Imagika’s re-emergence on the scene is pretty much the usual story in reverse. Instead of forming a side project, as is quite usual these days when someone wants to release material that doesn’t really fit with ‘the day job’, Kill Ritual’s guitarist and founder member Steve Rice has gone back in time and reformed his previous band Imagika, with Norman Skinner and Jim Pegram reprising their respective roles on vocals and bass and King Diamond’s Matt Thompson guesting on the drum stool. It’s little wonder that in the press release announcing the band’s return he was quoted as saying “I’m a firm believer in always moving forward and never looking back, but I’ll have to eat my words on the ‘never again’ and just say it was meant to be.” I bet humble pie never tasted sweeter!
Based in California, Imagika produced seven albums between 1995 and 2010 and built a name for themselves by gigging heavily and issuing consistently good releases. They folded after a final gig in October 2010, after which Steve formed Kill Ritual who opened their account with ‘The Serpentine Ritual’ (released almost exactly two years after the demise of Imagika). The band’s most recent album ‘All Men Shall Fall’ was issued by Dissonance in February 2018. But back to Imagika and Steve, who’s happy to race through the ‘five-minute-history’ of the band.
“Imagika was formed in 1993 – wow, ancient stuff,” he adds – “but, anyway, we came together really at the tail end of a great San Francisco Bay Area scene for metal and were always just hanging about on the live circuit and slogging away. I think we ended up doing our debut self-titled CD in about 1995 and kept plugging away getting some limited releases in Europe until we did our second CD [‘Worship’] which was released in ’99 and we got a pretty big break opening for Grave Digger in Europe. This was with the original singer David Michael. A couple of CDs later we brought in Norm on the ‘Devils On Both Sides’ album and the band started to really take off. We kept a pretty solid release and tour schedule going after that till we called it a day in 2010, I believe. It just ran its course. We have a pretty expansive bio on our Facebook and social media crap if you want to waste another five minutes of your lives!” he adds, laughing.
Not that it was all work and no play… “When we toured Europe for the first time with Grave Digger our bassist at the time had met this chick in Germany who was having a birthday and wanted him to give her a little present backstage. Of course, the drummer and I got wind of it and whipped out the video to follow them to the bathroom to see if we could get it on tape. Unfortunately the girl had a seizure with his member in her mouth and almost amputated the guy from the waist down! She was foaming at the mouth and flopping like a fish! It turns out she was epileptic and had been doing blow and drank too much and this set her off. The tour manager made us get out of Dodge quickly on that one, but we must have watched that video the rest of the tour laughing so much we probably gave ourselves hernias!”
Choosing a name as we all know can be one of the most difficult things a band has to do. “Yeah, that’s always a stupid endeavour,” Steve agrees. “Every band should be Black something, Iron this or Steel that!” Another laugh. “We actually pinched the name from a Clive Barker novel called ‘Imajica’ (pretty cool Barker book too, by the way) and just changed the spelling a bit and rolled with it. Metal and horror novels always go well together.”
‘Only Dark Hearts Survive’, Imagika’s eighth studio album, comes after a ten-year gap since the band unveiled ‘Portrait Of A Hanged Man’, and I wondered if it was difficult for Steve to get back into an Imagika mindset to write this album. “Most of the material was stuff I had sitting around from my work with Kill Ritual but that didn’t fit and had an Imagika feel to it as in being a little thrashier, let’s say. I’ve always been the main writer in any band I’ve been in so I’ll quite frequently have stuff piled up so I backlogged it and when it came time to think about what the material would work for, and when we decided to see if we wanted to fire up Imagika again, I had a real good head start. I wrote a couple more tunes in a similar vein and we had a CD. It came together quite easily. The songs are much more to the point than the older material we used to play, but I think our old fans will dig it. It still has the riffs and complexity, and everybody still sounds and plays great, so it’s a super solid effort.”
Comparing it to its predecessors, Steve reckons that ‘Only Dark Hearts Survive’ has “tighter, more compact songs, a modern production, and a little more mature self-editing from everyone involved with not overplaying. There’s a lot of cool old stuff and this definitely holds its own in a very familiar – if newer – approach. We didn’t try to reinvent ourselves at all. We just got it done and it felt good. It’s not easy recording and getting performances, mind you, but it didn’t feel laboured or taxing by any means. It was fun to hear it all come out as well as it did. And it’s catchier, definitely. Nice clear production. Norm has some cool choruses this time and he is just a better, more seasoned singer with more control now. I have some fairly decent solos on this one. It’s a guitar record, that’s for sure, and has a nice old-school tone and in-your-face type feel. And we had Matt from King Diamond playing drums on the recordings and the dude is just stellar. Just plays what is absolutely needed. And Jim the bassist” – another laugh – “well, c’mon, he’s a bassist!”
I asked Steve what he considered to be the strengths of the band, and now he’s on a roll. “Me, of course! What would these fuckers do without me! Seriously, obviously our writing would be number one. Good songs are hopefully what we are throwing out there to the world. All the guys are great players so that’s a given in my book, but if we get a fan to crank it up and rock we’ve done our job.”
So, is ‘Only Dark Hearts Survive’ strictly a one-off, or is Imagika back for the long haul? “Let’s see,” he replies, cautiously. “I don’t think anyone is against it. Every guy involved is in a few other projects these days which seems to be the damn norm to keep busy. If the CD does well and gets a decent response from the fans and we’re able to use it to pivot off with live touring work I don’t see why we can’t drop at least one more CD. I write daily so having material won’t be the issue.”
With things wrapping up, it would be a shame not to mention Kill Ritual. Given that ‘All Men Shall Fall’ appeared in February 2018, I wondered what the plans were with album Number Five. “We’ve just wrapped a new one that is obviously a very different beast to Imagika,” Steve replies. “It’s more progressive, symphonic, conceptual and commercial in scope. It sounds massive and is the debut for our new vocalist Chalice who is just a great classic metal style singer. We’re taking it to the next level with this one.”
Finally, let’s do the desert island question… If the band were marooned on a desert island, and things got desperate, who would you eat first, and why. “Definitely Norm,” replies Steve without missing a beat. “He’s whiter than me with a little more meat and would get a good crispy skin when cooked properly. Since we’re on an island I’d definitely cook him in a ground pit on hot stones wrapped in banana leaves and baste him with sea salt and coconut and serve him with a fruit salad. Yeah,” he admits, “I’ve been planning this for a while now!”
‘Only Dark Hearts Survive’ is scheduled for release by Dissonance on 13 September 2019.