Review Summary: Signaling a new direction for further exploration
Amplifier have never been a stagnant band, it's in their policy. Each record represents a separate entity where they develop different ideas, always creating a complex listening experience. Over the past decade, these guys have upped their skills, changed musical directions and even reinvented themselves on the reflective, Porcupine Tree-inspired, Echo Street
. In the midst of all these decisions taken, Sel Balamir & Co. have successfully pieced together some admirable, intricate puzzles, culminating with the double LP, The Octopus
. Since then, they have started stripping layers and trimming the excess, finally narrowing it all down this time to 45, concise minutes. Their most condensed affair so far, Mystoria
, could easily be a prequel to the self-titled debut or a more focused, hook-laden Insider
, as each cut is very immediate and packs a lot of energy.
Much like their heavier peers, Mastodon, Amplifier have learned to work within a pop format in the past year, yet retaining their unpredictable nature. There are a myriad of riffs, all mashed together, with sudden changes and weird detours, which make for a really interesting journey. Opener, 'Magic Carpet' sounds like a sonic roller coaster, where guitars are piling massive riffs, readying the listener for the lethal 'Black Rainbow'. This is probably the closest the guys have come to the early works and it feels so good to hear them churning such chunky grooves again. At the same time, it could very well be the result of the new undertaken approach. Instead of developing the tunes separately, the band locked themselves in the rehearsal room and jammed until the album shaped itself. Luckily, this method has proved to be quite effective as there are a few surprises along the way. For example, the aggressive, 'Named After Rocky' shares some inspired, labyrinthine grooves complete with several cool solos, whereas 'Cat's Cradle' is arguably their most playful moment, reminiscing 'The Consultancy' in a lighter form. Sel and Steve insert some dirty leads here and there, but overall, the song is possibly the first Amplifier one that would make you dance.
Even though the band doesn't shine as bright on the second side of Mystoria
, there are a couple of gripping moments here as well. The one that surprises most is 'The Meaning Of If', the shortest cut penned by them so far. It borders on punk in its delivery, with no pompous prog additions along the way. Clearly chopped off a longer jam, it fades in with a slick groove, on top of which Sel drops the lyrics with attitude. Purists might find it incomplete at this length, but if they approach the record with such a mindset, they'll be let down before they get to this track. Moreover, the two-part finale, 'Crystal Mountain' and 'Crystal Anthem' provide a nice sense of closure to the album. The former is a low-key lullaby, akin to some of the low-key material on Echo Street
, but with a more unsettling tone, while the latter is another manic head banger with melodic vocals that provides a suitable ending to this immediate album. Also, 'Open Up' and 'OMG' are consistent numbers that offer some quirky rhythms and often explosive riffs. Both are comprised of formulas that have been tried and tested before, so there's nothing new. They aren't necessarily highlights, but are catchy and worthy of several spins, plus it shows how high were the standards raised by the band over the years.
doesn't really benefit from such heavy, memorable tracks like the debut (remember 'Motorhead, 'Panzer' or 'Consultancy') or those remarkably pretentious heights of The Octopus
, it proves the band made efforts to work within a more digestible format and signals a new direction that can be further explored. To truly enjoy the record, you need to leave some of the prejudice behind. I was anxious for a return to form or at least a brooding, epic affair, yet after repeated listens, I understood what this is all about. Instead of rehashing the past, I appreciate Amplifier for having fun in the studio and moving forward. Have some patience, these guys might just create another classic in the near future.