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AMEBIX- Sonic Mass (Amebix Records / Easyaction, UK, 2011)

On September 23, equinox, the new AMEBIX album will be released.

„These days will never come again“, Rob sings repeatedly during the first, calm track «Days» and this is pretty much the motto under which this long awaited comeback should be received. What we have here is no cheap rehash of the old days. It’s a strong, sometimes great and overall very consistent piece of work.

First off: I was not too impressed with «Redux», the EP with the reworked old songs, released last year. The idea of redoing old songs with today’s recordings possibilities and the improved musicianship that sometimes comes with age is understandable, from the musicians point of view. Every single attempt of such renovation I can think of however has failed to one degree or another. Then, earlier this year, AMEBIX released a single and video of one of the forthcoming album’s song, «Knights of the Black Sun». Again I was irritated, although in this case, it was not so much the music but the video which overpowered everything else. For the worse. A symbolistic overkill, executed cheaply and aesthetically so far from anything AMEBIX had ever produced before – at least for me. So now, that I’ve had the chance to listen to the full length album a couple of times, I’m happy to say that the music is in the center of attention again. And that’s how it should be.

What AMEBIX have achieved with «Sonic Mass» is to sound new and familiar at the same time. Be it Rob’s outstanding voice, be it the sometimes overwhelming atmosphere, dense and dramatic as it is, created through riffs that are heavy but not metal; be it the band’s very own lyrical conception which undeniably draws its impetus from a rather original blend of apocalyptic and esoteric topics, as well as an individualist anarchistic stance, one that is much rather an issue of personal ethics than political dogma. But even though these characteristics were crucial in the 80s version of the band already, the AMEBIX of the 21st century is a different animal.
(Photo by Fin McAteer)

So what is different? Both, the brute force and lurking aggression of «Arise!» had already begun to eclipse on «Monolith». The existential hardship of the bands formative years, very much tutored on Killing Joke’s first album, was succesfully transformed into a rather fascinating sound which included strange reminiscences to movie soundtracks, with the more stretched out musical landscape the songs were able to create.
«Sonic Mass» in many aspects takes things up right from there – without trying to recreate «Monolith». Two of the songs seem to have conserved a bit of the 80s AMEBIX: The epic „God of the Grain“ and the most straightforward of the new songs, the incredibly intense „Here come the Wolf“ (with a catchy short lead guitar part and just perfectly fitting keyboards). The other songs incorporate different musical influences, most noticeably the rather folkish accoustic guitar arrangements in the song „Sonic Mass Part 1“. These are these moments in which AMEBIX’ new opulence really does develop to its fullest effect and they leave me thrilled. The second part of „Sonic Mass“ does little for me, except for the always impressive vocal work of Rob’s. „Shield Wall“, a galopping 2 minutes instrumental is another (drum sampled?) track that does not make me holding my breath.
„The One“ is a solid song, quite uptempo, with lots of pounding drums and a very memorable verse, before the album closes with „Knights of the Black Sun“. It’s interesting that within the context of the album and without the dreadful video, the tracks qualities show. Sometimes, too much is, well too much.
The lyrics, from what I can make out, are not as completely dark as they used to be . This is definitely lightyears from the almost unbearably kaputt «No Sanctuary» EP from 1984 or the ferocious «Arise!» masterpiece, sound- and lyricswise. In fact, the new album seems of a rather moderate and maybe even a bit optimistic kind. But maybe that has to do with the now missing in your face existential, political force that has been replaced with quite a bit of an esoteric stance. For a god- and truthless chap like me, this is going too far a bit, but then again, with the often horrible bands I love, I’m quite used to focus on the music as such and make the best out of it.

Frankly, I did not know what to expect from Rob, Stig and drummer Roy Mayorga. But now, after about a dozen rounds of «sonic Mass», it seems to me as if AMEBIX succeeded in, how you would say today, relaunching the band into the new millenium. My hope is that the new AMEBIX will manage to find new fans and friends. The crusties, that’s what I’m expecting, won’t be too fond of this.

