When presented with the task of reviewing the new album from AMEBIX my mind was sent into a confusing swirl of emotion and I wondered whether or not it was something that I would even want to do. A reviewer is someone who is supposed to come at their subject with at least some impartiality. To provide an unbiased examination of the music. But we are talking about AMEBIX here. How on earth could I be unbiased towards them? I have reviewed other records that I knew I was going to probably like based on their past works, but this...this seemed a real challenge for me. Probably because like so many other people, I have kept AMEBIX in a special place because they were so different and they made me realize things that are still at the core of my world view. They were more than just a band. They seemed to embody all the ethics and ideals of the anarcho-punk movement which they had grown out of but with the added darkness, mysteriousness and most importantly self empowerment that made them seem like so much more than just a band. How could I give it a real fair shake? Of course I will love it...it is AMEBIX. But what if I don't like it? What then? Nothing worse than when a band from the past you love reforms and sucks. It has happened before.
But alas, here is a record that seems to capture the complexity that is AMEBIX today. It is an awesome work that seems to include elements of their early influences, their past and who they are today. It is a resounding epic that will certainly challenge many of their fans, but the songs here feel like the culmination of what they really are all about and always have been about.
From the earliest days AMEBIX have challenged the listener to open their minds. They certainly do it again here. But you have to abandon the idea that this is a punk record. From the beginning of the album you can feel the brooding, controlled power building. The first song, Days, is slow and swelling and just indicates the epic to come. Then on to Shield Wall with its bellowing tribal drums and rhythmic, industrial noises, almost like the hammering of a metal foundry, that feels like the preparation before the battle. The songs are a swirling mixture of tribal beats, hypnotic guitars and haunting vocals with lyrics that are, as always, dark, evocative and resonating. The third track titled The Messenger is a slower dirge that feels like classic AMEBIX. On the fourth track there is a strange combination of a song that easily could have been one of their earlier songs, with middle eastern styled singing and instrumentation thrown in the mix. This song called the God of the Grain seems to allude to the similarity of all gods in all cultures and how they fundamentally are linked to nature.
Visitation comes next as sort of a weird psychological interlude, a dark and creepy dream that is broken only by the mornings alarm. The title tracks come in two parts, back to back. Sonic Mass part one is a haunting acoustic with an ethnic slavic or celtic sort of vibe to it that feels lonely and remote, like walking on the pebbles of a cold and foreign shore (and thankfully a long way from the Bristol squats). Sonic Mass part two is entirely different. A song that shows their long love of early industrial like KILLING JOKE with tribal beats and crushing guitars, and growling vocals that raises classic AMEBIX with fury. Tracks eight and nine, Here Come the Wolf and The One are both killer rock songs with thought provoking lyrics, especially The One which seems to me to be about the very nature of matter and how the elements of the universe are within us all.
Knights of the Black Sun comes as the final track and the epic meter is set on overdrive. Knights is as building and epic as any song could maybe be. Haunting, beautiful and raging with lots of textures and emotion. As is this whole album. AMEBIX here create such a varied and beautiful work, an album that has so many different atmospheres and moods that you know that they are finally creating the kind of music that they have wanted from the beginning.
But again, you have to abandon the idea that this is a punk band. I feel that this is just simply the result of three guys doing exactly what they want to do. That this is the kind of work that will result of being true to yourself. They remind us that the power remains within us if we only choose to tap it.