All great battles come equipped with a certain aura of anticipation. When considering the moment that the forces of Octavian under Agrippa met the combined power of Marc Antony and Cleopatra at Actium, one can't help but reflect that it had been a long time coming. Tensions had been brewing on the Senate floor years beforehand, and events had slowly, yet steadily escalated to hate-fueled skirmishes. But despite the tolls taken, few could have expected the blood-soaked watery grave at Actium. The fiery crash of Mirrored has a similar impact. Preceded by last year’s collection of two 2004 EPs, EP C/B EP, this highly anticipated debut LP had fans of the group waiting with baited breath, fogging up many a window. What it would sound like and what sort of impression it would leave on the soil beneath the feet of its marching masses, few knew. It’s no stretch to say Mirrored comes as a bit of a surprise attack.
The math-rock supergroup and reigning math league state champions have laid their calculators at their feet and procured from the depths of their shirt pockets mighty swords and axes. Being a million things at once in its 50-minute runtime without misstepping or missing a beat, Mirrored finds the band incorporating their short-form EP formula into a full-length value meal. It easily flips most expectations onto their heads and shakes their lunch money to the ground, in a Revenge of the Nerds scenario. Then the album pillages and plunders.
Open up the deceptively diminutive CD case and you’re standing at the head of an image of a great arsenal. A pullout poster disguised as liner notes magnifies the situation at hand: Battles’ weaponry could crush down to the soul. The band keep the listener under the impression that they employ every instrument known to man or beast. (A cymbal suspended at least four feet above drummer John Stanier’s head suggests a call to action for a giraffe or Mr. Fantastic.) With former members of powerhouses such as Don Caballero and Helmet gracing the trenches, Battles rock the shit out constantly. “Tonto” steadily builds up for minutes to a unified crescendo, after which a guitar drops out and the song changes to a gut-pounding assault. A few lines later and we get a shift to drums and a lone guitar with a mystic coating. The band just can’t sit still, and we find them improvising tactics to blow holes in our defenses. “Ddiamondd” moves at a pace unknown to human limbs and bounds away like a tank engine. “TIJ” is the pulsing arcade hit the band has brushed up against in the past, amplified a quarter and a half.
Let’s call to light the introduction and subsequent abundance of vocals. Two minutes into “Race: In” and we’re pummeled with a first wave of short-breathed choral chants, hijacking a standard Battles romp-about and transforming it into an entirely different creature. As interesting as this use of the human voice is, it’s the most pedestrian of the album’s experiments. In just the very next track, the barn-effing-burning single “Atlas,” the vocals are warped and distorted through an alien filter and coaxed out of their circuitry. Vocals on a Battles record were something to be wary of, yet Tyondai Braxton has quelled all doubts by incorporating robotic cries as seamlessly into the band's ranks as their instrumental stockpile, becoming not unlike one of their many gadgets.
The instruments all fight against each other, yet they’re not gasping for air with each blow, strings and cymbals flying and crashing across the field. The foil work is smooth and unfettered, the members of the band parrying off one another with scant a scratch across their countenances. This is mechanical warfare. It’s grinding and buzzing, whirling past our ears and crushing our cities with an iron fist. Straight out of the future but steeped in the present, it’s a horror unlike any eyes have seen, but one that’s impossible to be torn away from. Mirrored is a marvel, dastardly and wholly original as it is, and one of the year’s finest.
1. Race: In
7. Bad Trails
9. Snare Hangar
11. Race: Out