It’s actually quite intimidating to review Amenra, such is the impermeable aura that surrounds the band. Consistently one of these most mesmerizingly intense bands to have emerged since Neurosis, Amenra have that rare ability to combine soul-crushing levels of noise with a fragile beauty that exists in the eye of the storm, accessible only to those courageous enough to brave the elements and it is that juxtaposition that has made the band so very special. ‘Mass VI’ was tracked at Daft studios in Belgium, by Billy Anderson and Lucas Raport and mixed and mastered by Jack Shirley in America. The album sounds immense – a sonically stunning journey into a heart of darkness, the listener impelled ever deeper by the churning riffs that force them on lest they be torn to pieces.
The album opens with ‘Children of the eye’ and it is a monster of a track. Nine minutes in length and gargantuan in conception, if the listener can maintain their focus in the face of a swirling blizzard of guitars, they’ll find themselves rewarded by a moment of purest beauty – clean vocals and sweeping strings – that lies at the heart of the astringent noise that surrounds it. A short segue, ‘Edelkroone’, is a simple, spoken word piece that prepares the listener not at all for the icy hell of ‘Plus Pres De Toi’, a gruelling, kaleidoscopic maelstrom of heavily distorted noise that conjures images of huge arctic plains swept clean by razor sharp shards of ice carried on gale-force winds. The harrowing vocals add to the sense of frozen desolation, and when the layers of noise are finally stripped away, it sees the music reduced in volume, but not in intensity, the very real fear that the violence could erupt once more at any moment ever present in the mind. Reminiscent, in part, of the haunting soundscapes of fellow visionaries Red Sparrowes, ‘Plus Pres De Toi’ is grand in scope and execution.
Following a spoken word intro, the short ‘Spijt’, sees guitars fizz and burn as the band build towards ‘a solitary reign’, a piece that opens with such naked fragility, that one is reminded of Sigur Ros at their most vulnerable. Like the Swans, Amenra take the initial melody and slowly augment it, adding layer upon layer of noise without losing site of the emotional core of the piece, so that the song ends up a towering colossus, built around a melody that tears the heart to shreds. Stunningly beautiful, despite the electrifying power of the riffs, ‘A solitary reign’ does much to expose the emotional heart that beats beneath Amenra’s dark exhortations. The finale is ‘Daiken’, a twelve-minute exercise in tension and release. Like post-rock masters Mogwai, Amenra know how to keep the listener hooked, and while the music varies little over the course of the opening two-and-a-half minutes, the steady dynamic shift is ominous in the extreme. When, at last, the inevitable explosion comes, it sees the music pour like molten lava towards the stricken listener, no amount of preparation able to mute the steady destruction its progress presages. A gruelling and exhilarating finale, ‘Daiken’ sees Amenra replacing the emotional armour so recently stripped away by ‘In solitary Reign’ and it is fearsome indeed. At its conclusion, the listener lies shattered, their consciousness laid bare by the all-consuming fury of Amenra’s assault.
Amenra are a perfect example of art and music interacting. Their work exists far outside of what is perceived to be the commercial sphere, and yet the band continue to reach out to new listeners, their blazing intensity and emotional honesty a key factor in their success. It’s not easy to take up your pen and review something like this because, ultimately, music is a hugely subjective thing and it will mean something different to any person who hears it. Nonetheless, I hope to have purveyed some of the emotions that Amenra conjure with their music over the course of this short piece. Bold, brutal and beautiful, ‘Mass VI’ sees Amenra continue to explore the sonic hinterlands with considerable success. 9