Review Summary: Just like that cute girl you've been stalking, Imperative Reaction's latest album looks hot, new, and has all the right curves... ITS A TRAP!
When viewed from an artistic standpoint Imperative Reaction have really stepped up their game on their latest album. Careful listening will reveal tiny layering additions to each track, the slight use of vocal effects on many of the 11 tracks, an energetic delivery, all these add up to one rather impressive improvement curve. The album then begins to loose it's luster when viewed as what it is - another album from a band that has remained consistently passable for years. Since their inception in 1996 Imperative Reaction have managed to hold back from fully pushing the envelope, and that is exactly what holds Imperative Reaction back.
From the beginning of "Side Effect" it seems as if Imperative Reaction are dredging up the sound of their previous work, this is a track that could quite easily fit on Minus All. From the slow initial build up, Ted Phelps's vocal delivery, and the inevitable energy peak this is the Imperative Reaction that fans have been listening to for years. Though the group has never needed a lyrical overhaul they seem to have improved in this regard, matching lines such as you're compliance isn't optional/now calmly.../line up with repeated siren loops shows some experimentation. As a whole the track seems to remain steadfastly in "good" territory, if fans wanted something groundbreaking they have come to the wrong place.
The flow of Imperative Reaction is something to admire, every track feeds off the energy of the others and none feel out of place or like last minute additions. While Ted Phelps has been the front-man for 11 years it seems as if his voice is beginning to hold the group back; the once lauded aggressively tinged inflection of his now seems like an old trick in the hat of a man who has almost ran out of ways to impress his listeners vocally. In spite of this another highlight is the feeling of inspiration garnered from each and every song, the band obviously went through a time of enlightenment when writing the tracks and it shows; songs like "Song of The Martyr" and " The Signal" bring this inspiration to the front of each and every delightful synth line, not to mention the songs slightly darker lyrical tone. In stark contrast to this is the ending track "Closure" which comes off as almost bare boned and quirky, though it manages to fit in with the rest of the album.
"Surface" is the single from the album and though many industrial singles are completely out of context from the rest of the album not only does "Surface" help the albums flow it also proves to be a standout track in it's own right. Featuring some of the most fun synth lines in the bands history "Surface" is just plain enjoyable; it's playful synth lines are the backdrop to one of the most lyrically powerful tracks on the album. The levels have been tweaked as well, making Phelps's voice less of the focal point and bringing that aforementioned creativity and energy to the forefront. As Phelps speaks the lines it's so quiet now/the waves drown out what once was loud/and I don't recall/your sound anymore... the listener is almost lulled into a sense of calm, only to have it shattered by a gang-like vocal build up. As the track begins to close the synths are pushed to the front of Imperative Reactions miniature wall of sound, leaving the audience feeling slightly amazed at the groups (however brief) change.
Sadly moments like those found throughout "Surface" are only brief pinpoints of light in Imperative Reaction's miasma of consistency. Slight additions to the layering, a new aggressive use of synthesizers, and the one time change in Ted Phelp's vocal levels are all welcome changes to Imperative Reactions sound. While the album is not bad it doesn't really do anything different; it feels like more of a starting point for a group who had lost their way. Taken within that context Phelps's declaration that “it is our defining album” begins to make sense, and if this is really the case then the future might hold something bright indeed if these industrial rockers can bump themselves even further out of their comfort zone.