«Sonic Mass» is for people who are not fixated on finding „the 80s“ again, that magical-mystical decade that against all odds has made it to a new utopia of consumerist dreams of every shape. These days will never come again. And that is good.

Official website: http://amebix.net/

(Sitting from left to right: Me, Rob Miller of Amebix & Tschösi of Messiah and Fear Of God. Photo taken by Röbi, on June 21 1986 in Basel, Switzerland)

16 Comments

  1. mike böllinger

    I will buy it!

    [Reply]

    Posted on 19-Sep-11 at 18:24 | Permalink
  2. 999666

    it’s leaking all over the interweb so I got a chance to hear it already. you’re so right concerning the esoteric stuff. that’s just too much to take. overall this is not what this band used to be. you sure your positive review is objective?

    [Reply]

    Admin Reply:

    I have no idea what an “objective” review would read like. If you mean whether or not it is biased: I tried my best in just pinning down most of what went through my head playing this album. And of course it does play a role that my relationship to Amebix has a long story and is quite intense. But I would never be able to write something positive about music I don’t like. Depending on the band, I just might take things more seriously and spend more time on checking a record out. That was certainly the case here.

    [Reply]

    Posted on 19-Sep-11 at 18:27 | Permalink
  3. Nigel

    What a well thought out and interesting review. The video was eye-cancer pure.
    Too bad there’s no download link in this posting. 🙂

    [Reply]

    Posted on 19-Sep-11 at 19:17 | Permalink
  4. howardx

    when bands decide to redo older songs im rarely satisfied with the results. all the new technology in the world cant replace the fire of youth.

    [Reply]

    Posted on 19-Sep-11 at 21:02 | Permalink
  5. thomas

    Hmm, when the first half of the first song played I couldn’t stop thinking of Fields of the Nephilim. Sad but true.

    [Reply]

    thomas Reply:

    sigh, why didn’t they begin the record with trach#2.. ?

    [Reply]

    Posted on 19-Sep-11 at 22:51 | Permalink
  6. Vince

    amebix, yeah dark lyrics but always with a light at the end of the tunnel, which for me (and apparently the band) make them optimistic.
    just finished listening to the new album and i find your review quite accurate, Erich!

    [Reply]

    Posted on 20-Sep-11 at 14:20 | Permalink
  7. jon

    now that’s what I call a classy review! too bad the album isn’t all that good. maybe I’m just too young or something. anyways – wanted to say that I loved the review and would love to see more reviews of new releases on gbm!

    [Reply]

    Posted on 20-Sep-11 at 15:25 | Permalink
  8. I want to say that music is only for good reasons not for bad…… I think Rob sings are getting much popular nowadays….. It’s a great move to redoing old songs into new version 🙂

    [Reply]

    Posted on 26-Sep-11 at 14:30 | Permalink
  9. Gost

    I’ve been reading your blog for a few years and always appreciate your views on music. Your assessment of the record and contrasting their previous efforts is interesting and I think pretty accurate. Overall, it sounds huge and sets Amebix apart from their adherents, even though I heard a ton of other new and old bands in there. The crusties are mostly fond of it I think. Subjectively, the guy who did the video is an old friend of mine and worked hard on it as a fan of the band. Visuals often alter things like a song or a book, agreed.

    [Reply]

    Posted on 27-Sep-11 at 18:31 | Permalink
  10. paoloro

    hey I don’t know if anybody ever mentioned this but apart from the regular posts I LOVE your books & movies recommendations!!!!

    [Reply]

    Posted on 27-Sep-11 at 18:43 | Permalink
  11. Lars

    I heard some tracks off youtube and, even if the new tracks didn’t hit me as their old stuff, I really appreciate the fact they moved towards new sounds/approaches instead of redoing their old successful formula, so luckily it’s not Monolith part 2. And the result is not like Redux, it’s pretty enjoyable too! Well done Amebix & thanks Erich for the review!

