Review Summary: Ampere are back to reclaim their throne as kings of screamo.
If it weren’t for the overall quality of ‘Like Shadows’, fans of Amherst, MA screamo legends, Ampere may feel somewhat cheated. Six years
between full-length releases, and a 13-minute
running time - really?! This feeling of being cheated may be furthered considering the skin-deep comparisons to their previous output as this could be said to reflect a lack of progress. However, it would be more accurate to think of it as Ampere boldly sticking to their convictions and this is hardly a bad thing. 2005’s ‘All Our Tomorrows End Today’ was a thrilling exercise in unrelenting, messy passion and you’ll be glad to hear that 2011’s ‘Like Shadows’ is very much the same. Once the ring of feedback at the start of ‘(We’re) Stranded’
gives way to startlingly furious linear rhythms and octave chords you know, as a listener, what you’re getting yourself in for, and you know that Ampere mean business. This immediacy is maintained throughout the album, with each track assaulting the listener, often in under a minute, and leaving, job done.
However, in spite of its immediacy, ‘Like Shadows’ is a deceptively thoughtful affair. True, its levels of intensity offer much in the way of instant gratification for the tortured ear, but once you peel back the layers, the scale of the album becomes apparent. Each track here is surprisingly well structured and full-bodied, cramming in several motifs, dynamic changes and structural transitions. This is all the more impressive considering that the average running time is a succinct 53 seconds. The album, and indeed, each track, seamlessly vaults from one section to the next with meticulous concentration and this makes for a very exciting listen. For all its focussed intensity however, ‘Like Shadows’ is at its best when it offers more diverse dynamics. The transition from down-tuned guitars to a manic bombardment of octave chords, impassioned vocals and a convulsive rhythm section in ‘Maps, Legends’
may be relatively straightforward, yet is disturbingly effective. Better yet is the series of (faux) crescendos and diminuendos in ‘Escapism Pt. II’
that are more subtly complex, and eventually combine to give the impression of jaw-droppingly abrupt change.
All of this is not immediately obvious on ‘Like Shadows’, however. At a cursory glance it may just resemble nothing more than chaotic noise to the untrained ear. What is
immediately obvious though is its gripping ferocity, but even on first listen you get the impression that there is more to be dissected. It is a very dark record, the secrecy of it all giving it a sense of mystique which is frequently, cathartically broken down to reveal glimpses of hope. For example, the soaring melodies in ‘Flightless’
penetrate through its murk to offer release from the unnervingly focussed build up preceding them. Similarly, amidst the jarring cacophony of ‘The Submerged Tenth’
lies a more melodic passage, which offers clarity as well as diversity. At times however, the search for clarity and something beyond primal emotion is frustratingly fruitless, but this is rare, and mostly, the album’s intensity compensates for this.
‘Like Shadows’ is just as dark and mysterious as its title suggests. The palpable force of the album is beautifully counterpointed by masterful structuring which allows for both sophisticated dynamics and emotional vehemence. Furthermore, the relationship between the obvious belligerence of the album and the intricacies it conceals makes for a rewarding listen just as much as it suggests the writing process was a rewarding process for the band. You can almost picture the quartet deliberately hiding away joyous melodies with glee! As such, ‘Like Shadows’ is a wholly cathartic album, and it is one which re-establishes Ampere as titans of screamo.