Posted by: Ian – Jul 22, 2010
When I recently noticed a review for a new Amebix album, the band’s first in twenty-three years, I was immediately hit with an almost completely balanced combination of both trepidation and excitement. While Amebix is one of my favorite bands of all time, bands who reunite after several decades typically lose some of the spark which made early albums worth the time. Albums like Redux, which rework old material in a contemporary studio setting, tend to be particularly odious, riding on waves of nostalgia which drown out any spark of creativity. On the other hand, Amebix had been among the most creative punk bands of their era, combining elements of Killing Joke and Motorhead into a unique combination of galloping guitars, darkly psychedelic keyboards, and snarled vocals which commented on the bleakness of the world without falling into the didactic tendencies of many of their contemporaries. So if anybody could pull off a comeback with aplomb, it would be this band.
The degree to which this album will be regarded as a success will depend on a listener’s expectations. Those expecting an exact rehash of the band’s early material will likely be disappointed. The album has far more professional production than early Amebix albums, which allows many subtleties of the songs to be more easily heard, but also might alienate some older fans who considered the lower-fidelity production of albums like Arise or The Power Remains to be an integral part of the band’s aesthetic. Inversely, those who expect a serious departure from the core elements of Amebix’s sound will not find much to latch onto here – the songs rage against the dying of the light as much as any of the band’s early material.
What Redux has to offer is a refinement of classic Amebix material. Musicianship – in the strictly technical sense of the world – was never the band’s strongest suit, but the performances on this album display an increased proficiency, due in no small part to the replacement of original drummer Spider with Roy Mayorga who has played with everybody from Shelter to Sepultura. His drumming is far more focused than that of any of the band’s previous percussionists, an element which lends the songs a propulsive energy that Amebix had traditionally eschewed in favor of slower arrangements. Singer Rob Miller has expanded his range as well – he approaches the rasp perfected on early albums with a vigorous venom that vocalists half his age would be hard-pressed to conjure and intersperses it with lower-pitched growls which offer a more palpable sense of menace. The only real qualm with the newer vocal approach is the use of a weird warbly effect on the verses of “Chain Reaction” which distracts heavily from the song. In keeping with the band’s spirit of experimentation, the keyboards which had always lent Amebix a distinctive icy ambience feature an expanded tonal range as well, underpinning the songs with swirling psychedelic drones which benefit heavily from the clarity of the recording.
There is a vivacity to these recordings which demonstrates how well these songs have aged. Some fans may be skeptical about such reworkings. Some – this reviewer included – would love some new material. But neither concern is exactly relevant to Redux. All honest music is informed by the whole spectrum of human experience and to revisit these songs over two decades after the fact is to imbue them with as many years worth of life and energy – and, rather than mellowing with age, Amebix has only proven their continued relevance. One only hopes they keep it up.