Amplifier – The Octopus

For fans of – Oceansize, Porcupine Tree, Tool, Pink Floyd

After releasing “Insider” in 2006 Manchester band Amplifier decided that for their next release they wanted to control it all themselves, recording it and releasing it, without interference from jittery record labels wanting a run-of-the-mill 40 minute alt-rock album with plenty of three minute songs that they could get on the radio. And so began the gestation of The Octopus. Nearly five years have passed and it is officially released here next Monday (31/01), and believe me there is plenty here to make up for the long wait! As I had pre-ordered my copy it arrived on Monday morning and after listening to it via the streaming widget two or three times in the past few weeks and now having listened to the CDs a couple of times I feel I am now in a position to comment on the two CD, two hour long prog-rock epic they have come up with.

Kicking off CD1 is “The Runner”, the only song on either of the two CDs that drops below the five minute mark, and in fact it isn’t really a song at all but rather a soundscape featuring the sounds of sloshing water, heartbeats, running feet and other-worldly noises. The first track proper, the piano laden “Minion’s Song” is next and on first listen I was taken aback as this is unlike anything on their previous album, which was my first exposure to them. It sounds far more delicate and considered in the beginning but slowly builds towards the end and I was put in mind of Porcupine Tree or even Muse. The Porcupine Tree comparison is one that cropped up on more than one occasion on early listens in various places throughout both discs and it does not surprise me to learn that they supported Steven Wilson’s band on tour in 2007.

“Interglacial Spell” immediately throws the idea that this is going to be a gentle album straight into the nearest bin! After a trumpet blast crunchy guitars start chopping out rhythm to the first line “Ice age cometh! We’ll let the fanfares bloweth”, this is more like it! Lead single “The Wave” starts off with a single tibetan bowl chime and short chant while guitars gradually slide into view, vocalist Sel Balamir the ring master, strides in; “Ladies & Gentlemen-ah, please step right up-ah, FOR THE END OF THE WOOORRLLLD!”.

The title track follows, starting with slightly discordant, echoey guitar notes that lead us into the first track on the album to really step into true prog territory, and also to hint at the fact that this album is likely to still be holding my attention well into the year and although yes, I know it’s only January, this is already sounding like it might feature highly in the list of 2011. It’s fluctuating time signatures and unpredictable directions also make this the best track on CD1.

“Planet of Insects” brings back the rock in style, the first track to really sound like the Amplifier I had heard on “Insider”.

“White Horses At Sea // Utopian Daydream” brings the tempo back down and was the track that, for me, really brought up the Porcupine Tree comparison, the gently acoustic guitar and Sel’s vocals sounding very similar to Steven Wilson’s.

The first CD closes with “Trading Dark Matter On The Stock Exchange” which at eleven and a half minutes is the longest track on the album. A meandering epic that gives us for the first three minutes, along with the already mention PT comparisons, small echoes of Mars Volta style guitar work (although always more focused and less jazz inflected), then at the five minute mark it drops into an almost electric guitar serenade that then gradually builds until it’s conclusion. And so ends CD1.

“The Sick Rose” starts the second CD with eastern sounding guitars and a drum rhythm and vocal styling that would not sound out of place on an album by Tool. There is some excellent drum work to be heard on this track.

Plinky, plonky, plinky, plonky, CRASH!! Is pretty much how “Interstellar” begins, a gentle repeated music box ditty smacked down by big guitars! This track, at over ten minutes the second longest on the album, strangely seems to fly by, apt I suppose seeing that this contains lyrics about travelling faster than light!

“The Emperor” arrives next and is the first track to not really grab me particularly, it’s good but doesn’t inspire me to say much about it. Following track “Golden Ratio” however is one of my favourites on the album, a densely layered rock-out with heavily effected guitars, lots of fuzz and wah-wah pedal and some lovely vocal harmonies.

A ticking then chiming cuckoo clock (do cuckoo clocks chime? Sounds better than a cuckooing cuckoo clock!) is an unusual way of heralding the collapse of a civilisation, but that’s how “Fall Of The Empire” begins, a slow floor-shaking bass guitar riff builds into a quite complex heavy beat that’s almost impossible not to nod your head along to.

“Bloodtest” is quite a trippy little number, the vocals almost buried or washed out by swathes of guitar effects and echoes. Later in the track you can discern sampled speech of a woman who seems to be describing medical complaints.

The acoustic strumming at the start of “Oscar Night // Embryo” really reminds me of another song but despite wracking my brains, I can’t remember which. If anyone out there knows the track I mean please let me know! At around four minutes the track changes from the apparent anti-Hollywood diatribe of the “Oscar Night” section to the more ambient “Embryo”. There’s something strangely dis-quieting about the distant sound of a baby crying, it reminds me of when I first saw “Hellraiser” when I was younger, freaked me out!

Final track “Forever and More” arrives on a jangle of guitars marking a suitably epic close to an epic album! The aforementioned single “The Wave” is available to download from here.

Buy The Octopus at Amazon

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