Amplifier - Trippin' With Doctor Faustus

Year of Release: 2017
Label: Rockosmos
Catalog Number: ROK14
Format: CD
Total Time: 00:59:00

Amplifier are study in contrasts, at least here on their 2017 release Trippin' With Doctor Faustus. While you could make a case that the music of the whole album underscores the title, I think the track that sums it up best comes at the end... and we'll get there.

Amplifier might be new to me, but they are not new kids on the block, as it were. The band formed in 1999, which seems like a lifetime ago; the first album in 2004. They've released 6 albums and several EPs, and 3 live discs since. Now, I do remember posting a news item when their 2008 album Mystoria came out - well, I remember the album cover and that reminded me about the news item. Looking back to that item, which was about the single that had been released, I (wearing my editor hat) wrote: "Our thought on 'Open Up' - modern prog with electronic edge; rock meets sonic experimentation." So yes, 10 years on, that is still true about the band and Trippin'....

So, what I hear here is classic rock stylings - 60s icons The Who, among others, come to mind - scoured with an edgy modern-rock Brillo pad (though guitar distortion itself is not new*). Like something shiny and new has been dipped in acid. The arrangements here go in more complex directions that most straight-ahead rock, which is where the progressive aspect comes in. And given the vastness of each track - although most barely exceed 6-minutes (longer than typical pop/rock song, albeit) - it's ... ahem, trippy. It's more than a listen, it's an experience... and with that, yeh, we might consider Hendrix swirling in this mix. And let's not forget Pink Floyd, because their influence can be sensed here, too.

At varying times during album opener "Rainbow Machine" I thought of The Kinks (vocals), Rush (epic rhythms and punchiness), Radiohead (art rock/angular stylings). This track sets the tone, of course. It's not a track placed to tease you into one thing, one expectation, and then trap you with something entirely different. It's here where we know we're going to get something that is both comfortable and off the rails -- like a guy in a trim, 3-piece suit and tie, sporting a face full of tattoos and spiky mohawk, talking to you about investment banking. It's overdriven at times, but this buzz saw backdrop is leavened by pleasantly harmonized vocals. Noise rock with melodies.

"Rainbow Machine" melds into "Freakzone," such that you might think a tempo shift in the same track. Here again the band have an epic sound (a la Rush), and underlying the noise, something that owes a nod - if only in the mind of this listener - to the prog coming out of the UK over the last 30 years. Not just those part of the "neo-prog" movement of the 80s, but their offshoots/successors, which may very well include Amplifier, but not merely because they, too, hail from the UK. And don't go peeling back layers to find widdly keys or anything; there's not that much UK "neo-prog"isms here - nor are there any keyboards (though, that leader guitarist/vocalist Sel Balamir uses effects pedals, you don't necessarily need one to create an effect... I digress); Radiohead would be more apt, though I also couldn't also help think of Bush ("Glycerine" kept coming to mind**). And, of course, the grunge scene from Seattle, WA, made "scuffed up" rock popular, so yeh... nothing new here technically, yet the energy makes it all feel fresh.

Lots more to explore in this vein in "Kosmos (Grooves Of Triumph)," a track that makes me think there is, in some small measure, a bit of a Hawkwind influence happening here, too. Again, I say noise, but it really is more than noise; peel back the layers -- isolate each one (guitars, bass, drums) - and something quite complex is going on (and here in particular, but elsewhere). And in that, I think of Yes - how Chris Squire's bass line is doing one thing, while Steve Howe's guitar another, etc., and yet it all holds together... same here, only not clean and symphonic and... Yeh, no; they don't sound like Yes. Anyway, where was I? "The Commotion (Big Time Party Maker)" eases back on the throttles a bit, and lures you in with a pulsing beat, and a hypnotic, swinging twin guitar phrase that um... amplifies the presence of the guitars (which is saying something). It's hipster rock; that too-cool-for-school dude would be cranking this, and earning (well-deserved) attention for it, if only for to listen to the music. Lurking about the edges is a sense of something dark. It ends in a Led Zeppelin-like freak-out, relatively speaking.

