„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)