    [Reply]

    Posted on 28-Sep-11 at 18:04 | Permalink
  12. Marcelo

    Hello Erich,
    long time is not is it? Well, just saw this amebix post yesterday and today i had a bad new to say, Redson of COLERA died yesterday at night, heart attack, i remember you once said you saw them in europe in the 80s… as well for whant i remember COLERA palyed with AMEBIX too long….. years ago!

    [Reply]

    Admin Reply:

    Hi Marcelo – good to hear from you, although it’s sad news you’re bringing. I spread word about Redson’s death on GBM facebook page.

    [Reply]

    Posted on 28-Sep-11 at 22:50 | Permalink
  13. Mert

    Good review and great album, although one has to accept the fact that this is not like their early material.

    [Reply]

    Posted on 07-Oct-11 at 10:11 | Permalink
  14. otherwise

    I have been on the “receiving end” of my old favorite bands taking new directions and my reactions have ranged from delight to horror. I received a Spotify link to this album from a friend and only after giving it a few spins, I went and listened to the older material for the first time. I can understand why some of you are upset, but as a new Amebix fan, I can only say that this album is fucking awesome and that it doesn’t take anything away from the older ones.

    And as far as the themes on the album go… well, that’s what aging over 20 years does to you. You either mellow out or end up trying to overdo your old works, usually failing miserably and/or comically. I am glad that they took the first route here. This is the most inspiring listen I’ve had a in long, long time.

    [Reply]

    Posted on 08-Oct-11 at 12:42 | Permalink
  15. John le Dong

    found this review from some dude at amazon very precise:

    The innovation of Amebix at their prime can’t be overstated. They might be the first band to mix metal and punk in a substantial way; rather than basically playing Judas Priest riffs at punk rock tempo like thrash metal bands were doing, they mingled punk and metal riff shapes into something that didn’t really take a side in the genre binary, and thanks to a healthy post-punk influence, weren’t afraid to slow down into a gothic atmospheric plod with a Shakespearean literacy that was entirely lost on their “crust punk” inheritors. Unfortunately their first major statement in decades is an artificial bid for maturity.

    I’m not sure who to blame for this. Maybe Roy Mayorga’s nu-metal days rubbed off on him–it’s been a long time since he was in a real band (one without Slipknot members). Maybe it’s because Amebix just isn’t the same band that did Arise anymore. Whatever the case, with Sonic Mass, they played the record label game and put out something populist and polished, everything en vogue right now (post-rock crescendos, wall of sound tribal sludge a la Neurosis, etc.) and some things not so en vogue right now (nu-metal drop D chugs) thrown in a blender and mixed into something palpable to the alt rock crowd. The grizzled old mountain man balladry comes off as incredibly awkward with this kind of fake, vacuum radio rock production, and at its worst it sounds like Rob covering Nickelback or Metallica’s black album. Just awful and phony.

    So, I suppose not every legend can come back perfectly in the 10s like Swans did. Some recent disappointments have revealed stupidity to have accidentally stumbled into genius in the 80s (e.g. Morbid Angel), but I don’t think that’s the case here; Amebix did always have brains to match their vitality, but with Sonic Mass, for whatever reason, they put out something just plain directionless. You can still tell it’s Amebix, but that’s the cringe-inducing thing: they shouldn’t be doing something this disposable and status quo.

    As usual, there will be plenty of positive reviews that declare “bands must evolve!”–as if this is evolution. But just remember they were the same people who bought into the hype and praised St. Anger when it was released.

    [Reply]

    Posted on 15-Oct-11 at 12:51 | Permalink
  16. Andy

    I love this record – I think it’s as good, if not even better than any of the old stuff (obviously “Arise” is an untouchable classic but I listened to this just as much recently as I did “Arise” when it came out…) They never sounded more like Killing Joke. That Fields of the Nephilim comment is fighting talk.

    [Reply]

    Posted on 10-Mar-12 at 07:45 | Permalink

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