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This interview should have been posted on the site a long while ago (bad editor!) but it got lost in the shuffle while I was sorting out pieces from SXSW 2013. But here it is, our festival liaison and usual Lincoln correspondent, who found himself in Nottingham to catch Sel Balamir of Amplifier before their show in Rock City’s basement that night. (Rock City, if you were wondering, holds a special place in both our hearts now, because we’ve both done interviews in its car park!) Listen to John’s chat with Sel below.
Photos by Jess Mason (@jessislost)
Emerging with a deep roar squirting murky black ink all over the assembled masses, ‘The Octopus’ emerges from the swaying bulk of headbangers. From above, they almost look like waves on a steady tide, as the swell gets rougher Sel Balamir, Matt Brobin, Steve Durose and Alexander Redhead of Amplifier adopt their stances atop the small stage in Rock City’s basement in Nottingham.
Still though the crowd, bar their heads, are deathly still. There is no moshing, no punters scrambling for the bar, no crowd surfers. Just a bobbing ocean like mass of people transfixed on the four figures on stage, marshalled by the battle hardened Balamir, who stands erect like a Captain Nemo (for octopi).
Not sure if I’ll stick with the sea references though; I’m starting to get a bit queasy, and ‘The Octopus’ isn’t the main event this time around. No, it’s just the back drop to Amplifier’s gig promoting their newly released album ‘Echo Street’. As a record, ‘Echo Street’ is more understated than the band’s previous efforts. But, saying that, it’s difficult when the band’s last record was a double album rock opus with an accompanying novel.
As expected then, the guitars from square one are wailing ferociously as Balamir and co. slip seamlessly from ‘Mary Rose’ to ‘The Wave’. From the beginning it’s obvious that the band are struggling on the small stage, or as Sel aptly puts it, seeing as there are “too many rhinos on just one stage”, to almost-quote the band’s debut single ‘The Consultancy’.
The tone continues to be heavy, bordering on the aggressive as it looks like Brobin and Balamir both want to leap into the passively demanding crowd. Throughout the first three songs the audience are treated to the full scope of what the Manchester-based band are about. With space age grooves that wouldn’t be out of place on Titan, and noodling riffs which see every hair on the back of your neck stand on edge, before the huge drops come in and every belt/trouser line immediately tightens in the room (parental guidance will be needed).
With the concert starting at only 8 o’clock, by eight thirty the mood remains a mix of silent admiration and pensive glares. That is all broken, as ‘Motorhead’ from the band’s debut effort falls into the ether with a whispering edge of the industrial stylings of Nine Inch Nails, combined with experimental qualities of Steve Wilson’s Porcupine Tree.
With music that roars like Amplifier’s though the inevitable stand-off between frontman and musician does occur. But all is rectified as the group tear into ‘Panzer’ to the delight of the assembled masses, who continue to bob and sway like abandoned dinghies on a moonlit evening. The chugging all-consuming rhythm of ‘Panzer’ gets everyone more animated five minutes in as the Balamir and Brobin’s solos begin to maraud with the strength of… well… a Panzer tank I suppose.
As the band departs for the briefest of rests before the encore, the silent approval of the band continues. A few of the more raucous punters cheer but, the majority of 200 or-so strong audience stand glued rigid to the spot awaiting the airing of the band’s newest single ‘Matmos’ that went alongside the set closer’ Airborne’. The latter finishes off the gig with a chaotic crashing of symbols and roaring of Fenders, but as the set finishes the true measure of this band becomes apparent.
Being the veterans of their niche, you’d expect Amplifier to finish the night in their dressing room with beer flowing and waiting for their merch to quickly sell out. But no, they head straight to the front door to greet their adoring fans as if they were old friends. Friendliness, experience and skill combined, it’s easy to see why Amplifier are producing some of the most powerful and progressive rock music out there at the moment.
Since January 2010, ‘The Octopus’ has been dormant. After Amplifier’s attempts to create mass hysteria around the record had died down, ‘The Octopus’ lay sleeping… resting…latent.
For those unfamiliar with ‘The Octopus’, it was the name of Amplifier’s third studio album. An album lasting just over 2 hours and if you were lucky enough to have it (I was) accompanied by a 70-page ‘opus’. As far as prog rock sagas go, beating ‘The Octopus’ is going to be a challenge no Mars Volta or Fiery Furnaces will take lightly.
