Album Review+Interview: Imperative Reaction - Mirror


It's been ten years since Imperative Reactions' album opened up with the now instantly recognisable track 'Side effect' which I'm sure we have all danced out one hell of a rhythm to more than once on a club dance floor, not to mention how many times we must have danced to 2008's 'Minus All'.

That self titled album was released in the golden hour of industrial where almost every album had at least one dance floor filler that set myself and other fellow cyber-goths off twirling about to the beat. So many bands have left that golden formula in the past and I can't seem to understand why as it was the base of industrial becoming far more prevalent and successful.

I hate to say it but Imperative Reaction seem to have left that style behind as well. That's not a negative reflection upon this new album however, in fact, it's a product of it's time with lower BPM, more complex layering, smoother vocals, and a sprinkle of synthwave with dystopia; Which we have to admit, is the signature sound of this particular time when it comes to Goth electronics.

In this article we write an in depth review of the new album and had the chance to ask Ted Phelps some questions of our own.

Following a near decade long hiatus, the Los Angeles based electro-industrial act Imperative Reaction finally release their long-awaited seventh album. Featuring eleven new songs, ‘Mirror’ was released on 15th January 2021 via Metropolis Records. Band co-founder and sole studio member Ted Phelps states that..

“I’ve never been as happy with an album as I am with this one, and I do think it is the most diverse album we’ve released.”

Imperative Reaction was formed in 1996 by Phelps and David Andrecht from the remains of Digital Neural Assault. Their debut album, 'Eulogy For The Sick Child’, was released in 1999 by Zoth Ommog Records, following which they signed to Metropolis, who issued Ruined’ in 2002, ‘Redemption’ (2004), ‘As We Fall’ (2006), ‘Minus All’ (2008), and a self-titled album in 2011.


Then, silence. In 2016, the band confirmed on their social media channels that another album was being recorded, but it has taken five more years to see it released. The good news? It’s worth it, with ‘Mirror’ setting a new standard for Imperative Reaction’s blend of emotionally intimate yet anthemic electro-EBM.

Interview


Q. What is the story and message behind 'Mirror’ and how does the amazing artwork tie in to those concepts?

TP: My good friend and former-IR keyboardist, Clint Carney developed the concept for the cover. Clint has been working in visual effects for years now and he’s extremely good at it. When it was time to start thinking about the cover art, I had a couple of conversations with him about what the art should look like. I actually hired my wife who helped develop some great ideas.

I knew I liked the idea of an “infinite reflection” type image but Clint is the one who took those ideas and came up with presenting it as an infinity mirror room. He proceeded to create a virtual room in a 3D space. He created the “man” with the match in his hand staring at his reflection.

I really liked the idea of having many exact reflections with only one catching on fire. After the image was finished, it went to our graphic designer, Sam Pffankuche. He added some treatments and really drove the whole thing home and now we have my favorite cover to date.

Each time I look at the cover I seem to see different ways it relates to the album theme. Presently the art shows a person who is forced to see himself as he is with no escape. The reflection in the background is starting to burn as a result.


Q. Since the last release in 2011, has there been a change in the message and themes of your music?


TP: I’d say more has been added to the message. While both albums are relatively personal, Mirror is much more so as it is based on my relationship with my wife. It chronicles a two year separation which was very hard at the time. We’ve been together for the better part of 28 years (met in high school) and we have a very intense bond. I’m not really into New Age all that much but we definitely fit the description of twin flames. Beyond that, Mirror looks at getting older and looking at life from a different perspective.


Q. Tell us about the history of the band. Where did it all start, and what inspired you to start making industrial music?


TP: When I was about 13 I was really into Depeche Mode and other synth bands but I also liked bands like Metallica. I discovered The Land of Rape and Honey by Ministry the summer I turned 14 and I was hooked. It combined all of the elements of the styles I liked and it was like the world just opened up. I started a band called DNA when I was 15 with a friend from high school. We recruited a third member the next year named Dave Andrecht. Dave and I hit off and soon found ourselves wanting to go in a different direction so, we left DNA and started Imperative Reaction in 1996. From there we started playing as many shows as possible in LA and worked to get the name out. After a botched signing with a shitty label in 1998, we signed with Pendragon Records. Pendragon was soon purchased by Metropolis Records where we’ve been ever since.

Q. Are there any music videos planned for this album?


TP: Yes, although Covid has made it difficult to plan the way we usually would so at this point, I would say – hopefully soon.


Q. Which songs are you most proud of in this album?


TP: Glass, Split, and Intertwined. I’ve always chickened out when it comes to releasing songs like Glass (plus early attempts at that style weren’t that great). But I really wanted to do it this time and I’m very happy with how it came out. Split to me is the perfect IR album opener and concert intro so I’m happy with it. Intertwined gets stuck in my head when I hear it so I’m happy about that.


Q. What difficulties with lockdown have you had in putting this album together?


TP: Due to the approach I employed with Mirror, the lockdown really didn’t affect production. On the last album I recorded in a studio outside of my home and brought the band in to record parts. If I had planned something like that for this album, it would have been problematic. Mirror was written, recorded, mixed and mastered in my home studio.


Q. What artists are you listening to most right now?


TP: I always listen to the top three for me – NIN, Nitzer Ebb, and Depeche Mode. Lately I’ve also been listening to Aesthetic Perfection and Horskh a lot. It’s exciting to hear their takes on this type of music. My wife plays me a lot of cool stuff that while not always “industrial” is close enough. Strvngers is cool too.

Q. Who has been your favourite industrial artist to share a stage with and who would you still want to play alongside?


TP: Back in 2008 SITD and Aesthetic Perfection provided support for our US Minus All Tour. That was a lot of fun. Daniel and I have been friends for a long time so I’m always open to playing with them. SYSTEM SYN is another band that I love sharing the stage with.


