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AAA Music | 21 May 2019

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Amplifier – The Octopus

| On 31, Jan 2011

There is a tendency, among prog-inclined bands, to release the dreaded double album: a behemoth of a creation that is at once both epic in its scope, yet too broad and perhaps wrapped up in its own world to reach the casual listener. As it is with Amplifier’s two-part statement to the world, ‘The Octopus’.

Starting out with three minutes of space-age ambience, the first track ‘Minion’s Song’ then ushers in the sense of a fantasy narrative/rock opera with a grandiose piano ballad that recalls David Bowie’s sense of lush pop songs about dark fantasy, Danny Elfman’s spooky atmospherics, and hints of Muse’s rock pomp. The end result is something that builds up with determined purpose and beautiful melodies into a great big guitars and group vocals climax that screams out for swirling dry ice and a massive lightshow in its big guitars and bigger keyboards. Then we are faced with the frantic metal squall of ‘Interglacial Spell’, with an overdriven guitar intro that sounds like Denmark Street in a nuclear apocalypse, before we get a groove metal track with a decidedly apocalyptic flavour. The chords methodically crunch into one another like tectonic plates over seething cymbals, as the reverberating vocals sneer out the oncoming end of civilisation. The instrumental is one that truly embraces an opportunity to revel in grandiose arrangements and climactic guitar solos.
‘The Wave’, in contrast, begins with a meditative chime and chant, with a building guitar squall that rises under the surface before a massive rock song of Muse proportions bursts forth with a sonic force that could only be described in terms of Godzilla. The bass and drum assault is cavernous kaiju footsteps, and the guitar and vocal its distinctive roar. Every note is pitched towards arenas, and the result is Pink Floyd’s trippy metallic lovechild after a night with Pantera and Hawkwind. Haunting, gripping title track ‘The Octopus’ opens with bleak menace before a sharp-edged drum beat dominates a landscape of seismic bass and desolate atmospherics. The guitar riff is menacing, the vocals queasily pleading, the results overly long yet heaving with real power. ‘Planet Of Insects’, with its buzzing yet expansive arrangements featuring savage rock power and space-age sound effects is a much more concise and incisive beast, cutting straight to the adrenalin with a throbbing syncopated bass buildup and volcanic chorus explosions.
‘White Horses At Sea / / Utopian Daydream’ is a Pink Floyd-esque track, with tranquil storms in the deep sonic textures matched by placid melodies and a storytelling mood that is nuanced rather than climactic, as Radiohead vocals meet the Mogwai bent Amplifier often touch upon in sonics. This then flourishes into string section rock opera territory before the jangling utopian daydream section placates the mood with ghostly chamber echoes before edging into the rhythmic yet off-kilter behemoth of ‘Trading Dark Matter On The Stock Exchange’, which provides a malignant Radiohead via metal assault that touches upon what some people have coined math-rock in its angular, structured, technically fascinating beat.
Disc 2 is by and large a follow-on; the ideal twin to disc 1, it brings the listener another hour of quality metallic prog rock, with sci-fi, fantasy and soundscapes of meticulous and multidimensional construction.

Of course, a track-by-track account of a two-hour double album is perhaps asking a little too much from the reader, but suffice to say, when ‘The Octopus’ gets going, it proves to be a gripping, even fascinating voyage into a substantial flight of fancy, both musically and as a narrative, bringing together threads of Bowie’s unhinged creativity, Radiohead’s methodic prog pop and dark, cavernously metallic meanderings like Ozric Tentacles collaborating with Mogwai. If you have a couple of hours to spend and get your kicks out of this kind of all-encompassing rock spreads, this is a borderline glorious venture to embark upon. However, for those short of time or attention span, or those less initiated into the traditions of prog and/or rock operas, despite a sustained musical ability and some stellar production, as an entirety ‘The Octopus’ feels turgid, bordering on self-indulgent in length and bombast, and falls victim to repeating itself, even if the repetition is of material that is infrequently arduous.

Author: Katie H-Halinski