Amebix – ‘Sonic Mass’ Album Review

Listening to ‘Days’, the droning, elegant, opening track for seminal crust-punk pioneers Amebix’s latest opus is a confusing experience. Filled with the same raw intensity of emotion that fuelled the band some twenty odd years ago, a Swans-esque transmutation has taken place, stripping the music of its spiked armour and replacing the screaming distortion with huge swathes of melody which nonetheless still manages to build to a towering crescendo of noise. It’s a true rabbit-in-the-headlights moment as Stig’s guitars bleed feedback and Rob Miller’s voice takes on a folk intonation as he proclaims “these days will never come again…” It’s a remarkable opening to an album that sees the band employ a variety of sonic tricks to keep you guessing over its run time but which also sets a more contemplative tone than the band deployed in the past.

As ‘days’ slowly degenerates into the primitive riffing of ‘shield wall’ it’s clear that Amebix are still as hell-bent on unsettling the listener as ever. A syncopated riff, overlaid with toppling waves of feedback creates the sort of tribal surge that Neurosis deal in so well before the band neatly step-into the punk-infused brutality of ‘the messenger’ – a churning, red-raw miasma of guitars in torment and raging percussion. It’s as heavy as a concrete slab and destined to be a monster in the live environment, but what shocks more than anything is Amebix’s ability to craft something quite so potent after so long a fallow period and there is no doubt that the album will be embraced with open arms by fans who flocked to the reunion shows back in 2009. On ‘God of the grain’ (the fourth track), Roy Mayorga takes the opportunity to exercise his remarkable percussive skills with a rolling drum intro that leads the band into a surging, fast-paced blast that is less dense than ‘the messenger’ but which builds, instead, upon an almighty central riff that is pure punk/metal piss ‘n’ vinegar. As with the previous track, the musicians are all relentlessly carving out their own path, but it is Rob’s voice that holds you enthralled – it’s the sound of defiance, of a throat stripped raw and yet a bellow so mighty it hardly needs amplification – few singers are capable of conveying such scorn and omnipotent might as Rob Miller and as the guitars sway and churn around Roy’s mighty tribal beat it’s hard not to be overwhelmed by the sheer immensity of the band’s sound.

Slowing the pace, ‘visitation’ is an atmospheric track that has shades of similarly-minded sonic adventurers Neurosis and Buzzo*ven amidst its syrupy guitars, eerie samples and somnambulant rhythms.  Epic and adventurous, ‘visitation’ crawls through its six minute run-time, ending with the sound of a ringing phone before ‘sonic mass pt 1’ raises itself from the depths and transpires to be an acoustic track reminiscent of Gira project Angels of light. It’s stunning, beautiful and similar to opening track ‘days’ with Rob crafting a simple, evocative soundscape a million miles away from the distorted horrors found elsewhere. ‘Sonic Mass pt 2’ harbours no such pretensions of subtlety and it opens with an almighty roar before dissolving into a series of tortured harmonics and pounding kick drum. It sounds immense, all the more so as a result of what it follows and these two tracks exemplify the band’s wonderful grasp of dynamics more than anything else here. ‘Here comes the wolf’ maintains the up-tempo approach with a suitably lycanthropic riff shifting from searing brutality to subdued menace in a heartbeat. ‘The one’ makes use of a churning central riff and endlessly shifting tempos before final track (and lead-off single) ‘knights of the black sun’ rounds things out on a more introspective note.

The return of Amebix came as a surprise to many, but the quality of this album is beyond dispute. There is a searing, elemental nature to the monumental riffs and yet there is also a maturity that sees the band explore elements of folk, metal and post rock to craft an album that is quite astounding in its depth and breadth. Available on CD and crimson vinyl, this is one release which should have fans of the band and the uninitiated alike in a frenzy. This is an utterly unique and essential work of art that deserves your immediate attention.

You can find order details for the LP here.

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1 comment

  1. Youthink Yourthor September 24, 2011 1:26 pm  Reply

    I have to confess to not being a fan of Amebix’s past offerings,maybe brief moments but generally they lacked a cohesion in their albums,they had something,yet never seemed to be able to manifest it properly.This is an entirely different creature,light a fire,a couple of candles and listen to this in the near dark,this is an utter masterpiece,one of the finest British Heavy Rock albums since the early 70s,seriously…

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