20 years in the making...That is a lot of time to build up expectations. Is any band up for the task of trying to at least meet what they were able to achieve with past efforts let alone trying to surpass it? 20 years is a long time for a lot of people to dream up what they think it should sound like...How does a band respond to that? Is it best to just do what you do and focus on writing the best album you can? I think the latter is the approach that AMEBIX took with their first album in over 20 years, the aptly titled 'SONIC MASS'.
Rarely does an album touch me like music did when I was young. I love music, but few albums reach out and grab my very soul by the throat. When you are young all music is new, as you get older you have kind of heard it before. With that it takes much more to leave a lasting impression. Sure there are lots of really good releases every year, or even a few each month maybe. But, are there many truly great albums coming out? I would have to answer, "No". Many of the so-called greats have released mediocre albums at best and too many newer bands follow trends and lack the bravery to go out and create something fresh, it's safer to stick to what is known to work.
When the single for 'Knights of the Black Sun' came out I wasn't immediately impressed. But, I knew there had to be more to the equation than just this song. When I saw the video interview that was circulating on the interweb I felt reassured, in the interview they claimed that album was meant to be a whole and not segmented into singles, it was best digested as a single work or creation. Ahhh, that made me feel better.
And as the first track on this highly anticipated album came pouring forth from my speakers I understood....It became clear that the album was so much bigger than 'Knights', there was a lot more happening here.
'These Days' is a soothing intro to the album and very heartfelt. Its smooth vocal and mellow feel really helped set the mood for what was to come. It immediately grabbed me, not letting go and I didn't resist as I succumbed the hypnosis dancing from my stereo.
Tracks like 'The Messenger' are classic AMEBIX, chilling, haunting, eerie and heavy as a sack of orc guts. At this point in the album the pieces started coming together like bone fragments of the mask of Acheron.
This is one of the most unpredictable albums I think I have ever heard. You really don't know what awaits you around the next dark corner... 'God of the Grain' starts off with some sort of middle-eastern chanting and then explodes into classic AMEBIX, spitting forth a KILLING JOKE inspired barrage that just commands respect. This is the stand out track on the album and you will understand when you become privy to it's awesomeness. I shit you not when I say this album almost made me cry, but certainly made me laugh aloud and pause in reflection. And all of that happened on this very song. When they went into the chorus and the guitar and drums did their little funkified thing I just belted out hearty laugh because of how fucking awesome it was. The second time I listened to this song I started to tear up...again because of how awesome it was and how special I felt to be able to listen to and enjoy this song. The setting was perfect too, the sun was just coming up over the horizon and it was turning into day (I was out on a jog)....Amazing.
By now I am certain that AMEBIX is on to something I have not gained the privilege yet of being able to understand. As the album progresses so does the mysticism and it becomes clear that AMEBIX posses some sort of esoteric knowledge that they are letting us in on one song at a time. And as the adventure concludes we come to the closing track 'Knights of the Black Sun' when it all makes sense. The song sits beautifully as an end cap to AMEBIX' greatest achievement.
The musicianship on this album is of the highest regard. Stig carves out some incredibly memorable riffs and really pushed his playing. Roy stays busy as the percussion is on a whole other level from past efforts. His skills really shine without being too much or overdone in any manner. Of course Rob, the Baron, delivers an amazing vocal performance sounding fresh yet so classic as the same time.
Throughout the album many emotions are explored. It can be calming, offering even a feeling of connectedness and perhaps a spiritual uplifting, but it is also dark, scary and filled with a menacing gloom. Many of the feelings can be explored within single songs and certainly throughout the magical ride of this album.
This is not only AMEBIX' masterpiece it is definitely now one of my favorite albums and will sit amongst some of the greatest albums of all times.
However 'Sonic Mass' can and might be bittersweet, it is a double-edged sword. I fear this album will propel them into higher echelons of acceptance. AMEBIX will no longer be the cult anarcho-crust-punk band many of use have come to cherish over the years, they will become the flavor of the weak (spelling intended there) for hipsters and others who will latch on, only a few will actually catch on. On the other hand the brothers Miller can take pride in creating such an epic musical journey and they should (with caution) embrace any "success" it might bring them.
It's AMEBIX, there is no question. And this album has just blown the crust-punk genre wide open. They go places on this album that many will attempt to follow but few will even come close to capturing. My hat is off to you guys; I salute you in respect and honor of such a fine achievement in music and art. This is my first 5 star rating for ThrashHead.com.