Review Summary: Grooves of triumph and dealing with the devil himself…
Amplifier have always been at a crossroad between underground and mainstream. Initially, they tried their hands at the latter, the self-titled debut and Insider
boasting some more radio-friendly material that managed at times to condense their awesomeness into 3-4 tight minutes. Still, dissatisfied with all the corporate environment and its less-to-no interest in sonic substance, the band independently released the massive Octopus
, which was more or less a *** you to commercial viability. Pouring their hearts into those tracks, they expanded like never before. After some successful ventures with a couple of other labels, the guys once more decided to take the business into their own hands.
So, here we have Trippin’ with Dr. Faustus
, another beast that makes Mystoria
& Echo Street
feel like warm up for what’s to come. Amplifier always had a knack for huge riffs as well as reaching absolution lyrically (these days Muse should take notes from them) and this record makes no exception. Sel Balamir’s cosmic tales take a twisted turn here by dealing with the devil in person. You have sarcasm, supernovas, Egyptian gods, big daddies, horses and rainbow machines all in one setting. Much like the bizarre artwork that features hundreds of fan-sent pictures mashed into disturbing/random collages, the album is a musical Frankenstein comprised of bits from their entire discography. I believe it lands closest to The Octopus
, but it doesn’t get as deep as that odyssey. Tunes like ‘Rainbow Machine’ or ‘Supernova’ harken back to the soaring heights of the self-titled LP too, exploding into loud rockers complete with melodic vocals, wah solos and sharp leads. The dreamy, carefree imagery, where the sun’s shining bright (hence the cover) and you’re hazily drifting through clouds over the horizon, only that record of theirs truly creates for me (the rest usually display darker or melancholic pictures). This is the closest they’ve come to ye olde days and I’m really happy about it.
Moreover, you get cuts like ‘Kosmos’, ‘Silvio’ or ‘Freakzone’ that step it up a notch, catapulting you into outer space. The former features a larger than life riff accompanied by a droning sample, until it takes a few trademark detours. Its layers are windy though, hitting hard without over complicating things. ‘Silvio’ presents one of the effort's main motifs, where an arrogant man meets his unfortunate fate after making some wrong moves. Its slightly dissonant guitar interplay alongside Sel’s soft delivery create a moody number that works really well. Furthermore, ‘Freakzone’ has pieces of Insider
and its mix of intricate rhythms & drum patterns with straightforward ones is engaging. Matt constantly makes variations on his beats, leaving the others to either concentrate on their own parts or stop/start alongside his pauses/fills. The shiny guitar leads on the chorus and lovely progressions are contrasting the ever shifting grooves surrounding them. Then, as they ascend, it all culminates into an epic mid-tempo coda which features a flashy, but totally appropriate, solo.
There are some small surprises along the way, especially ‘Anubis’, an acoustic country ditty where the band beautifully displays a side mainly heard on Echo Street
lately. The lovely vocal harmonies (another strong point overall) along with the subdued picking make for a nice break from the abundant distorted madness. Moving on, there’s the weirdly straightforward ‘The Commotion’ sharing a robotic, mid-tempo mechanics. It’s not something you would expect from them, yet it’s just as enjoyable because it shifts the record’s dynamics. Also, ‘Old Blue Eyes’ is a cool, banjo enhanced grower on which Amplifier pushed the drums and the wah-assisted bass in front for a darker, brooding sound. They couldn’t resist ending in a powerful way, cranking the distortion and taking off with a final guitar solo.
Overall, Trippin’ with Dr. Faustus
is another successful entry in Amplifier’s incredibly consistent discography. This is an album that any fan of theirs will enjoy, mainly because it delivers the grooves of triumph they excel at, but also brings back memories interspersed in new journeys. The music is familiar, however, you can never pin it into only one specific LP’s sound. I must admit it needs a few spins to truly sink in, so take your time and get accustomed to it. Meanwhile, you can never guess what direction Sel & Co. will head into next, still, whatever they decide to explore it's definitely worth looking forward to.