Cipher by ImperialistRelease date: August 20, 2018
Label: Transcending Obscurity Records
Cipher is the first full-length album by Los Angeles-based Imperialist, a quartet established by young musician Sergio Soto. The music is a blackened mix of modern-day thrash and heavy metal, and the themes that inspire this band are the mysteries of the cosmos. Astrophysics and science fiction (there’s a spaceship on the cover) are intertwined with the macabre and the Lovecraftian.
There’s an intro track at the start, ‘Continuum’, which is a mournful and unsettling cello/acoustic guitar piece that would work well as a piece of creepy film music. There was a vogue on ‘80s thrash albums for having an acoustic piece at the start (and sometimes the finish) of an album. It was the quiet bit, the artistic, contemplative bit, before the band attempted to rip your face off. Some were good, whereas some sounded distinctly bolted on. Cipher’s contemplative bit is good, as they go. The problem is what comes next.
There’s nothing intrinsically wrong with the music on Cipher. First track proper, ‘The Singularity’ has a pounding rhythm with thrashing guitars, blast beats and raw-edged vocals. It’s a good song. The gist of the lyrics is a descent into the voids of chaos, fitting the album’s theme perfectly. It uses the astrophysical concept of the singularity, a point of infinite gravity at the centre of a black hole that draws in all matter and crushes everything to an infinitesimal dot, beyond which the laws of physic break down. Not a bad metaphor for heavy metal, really. The problem is that the crushing, driving beat continues into the next song, and the next.
The pace remains very similar throughout (that is, really fast) and there’s really no let up from beginning to end. The vocal style remains very similar throughout. There’s little nuance or light and shade. The song remains very much the same throughout, through the likes of ‘Splendor Beneath an Ancient Permafrost’, ‘Umbra Tempest’ and ‘Chronochasm’ (whatever that is).
My other problem is the name of the band. The spaceship on the cover maybe implies imperialism in a fictional, sci-fi vein, perhaps, but calling a band Imperialist just doesn’t seem right in these times of neo-con protectionism and anti-immigrant feeling, ‘fear of the other’. OK, no-one believes Cattle Decapitation like killing bovines, but this ain’t grindcore, where the names are more tongue in cheek or political.
Cipher is technically and musically competent, well put together for what it is, thrashy, exciting, and good fun in the first few songs, but the lack of any change in tempo or anything that isn’t 100-miles-an-hour heads-down riffing just didn’t light my fire for long. There is so much compelling and progressive songwriting in this and many other genres of metal, and sadly Cipher doesn’t hold the listener’s interest. It’s a spirited debut but some variation and change in pace would go a long way on album number two.