Oh... there are parts to "Big Daddy," which comes about halfway through the album, that reminded me of the B52's (a teensy bit) ... well, the vocal duet between Sel Balamir and guest Beth Zeppelin (if that's her real name). This is no way poppy, don't worry there. The glistening "Supernova" is spacey space rock (redundancy deliberate) -- ethereal elements alternate with big guitars and pounding drums -- but it is quite apart from what has come before on this album; almost like a different band. Pink Floyd-like in many ways, though the searing guitar solo is not Floydian.

I said contrasts above. Well, "Horse" is a jangly rock number, even more laidback than "The Commotion," and maybe the more traditional rock track here. As you might expect from a song called "Horse," there is a bit of a country twang to it. A bit. I thought of Echolyn here circa Cowboy Poems Free; Amplifier are harsher, but they've channeled a smidgen of the Americana that Echolyn did on that album (one of my favorites); and like Echolyn, harmonies.

Simon & Garfunkel and Crosby, Stills and Nash (as well as The Beatles and Yes to a lesser degree) all came to mind for the delicate "Anubis," which consists only of harmonized vocals and the arpeggios of acoustic guitars. It is a pleasant interlude that leads into the above mentioned "Supernova," which is followed by "Silvio," which starts off with what sounds like a riff on Chicago's "25 Or 6 To 4." Like "Horse," this track seems more straightforward rock, though the edgy guitars are still present, they are crisper and clearer. In fact, percussion comes more to the fore here (not that it's never not been present).

Lastly, "Old Blue Eyes," which is the quirkiest track here, darkly menacing with grinding guitars, that during an instrumental break almost quite literally growl. Vocals weave in an out of the instrumentation, matching the punctuation of the drums with their own percussive beat. The latter half of this track is a bad acid trip into something approaching schizophrenia - keening guitars, rumbling drums, scratchy and screechy... it's the result of selling your soul, I'd say; it is at once inviting and off-putting - not the music itself, one's reaction to it; being drawn further into madness whilst gamely trying to escape from the vortex.

All in all, it's a gritty album that could be an unpleasant listen, but it is not. Things are balanced such that you are neither underwhelmed by the smooth bits nor overwhelmed by the rough bits. As much as that is down to good arranging, good production plays a role, too. Without it, it IS just noise. Sure, it is intense for its first half, but given by then you're hanging around till the end, it can release its grip a bit. If your prog tastes lean more towards the experimental, then Amplifier are for you. If you are looking for only clean symphonic prog, they are not.

*The Beatles, for example, first used it - or left it, I guess - when they were recording, I think, "Day Tripper," with a bum speaker... so the story roughly goes

**invariably I think this song is called "Vaseline" and "Gasoline" - such that once I chuckled when it started playing as I pulled into the gas station... only to see that it was not called "Gasoline"... It could happen; "Running On Empty" was playing once when my car ran out of gas...

Rainbow Machine (6:28) / Freakzone (8:22) / Kosmos (Grooves Of Triumph) (6:42) / The Commotion (Big Time Party Maker) (6:10) / Big Daddy (5:15) / Horse (6:41) / Anubis (3:45) / Supernova (4:35) / Silvio (5:21) / Old Blue Eyes (6:09)

Sel Balamir - guitar, lead vocals
Matt Brobin - drums
Steve Durose - guitar, backing vocals
Alexander "Magnum" Redhead - bass, backing vocals

Amplifier (2004)
The Astronaut Dismantles HAL (EP) (2005)
Insider (2006)
Eternity (EP) (2008)
The Octopus (2011)
Fractal EP (2011)
Echo Street (2013)
Sunriders EP (2013)
Live In Barcelona (2013)
Mystoria (2014)
Residue (Part One) (2015)
Residue (Part Two) (2015)
Live At The Exchange (2015)
Trippin' With Doctor Faustus (2017)
Record (EP) (2017)

Live In Berlin (DVD) (2012)

Genre: Progressive Rock

Origin UK

Added: June 17th 2018
Reviewer: Stephanie Sollow
Artist website:
Hits: 7531
Language: english


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