Album Review: ‘Insider’ by Amplifier

'Insider' by Amplifier

‘Insider’ by Amplifier (Steamhammer Records, ASIN#: B000HT3RCM, October 2006)

EPIC: noun 1) a long narrative poem telling of heroic acts, the birth and death of nations, etc. 2) a long adventure story or film, etc. adj referring to or like an epic, especially in being large-scale and imposing. [ETYMOLOGY: 16c: from Greek epikos, from epos word or song.]

Amplifier’s latest album Insider opens with their trademark controlled crescendo of feedback, before crashing into the opening of the instrumental piece “Gustav’s Arrival”. Riffs that are intricate without trespassing into the territory of the fret-wank; fat distorted chords, heavy yet laden with rich tone; drumming that would have John Bonham nodding in appreciation – all this within the space of the first track. The tone of the album is laid out immediately.

Amplifier are a tricky band to categorise, and hence they’ve been tagged with various labels that go little distance toward actually nailing down what it is that they do. There are elements of rock, metal, stoner/sludge, math-rock, and modern progressive sounds jostling for position in their sound-scapes, sometimes seemingly all at once. If it wasn’t for the fact that it instantly makes people think of Hawkwind, ‘space-rock’ might be an excellent descriptor – and there are indeed hints of the soaring wall-of-sound approach of the hoary old psychedelic band in evidence too.

What stuns the first-time listener to Amplifier is the discovery that they are (only) a three-piece band. Careful and inventive use of effects and production tricks create a densely layered sound that dextrously avoids becoming cacophony – the music is heavy like architecture, a weight that constructs rather than destroys. In comparison, Muse sound like a stripped-down three-chord garage punk band.

In common with Muse, however, is a distinct science-fictional dimension to the songs. Like Amplifier’s previous work, Insider is replete with sonorous vocals delivering lyrics that dovetail with the galaxy-encompassing sound of the instruments: egalitarian evocations of loss and hope; deep introspective journeys into the heart and mind of the individual and the human race as a whole; eschewing the tough-guy posturing of rock tradition in favour of an exploration of the human condition in a confusing post-modern reality that still bristles with bright spines of beauty. Like SETI for the soul, a quest for the undiscoverable truth at the centre of everything – outer space becoming a metaphor for inner space.

Amplifier are heavy metal for thinkers, dreamers and introverts. If rock music is science fiction, then Amplifier are the intricate space operas of Iain M. Banks and Ken MacLeod, as laden with ideas as they are with spectacle. Amplifier are a journey to the edge of what three men can do with instruments that have scarcely changed in over six decades, and Insider showcases them reaching a new maturity and confidence in their approach to music. Sit down, strap in, and prepare for launch.

(Amplifier’s website features some taster tracks. Go take a listen.)

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