It seems timely, then, that at a time when prog rock seems to be going through the doldrums, that Amplifier return with their fourth record, ‘Echo Street’, scheduled to be released next Monday (11 March). First single ‘Matmos’ is probably the best way to get yourself stuck into Amplifier as a beginner to their sound. As make no mistake, the kind of rock operas that this band produce are absolute marmite rock at its best. If it’s your thing, you’ll hang on every chord, whilst if you abhor warbling solos and songs less than 5 minutes long then this kind of stuff will hit your eardrums like a baby crying.
‘Matmos’, available a free download from their record label’s Bandcamp here, as I mentioned is a fantastic marker for what the Manchester-based band are about. Sel Balamir’s provide the beginning to the wave of harmony and “nah nah nah nah nahs” that undercut the song, and his voice stays as haunting as it ever has been throughout ‘The Octopus’, 2006′s ‘Insider ‘and 2004 debut ‘Amplifier’.
Take note purveyors of prog; If you want to whet appetites, this is how…
‘Echo Street’, the fourth album from Manchester’s Amplifier, will be released on the 11th of March on Kscope and can be preordered here. The album is available on CD, double vinyl and as a limited edition, deluxe two-disc set. The deluxe edition is packaged in a 60 page-hardback book and also features the new ‘Sunriders’ EP an additional record of new tunes, exclusive to this release. Catch them on tour on the dates below the video for ‘Matmos’.
Saturday 16th March 2013 – Preston 53 Degrees
Sunday 17th March 2013 – Bristol Fleece
Monday 18th March 2013 – York Duchess
Tuesday 19th March 2013 – Glasgow King Tut’s
Wednesday 20th March 2013 – Nottingham Rock City
Thursday 21st March 2013 – London Garage
Amplifier are a strange entity: a band with a massive cult following, huge critical acclaim. Yet relative obscurity still surrounds them. Formed by Sel Balamir, Amplifier are progressive heavy metal in its purest form. Stripped down to its bare bones, with a guitar, bass and drums. Simple.
Their influences when you listen to them are obvious: Led Zeppelin, Pink Floyd, Def Leppard. All of these are combined, then given a kick up the arse and make up the amorphous beast that is Amplifier. Their first self-titled record drew 5 star reviews all around, while their latest record ‘The Octopus’ has been equally well received.
To start with this band though, you have to set aside time. This is not a band to be admired over dinner; they need your undivided attention. From their first album, tracks ‘Motorhead’ and ‘Airborne’ personify what this band is about: ferocious riffs, huge bass and a whole lot of noise. Tracks like ‘Glory Electricity’ (sound in YouTube embed below) let the band’s experimental side loose, and show Amplifier at their proggy best. ‘One Great Summer’, while clocking in at around 7 minutes like many of their tracks, stands out with its soaring guitars and lyrical excellence. Amplifier are embarking on a tour next year, so there is no better time to get around to listening to these guys.
To finish, if one statement about this band can summarize what they are, it’s this, from my Dad: “Amplifier are heavy metal how it should be, and it’s always a bonus when you can make out the lyrics these days.”
By Mary Chang
on Friday, 11th November 2011 at 10:00 am
From the word ‘prog’ some people tend to scatter. I should know; I am one of them. Usually. This band, however, may change your mind about prog. They’re called Amplifier and I have been advised by TGTF writer John that they will be huge. The band released a double CD called ‘The Octopus’ that has garnered rave reviews in the media. The Times have said about the band “There is something heroic about Amplifier’s embrace”; is there? First, you can listen to and download their track ‘Planet of Insects’ below. Second, you can be visually wowed by the video they made for the song. Third, you can catch the band on tour in the UK next month: all the details are at the end of this post.
Sunday 4th December 2011 – Nottingham Rock City
Monday 5th December 2011 – Glasgow Cathouse
Tuesday 6th December 2011 – York Duchess
Wednesday 7th December 2011 – Wolverhampton Slade Rooms
Thursday 8th December 2011 – Colchester Arts Centre
Friday 9th December 2011 – London Islington Academy
Sunday 11th December 2011 – Manchester Academy 3
Monday 12th December 2011 – Bristol Fleece