posted on 10/2011 By:
Like a lot of metal fans, my music collection is global as hell, but England's contribution to my list of favorites is really pretty staggering. Most who know me have gotten relentless earfuls of my love of all things NWOBHM, along with frequent nods to those early Englanders grinding it out during the old-school Earache days, but I haven't had much opportunity to salute our brothers on the other side of the pond's anarcho-punk and hardcore passage to heavy metal. And as much as I love early works from Discharge, The Varukers, (Charged) G.B.H. and the like, I'd still confirm Bristol's key constructors of crust, Amebix, as my stand-out favorite.
My level of indebtedness for 1985's Arise! and '87's Monolith (along with the seemingly endless amount of comps over the years) is precisely the reason for my through-the-roof level of anticipation for Sonic Mass. The fire ignited as the result of the newly reformed threesome's well-received 2009 mini-tour wrought last year's Redux EP, but the scant three revamped tunes did little but give fans ample clue that the crusty rawness at the heart of the band's early years had been swept away in favor of a much cleaner production and overall approach. Now, with Sonic Mass, we finally have the first NEW material from the band in nearly twenty-five years -- #I'mshittingmypants!
So, yes, excitement levels are high, but I'm also aware of the need to be objective and not attach myself too strongly to the idea that this album has finally arrived. But you know, that's not so easy to do, considering the level of anticipation and how much personal history fans have wrapped around the band. Right off the bat, I'd say if I were to walk into Sonic Mass as an Amebix greenhorn, I'm really not sure who the hell I'd draw comparisons to, so in that regard, the band has certainly successfully re-invented their sound. What's pleasant, however, is the fact that they've managed this re-shaping without losing site of their long-standing core aesthetic; the Amebix of today is still dark, epic, loud and socially/culturally charged, it's just done with the crust cut off the bread. A likely modern day comparison would be Killing Joke -- a band that's influenced Amebix's sound from day one.
Naturally, there will likely be a faction of long-time fans who will recoil in horror at the prospect of "modern" and "Amebix" being in such close association with one another, and songs like "Shield Wall," "The Messenger," "Sonic Mass Part 2" and "The One" quickly draw the lines in the sand with their crunchy (at times chunky) riffing style. But honestly, take the twenty-five-year-old riff from "Fear of God" and put a modern 2011 production to it and you wouldn't have such a different beast.
The glossy production and clean riffing paired with Roy Mayorga's precise drumming and the album's heavy use of spoken word samples and keyboard atmospherics also brings a touch of industrial flavor to a fair share of the material. Songs like "God of the Grain" and "Visitation" don't hit full-on Ministry territory, per se, but the Killing Joke vibe mentioned earlier is definitely liberal, particularly when Rob's gruff vocals come scraping through the speakers. (Really, Rob remains the sole crusty element of Amebix today -- both vocally and the way he ropes out those thick bass lines -- and I hope he'd take that as the compliment it's intended to be.)
Similar to the Amebix of old, today's manifestation balances the aggression by hitting plenty of smoother pastures that emphasize catchy choruses and stretches that reach back to the band's post-punk roots. "Sonic Mass Part 1" is a broody piece built entirely around moody acoustic guitar, sparse piano and neatly picked mandolin; "Here Come the Wolf" illustrates a more rocking approach and flashes the album's only semblance of burning leads (something I'd like to hear featured more); and "Knights of the Black Sun" closes things out on a superbly epic note, particularly the crescendo'ing atmospheric keys and crushingly magnificent 'call from the rooftops' at its 3:40 mark -- a triumphant annihilation.
If you weren't already privy to the early release of the Knights of the Black Sun single, it will likely take a few spins for the band's new sound to settle in, so in that regard, those with a patient ear will reap the most reward from Sonic Mass. And as stated by Rob and Stig during interviews prior to its release, the album is intended to be consumed as a whole, so tunes generally bleed into one another, which further enhances the wide range of emotions ebbing and flowing throughout. Sure, I would've appreciated a pinch more grit 'n' ugliness in the production, and I still think the band has another masterwork up their sleeve, but Sonic Mass is a very welcome and immensely enjoyable return from one of extreme music's most vital bands. Welcome back, Amebix, I can't wait to hear what's next.
Register to post comments.