Imperative Reaction: Minus All

I’d heard quite a bit of positive buzz about Imperative Reaction in the past few years, but as a longtime fan of just about every electronic music genre, I’m sorry to say I never took the time to give them a serious listen until this year. Now I feel compelled to make up for lost time, ‘cuz I gotta touch of the fever for ‘em.

Formed by former DNA members Ted Phelps and David Andrecht in 1996, this electro-industrial outfit proved their worth early on with 1999 debut album Eulogy for the Sick Child, in no small part due to the smash club success of the first track “Scorpio.” Their increasing popularity prompted them to plan more elaborate live shows, bringing Jason DM and Sam P. of Pulse Legion aboard to flesh out their onstage ensemble, and electronic music fans started to take notice.

The new album Ruined and its promotional tour followed in 2002, and the band began grabbing attention worldwide… but it was their darker, more intensely urgent sound represented in 2004 release Redemption, and the following year’s tour with VNV Nation, that solidified their largest fanbase ever. Those same electro-industrial-rock dynamics scored an even bigger hit with the follow-up As We Fall… which brings us to the present with their fifth full-length album Minus All, released this week by Metropolis Records.

As evident in the very first (title) track, the aggressive, angry vibe of As We Fall is still very much the norm here, maybe even cranked up a notch or two. Phelps’ vocal style runs the gamut from brooding intensity to searing, screaming rage, and the ever-present razor-edge synthesizer sequences cut through hyper-distorted, gravelly bass lines at the urging of relentless kick-a-chicken dance beats (”Functional”) or guttural Nine Inch Nails-style grinds (“Defect”). There were moments when Phelps reminded me of Nitzer Ebb’s Doug McCarthy – particularly in “Head Up Too High,” which is distinctly Ebb-like in its structure.

The lyrics are often cutting in their rage, scorning human failings like ignorant apathy (“Product”), wasteful consumption (“Functional”) and arrogant self-deception (“Torn Down”). These nihilistic themes are fairly common to most electro-industrial, and the future-utopia undercurrents informing a lot of current synth-pop are totally absent here, so prepare to feel a pretty grim vibe – just give a wry, sardonic sneer and roll with it.

On the occasions when Phelps aims for a clean, melodic chorus, the synths rise to meet him, providing rich harmonies that offset the killer-robot rhythms beneath, but it’s that certain dirty-rock twist to his vocals on songs like “Fallout” that really grabbed my attention.

Unlike the previous album, none of the tracks on Minus All necessarily scream “club anthem,” although the title track, the stomping “Torn Down” or the whiplash-pace of “Functional” and “Without” may manage to capture public attention as singles. Dance-floor staying power may not have been the band’s intention, but as is so often the case, it’s often the make-or-break for a band in this genre. But I do give them credit for expanding their horizons a bit, especially in the pensive, down-tempo track “You Remain” – the closest to a ballad I’ve heard from this group so far.

Even if this doesn’t represent a huge creative leap forward from their previous release, I’m impressed with the consistently solid material here. I also can’t help but imagine that the live performances of these tracks will have crowds in total electronic ecstasy… and I think I might be joining them soon.