractive, intoxicating, resplendent, the metaphor of light as the source of good. We are useless to ourselves – our worth as people is not intrinsic, not warranted by our skills or virtues, but in the measure of material prosperity, the God that seemingly opens all doors.
Plenty of time, youth, the vambrace of our eternity
Vambraces, a type of armor attached to the forearms used since the advent of defensive apparel. Indispensable to any melee combatant, and often used a symbol of defensive power and protection, a guard from any harm. The feeling of youthful invincibility and carelessness many have experienced at least once, but in this context pushed to the extremes, depraved. It can also be connected to the term “golden youth”, which I did not find much in use in English, but is common in Slavic languages, for instance the Russian “мажор”, (pronounced mazhor) ((colloquial) son or daughter of wealthy parents who uses parent’s money without being a productive person himself – which makes sense to refer to since the band not only explores themes from Russian culture but also sings in Russian on some songs), Croatian “zlatna mladež” (literal translation of golden youth) and so on. This term indicates young people born into wealth leading careless lives, often brazenly indulging in debauchery and violence, aware of the protection that their family’s influence gives them. Imperial Triumphant also explored this subject in their music video for the song “Crushing the Idol”.
The sky no longer the limit
A sea of iron and energy
Gaze down at the fleshy drones
black smog and sentient gears
This one is pretty straightforward. It’s imagery I mentioned earlier – the powerful sitting atop their giant hubristic monuments which sometimes seem more like odes to their self-perceived glory rather than functional architecture, contrasted with the blackened foundation of industry below, insanely powerful machinations worked by other people who are no longer perceived as such, but mere fleshy drones and sentient gears.
Begs our weak hungry minds
Swarming opulence, that which is no longer in human control but spreads like pestilence, addling our minds which forgot reason long ago, ever hungering for more, for greater wealth, greater luxury.
Greater than man
Higher than God
Humanity has been abandoned to something which is seen as a greater cause, uncaring for their primitive concerns. It can also be seen as something which can easily sacrifice any individual, any group and still give us peace of consciousness owing to its grandiose imperative overriding any value of bare human life. Higher than God intensifies this sentiment. The contrast between these two lines is powerful – the historical friction between theological and humanistic understandings of the world cancels itself out, abandoning both principles. The death of God soon followed by death of Man.
Swarming Opulence, that which never stops consuming
Continuing on my previous motive of pestilence, the ever-spreading opulence engulfs our reality like the biblical eight plague of Egypt, devouring locusts sparing nothing and seeking more. It can also be viewed from the human viewpoint, unrestrained consumerism pointed towards all available resources and new experiences, eventually not only draining the planet but the human soul as well, forgetting the practical purpose of consumption, taking a life of its own.
We forget our lavish life
And seek luxury in death
Emptiness through decadence
And madness through beautiful greed
The excess is driven to extremes, where simple indulgences no longer animate its intense hunger. The term “limit-experience” (originally in French: expérience limite) is attributed to thinker Georges Bataille and refers to a type of action or experience which approaches the edge of living in terms of its intensity and its seeming impossibility, transgressing all human norms and reaching a combination of “divine ecstasy and extreme horror”. Luxury in death thus doesn’t refer to literal death as some sort of ecstatic suicide or murder (Or maybe it does? See the previously mentioned video for the song), but the condition of life teetering at the edge of its possibility, maybe even existing at both sides simultaneously. As the last two lines indicate, the culmination of all that has been said results in beings hollowed of human content, minds completely unhinged by the aesthetic splendour of decadence and greed, enslaved to its allure ultimately serving the imperative of wealth above all.