It’s a few months and releases later from the March overview, so let’s see what is going on and how the new stuff stacks up. I’ll also take a look at some upcoming albums. You can see what I reviewed earlier in the year, here.
Amplifier: Hologram (released April 7)
Amplifier is a prog band from the UK, formed in 1999, with Sel Balamir (guitars and vocals), and Matt Brobin on drums. Prog Archives describes the band’s sound as “psychedelic space rock”, and a few of the albums do feature songs with titles like “Interstellar” and “Ufos” and “Extra Vehicular” but to be fair their music does encompass more than just this. It is expansive, atmospheric, and melodic and they do have a unique sound, mostly due to Sel Balamir’s distinctive voice and melodic guitar themes.
However, I’ve never completely embraced them, I think because there is a certain sameness to many of their songs — after a while one grand sweeping epic sounds like another grand sweeping epic, and I don’t really need a lot of their releases. I will say that their 2013 album Echo Street was a surprise — there were changes made in the band, and the album is less proggishly epic and more intimately song-based than usual, and it really works.
Hologram is a short six-track album that was released in the spring, and it showcases the song-based side of Amplifier — that is, it sounds closer to Echo Street than The Octopus. All the songs save one are strongly melodic, catchy as hell, generally more straightforward than Amplifier’s usual fare — which is not to say that they are simple: they are not. “Two Way Mirror” and “Let Me Drive” edge close to epic structure but they stay restrained while retaining Amplifier’s signature atmosphere and expansive vision.
Apart from the song “Sweet Perfume”, which is a hot mess (way too much going on all at once for no discernible reason) Hologram is an album well worth the listen. The strongest songs are “Let Me Drive” and the gorgeously wistful, far-too-short “Tundra”, the best track on the album and among the best tracks from any album released so far this year.
Music Inspired by: Slavs (released April 21)
I’ve already reviewed this one in full, here, so I won’t go into a lot of detail. After a few months I still play it: I have a strong attraction to folky, eastern-ish, traditional-flavoured kinds of music, and it fits right in. I think the theme chosen this time around fits exactly with the kind of atmospheric, folk-infused music Music Inspired By… tends to make anyway, and they did a fine job.
Die Humane: The Grotesque (released May 5)
I was excited by at least two of the singles released before the album, as I mentioned back in March; alas, as so often happens, the entire album does not live up to the promise. While it definitely has interesting moments and a couple of killer songs, overall it is just too — obvious. And too long. And too deliberate. A bit too much of everything, really — it is clear that the guys wanted to make an impact with this first album, showcasing their collective experience and chops, but it does have the feel of a band who is just trying too hard.
The music ranges from hard blues-metal through prog-flavoured hard rock with some slower more contemplative bits thrown in. The songs tend to be diverse: not only in the somewhat different styles across the album, but also within the songs themselves, which can move from contemplative slow blues to distorted industrial, and back again (“Crossroads”, for example). This is interesting the first couple of times they do it, but by the time we get to, say, track 13 (did I say the album was too long?) that strategy has gotten old. I should mention though that some of the pieces are short transitional tracks, not full-fledged songs.
The best, most interesting tracks, are early on, before all the tricks and tropes wear thin. The headbanging intensity of “King of Nothing (the Bruiser)” and “Shell Shock” brutalize the senses, the bleak and heavy ballad “Oblivion” is the best of the slower tracks (which otherwise come across as rather pedestrian).
Overall this is an album I have to listen to in sections, its length really does it no favours. The whole album feels self-indulgent and, well, obvious. It’s too much of a muchness, as the saying goes.
Rival Sons: Darkfighter (released June 2)
If a band or artist engenders long-standing deep love and accolades from more than a couple of my friends, I do try to take them seriously. The tactic doesn’t often work (see: Marillion and most other modern prog bands) but sometimes something sticks, so I keep trying.
Rival Sons is one of those bands. They have been putting out heavy blues-flavoured rock ‘n’ roll for over a decade now; I bought their 2014 album Great Western Valkyrie, which I liked all right, and saw them live a couple of times so I do appreciate the energy they bring to the studio and stage, but I didn’t really maintain an interest in them. A couple of people I know though seemed to think that their latest was something special, so I filed that information away.
I finally got around to listening to “Mirrors”, a track from the new album Darkfighter, and boy did it make my ears perk up. It happens to be the first song on the album, so I just kept listening. By the time I got to the end, I remember thinking “damn, this is pretty good!” and even mentioned this in public.
If I don’t love an album the first time I hear it, but it catches my attention enough to play it again, there is a decent chance it will become a keeper. So I played Darkfighter again. By about the third time through I realized I had found something special.
Darkfighter is good old classic southern rock but not too far south, and by jesus the guys have absolutely nailed this album! The music is rich and intense, every track beautifully constructed and delivered, and I have to say that Jay Buchanan does make a very convincing vocalist. Every song does exactly what it is supposed to do, for exactly as long as it should do it; at no point do I lose interest or focus, and when the album ends it feels like it was exactly the right length. There are some extraordinarily beautiful riffs in these songs, and they belong exactly where they are found. Darkfighter is a master class on how to make an album.
I teased folks on my social media hinting at an album that very well could unseat Riverside’s ID.Entity as album of the year. Well, this is it, and I am serious. ID.Entity is not a perfect album, and while this one may not be either, it is as close to it as anything I’ve heard for quite a while.
Peter Gabriel: I/O (to be released some time this year. )
Gabriel is one of those artists whose impact I cannot argue with, and I have been listening to him for more decades than I care to count. I have seen him live a total of five times over the years. However, SO was the last thing by him I bought, and to be honest I didn’t really listen to it all that much. I tend to listen to individual songs across the discography than entire albums. I had briefly considered going to see him on this tour, but since I have seen him live, in smaller venues, I felt no great urgency. And the prices …. !
Anyway, I listened to the singles for the new album as they came out (I don’t know how long this album is, but as of this writing there are seven(!) singles) and they are certainly reminiscent of Gabriel back in the day, and good enough for me to probably buy a copy of the album when it comes out (format to be decided).
3Teeth: EndEx (release date September 22)
I found these guys through the Canadian distributor Storming the Base (which is still around in the form of the Artoffact label). I loved the album shutdown.exe — monstrous heavy BDSM industrial metal (if that’s a thing, and why not?), and was somewhat disappointed by the next album Metawar, which poppified (if that’s a word, and why not?) the sound and smoothed out the hard edges.
The release of the first single, “Merchant of the Void”, took me by surprise — I had no idea they were making a new album. And the song sounded like the older material, loud and relentlessly industrial. Two more singles have come along, and they seem to reinforce the fact that the new album has returned to the dense heaviness of the shutdown.exe era, and if that is the case, I’m in!
Mariusz Duda: AFR AI D (to be released late 2023)
All I know about this is what Duda said when he unexpectedly dropped news of another new album under his own name. He describes it as an electronic/ambient effort hearkening back to Eye of the Soundscape/Under the Fragmented Sky feels, that he somehow wrote and recorded while on tour or on vacation or whenever he had spare time. Either the man simply never sleeps, or he lives in some kind of intersecting alternate universe where there are way more hours in a day. And meanwhile he is working on the next Lunatic Soul album, and godonlyknowswhatelse, which we are definitely looking forward to.
Steven Wilson: The Harmony Codex (to be released…)
His new solo album is coming this year some time. Do I really need to say anything more?