Wednesday, November 02, 2011

Amebix: Sonic Mass (2011)


The revivals keep on coming. First we had re-thrash, followed by the revival of traditional heavy metal, then traditional doom, and old-school death metal. Now, the crust punk revival is dawning. As with the other retro movements, it is being spear-headed at least in part by long-dormant bands who were underappreciated in their time, but whose legends grew to monolithic proportions.

Amebix, often credited as the first crust punk band, is one of those bands. Twenty-four years after their breakup, they have released the hotly anticipated Sonic Mass. It has gotten some mixed reviews, with many proclaiming it as a contender for the best album of the year, and others dismissing it. It's easy to see why, as it does not strictly adhere to their original formula.

Case in point: opener "Days" sounds like some kind of alt-rock. Without any crust or metal at all. That alt-rock vibe is later injected into late album cuts like "Here Come the Wolf" and "The One", but don't be fooled into thinking this is an alt-rock album. "Days" is merely a prelude to the album's true intro, "Shield Wall". It's no "The Moor" (really, what album intro is on par with that?), but it will do just fine. After that, "The Messenger" sounds a lot more like classic Amebix, but has a Killing Joke cadence that can be found on numerous places in the album. And Killing Joke is an influence that makes sense, considering the bands both came out of the UK post-punk scene of the late 70's and early 80's.

This juxtaposition and fusion of styles is one of the album's most important dynamics. It ranges from dark acoustic folk to the very metallic and ugly--and that's just in the album's two-part centerpiece. But the dynamism does not stop there. The album also has a range of moods, from the apocalyptic to the inspiring.

Those features alone are not the record's only successes. The songwriting also earns praise, with "God of the Grain" being one of the best tunes I've heard this year. "Visitation" is the only low point. It starts well enough, but doesn't go anywhere and suffers from excessive voice sampling (a technique I've criticized many times before).

The Verdict: With its broad range of styles and moods, some expected and others not, and generally very strong songwriting, Sonic Mass will certainly be talked about. It's not a perfect album. But it's those imperfect, quirky albums that seem to be remembered a decade later. They grow on you. It's not the kind of thing that will top my end-of-year list, but it's also the kind of thing that could end up on an end-of-decade list, after years of getting under your skin and persuading you about how good it is. I give it 4.5 out of 5 stars.

1 comment:

  1. Hey, really glad you liked this one. It's definitely a grower and there are some real memorable moments.