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Amplifier is a rarity: a prog rock band with no synths. Instead of spacey interludes and jazz departures, Amplifier finds kinship in the underground metal scene. That they have toured with both Opeth and Porcupine Tree ought to tell you where this is going. With nothing but a stripped down trio of guitar, bass and drums, Amplifier constructs thick, deceptively dense walls of sound with effects pedals, sampling loops and enough feedback to vibrate the roof down. But they never lose sight of the melody, and even in their most aggressive attacks, there is a serenity and controlled elegance to the cacophony.

Hailing from Manchester, Amplifier originally signed with small British label Music for Nations and released their eponymous first album. When Sony soon bought the label, they let Amplifier, a band with no name recognition or industry pull, fall into limbo. Thus their album was never distributed in the US and is still extremely difficult to find. For those that can acquire this bit of sunken treasure, the rewards might change how you listen to British rock.

Dealing with familiar topics like science fiction, flying and LSD, prog rock fans can easily appreciate the themes floating through the album. If there is a weak point of the album, the lyrics aren’t terribly original. But the approach is uniquely buoyant, with the band bringing their sense of grandeur to the phenomena of electricity and industrialism, singing about the power of rock and roll to move mountains.

The real draw is in those thick, pulsating waves of sound. Guitars haven’t sounded this big since Zeppelin took us to Kashmir and Amplifier ought to be played on nothing but the best sound systems, turned up to eleven, to reveal all the complexities. It’s wondrous to hear lead singer/guitarist Sel Balamir loop himself, sometimes building up impossibly massive rumbles of power chords. On tracks like ‘Airbourne’, the band builds to a roaring climax of angular, conflicting rhythms, a scream that subsides only long enough to fool you into thinking the song might be fading out. Within the blink of an eye, the song turns 180 and everything falls into a lock step for the real finale, an outro that sounds like what Tool might do if they just relaxed and riffed for a minute between tracks.

‘One Great Summer’ sounds big enough to fill arenas and combines powerful confidence with nostalgic fantasy, a lovely contradiction, like hippies playing power metal. ‘Panzer’ toys with time signatures and and accented syncopation. It even has a brief couple measures in the middle where it sounds like the band is somehow playing the music backwards, rewinding and restarting the song. While most of the album goes by at a stately pace, ‘The Consultancy’ opens up with a blaze and paranoid apocalyptic fears.

The album concludes with the singular triumph ‘UFOs’, a song so heroic, so expressive, so majestic, it justifies the difficulty of finding the album. Opening with a gentle low register hum and lightly meandering guitars, it slowly coalesces into a gorgeous floating melody. Not a single note is wasted, it’s all perfectly paced and timed to pull you along as it builds up, sometimes without you even noticing that a new layer or effect has been added. Moving through several moods, it’s a lyrical highpoint of reflection on the album, starting with foreboding warnings of aliens and then delivering some fresh irony to the usually straight-faced seriousness ”And I know better than you know/I’d kill you cause you drive to slow/Aggressive instincts will do us in/Just give us the chance for us to prove it ourselves”. It unfolds in the end into a radiant shower of fireworks as the band pulls out every stop and goes soaring for the ‘vapour trails/Through cotton skies’. It’s the sound of a tiny band, absolutely convinced that rock and roll will change the world and making the biggest noise as they can about it. Their final line in the song (and the album) reveals their unshakable confidence in their message: “We’ll all be waiting for you here… “


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