Q. What life lessons has being in industrial taught you over the years, and what would you change about the scene if you could?


TP: Being in this band and in this scene definitely taught me how to deal with different types of people. I’ve made a lot of really good friends through it and I have to say that industrial bands are spoiled by the support the scene gives us. I was pleasantly shocked at the fan support after being gone for 10 years. It’s a great feeling. Like any underground scene there is definitely some elitism out there which always sucks so if I could change something, I guess it would be that.


Q. What (provisional) plans do you have for 2021 if things improve?


TP: We will be touring as soon as possible. We will hit North America as always but I also want to get back to the other side of the Atlantic.


Q. Anything you’d like to say to your fans?


TP: Thank you so much for your amazing support. You guys make all of this so much more fun.


Thank you for your time Ted!

Review


There's nothing quite like a jaw dropping electro EBM beat to say 'Damn right we're back!'

'Split' has all the power and dance happy goodness that Imperative Reaction left us with before but with a brand new flavour. It's a real nod to their past work and fans that has a somewhat Nine Inch Nails feel to it vocally.

'Here is somewhere else' is quite similar in this following but it has more of an Aesthetic Perfection industrial pop coating and it makes for a delightful surprise. It showcases the feel good energy of I.R whilst dealing out new inspirations of tastes for a varied and discerning market.


VNV and Depeche Mode come to mind with the track 'Glass'. There is emotion twisting between schools of music both old and new. This feels as modern as it comes but also feels like it could be played in the 80's and no one would be any the wiser. It seems somewhat timeless and unlimited in scope to say the least.

I know I've compared the previous songs to other bands which I don't like to do too much as I don't want to water down the weight of my words in regards to the talent and skill of the artist. However I have to say that 'Alter Ego' is as if all the best parts of AFI and Apoptygma Berzerk created a child. I am in love with the Davey Havok like vocals, and swept away by the Apop style melody. It's a dance anthem pure and simple and it's very different in that it doesn't pin itself to one style, anyone could dance happily to this; From the heaviest rivet-head, to the most gate keeping of elder Goths, and even to the every day person who hasn't heard industrial before.

Lyrically it really brings in to focus the idea of the mirrored self to tie in with the album art and reflects upon who we see, and even don't see when we oureslves look in to a mirror.

Now we stand eye to eye and I see it.. This version of me was always a lie. I don't believe in you, I wasted all my faith just to watch you throw it away.

-'Alter Ego' lyrics.


There is definitely more anger and 'stomp' factor in the track 'The Scales' and 'Stranger' with the artist weighing up his life as well as the lives of others which leads perfectly in to 'Like Swine' which is a scathing attack on the laid back and careless society we find ourselves in.


Like Swine Lyric Video

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'Ignite' certainly brings the tempo and enjoyment factor up a couple of notches from the last couple of tracks. This time it feels like a Faderhead and 3TEETH mash-up. Telling the story of two sides at war, the drum and electronic samples set an imaginative recreation of futuristic battlefield sounds with laser fire and heavy calibre ammo belts being expended.

What would a modern day industrial album be without mid tempo cyberpunk keys opening up at least one track? Like I said before, a product of our time. 'Intertwined' hits you with that exact cyberpunk aspect but it also brings a heavy mix of synthwave and dare I say Human League like nostalgia to the same package. It really is quite beautiful yet hard to describe. Listen for yourself, you'll see what I mean.


'Disavow' has some VERY impressive electronic bass samples that have to be played loud to fully appreciate. It hits a very satisfying deep corner of your core being and if you haven't fallen in love with this album yet, surely this will be the song to hook you and change your mind. It awakens all those wonderful memories of everything that has been well loved across all genres of alternative music over the years from Emo, to EBM, to rock, to industrial pop, and more. In a word.. Magical.


The album wraps up with a rather emotional number in the form of 'Half of one' It feels like a celebration of all things alternative and gives the listener a chance to really self reflect and process the themes in this album. It's an ideal cool down of contentment as opposed to an encore 'bang'.


Welcome back Imperative Reaction, you have been sorely missed!


Tracklist


Split

When Here Is Somewhere Else

Glass

Alter Ego

The Scales

Stranger

Like Swine

Ignite

Intertwined

Disavow

Half Of One


All songs written, produced, mixed and mastered by Ted Phelps at The Composite


Conclusion


I've seen a few people refer to this release as 'lacklustre' and I can see why if they only skimmed through the album looking for those old familiar rave beats Imperative Reaction was made famous for. I've also heard many artists call themselves 'more mature now' in regards to leaving dance floor filling industrial behind and to be honest, I couldn't roll my eyes any harder if I tried each time I hear it.

Yet this album, this wonderful album genuinely feels like the real maturity or evolution from the previous years that the other artist claim to. It doesn't just throw those foundations away in some form of snobbery and the band certainly doesn't spout that maturity angle. It simply weaves a new modernised pattern to keep the music relevant to today yet faithful to the past.

If you listen to this album with an open mind and let it wash over you a few times, what you will discover is a hidden garden for your mind, a place to dance, to reflect, and make accounts for the story of the album and the story of you, the listener.

Imperative Reaction have crafted a truly fine collection with an intricate tapestry of musical and emotional complexity. It is a truly beautiful return in style.


Scores


Technicality: 8/10

Dance factor: 8/10

Energy: 8/10

Vocals: 8/10

Re-playability: 9/10

Overall score: 8.2 / 10

See Also

Imperative Reaction Website: HERE

Imperative Reaction Facebook: HERE

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