The six and a half minute mini-suite “Paranoid Android,” the lead-off single from Radiohead‘s legendary OK Computer, remains one of their most covered songs, despite, or perhaps because of, its complexity. Full of dynamic swings in volume and tempo, it’s probably a lot of fun to play once you’ve mastered it.
American experimental black metal band Imperial Triumphant are a lot less interested in the fun dynamics of “Paranoid Android” than your average Radiohead cover artists. Bands in black metal and its associate subgenres can sometimes flatten dynamics and opt instead of more subtle gradations of loud and louder. But Imperial Triumphant aren’t your average black metal band, so the dynamics you expect are still there, just different. (But are also sometimes labelled as dissonant death metal and, um, “avant garde jazz,” so you’ve been warned.)
They jump right into the first verse, with black metal growls, angular guitar and very active bass (playing the acoustic guitar riff, basically). The instrumentation calms down a bit for the first chorus, but lead singer Zachary Ezrin’s growl just continues right through as the bass dances in the background. Crunchy guitars are added to the mix right before the second chorus.
And that’s where the let turns really start. For the second chorus, Ezrin also employs a vocoder or other vocal affect over his growl. And that is followed by an instrumental run through the verse that is jazzy, space-age and almost loungey. Bassist Steve Blanco then throws in a surprise bass solo before the dynamic explosion we are all expecting. But Imperial Triumphant subvert our expectations by creating a wall of dissonance before the familiar riff eventually emerges from the racket. They run through the riff many times over
For the song’s famous coda, instead of a sense of calm, we get a sonic assault featuring blast drumming and heavy growling. But keyboard overdubs connect us back to the original, at least a tiny little bit. It’s an aggressively difficult cover of a difficult song that was somehow a hit single. Open yourself to it, though, and there are a lot of neat touches.