Amplifier main-man, Sel Balamir, has stated a desire to “put out at least a record every year while we can” and with Mystoria closely following last year’s well-received Echo Street, he’s good to his word. Sel has also gone on record as saying “I will never repeat myself” and he’s also delivered in that respect with Mystoria sounding sufficiently different from both Echo Street or Amplifier’s previous epic offering, The Octopus – not to say that there aren’t a few touch-points too, of course. I’m well aware that there were two Amplifier albums prior to that, but I haven’t head them, so we’ll just have to trust him regarding those.
Looking back, Echo Street was a well-honed selection of relatively laid-back, lengthy, medium-paced, melodic songs with some occasional breakout moments of relative mayhem; never anything too disruptive, but well placed and considered, heavy but still rather mellow, soaring (think of the screaming, impassioned guitars in the superb Extra Vehicular), but never jarring. Nearly 18 months after it’s release, I still listen to Echo Street on a regular basis, it’s a superb album.
The Octopus, on the other hand, is a sprawling metropolis of an album. A real mish-mash, motley collection of pieces, bone-crunching riffs, spacey guitars, sound effects, a bit of this, a bit of that and a touch experimental along the way too; I have to admit that although I like many of the tracks in isolation, I’ve never got on with it as a whole, although I must admit the material was amazing live.
Mystoria falls somewhere between the two, with ten relatively short tracks of high-energy, semi-psychedelic, melodic hard-ish rock, somewhat evocative of The Who, but with a leaning to proggy riffs, lots of spacey guitar solos and Sal’s distinctive Mancunian vocals. I’d say there’s a hint of King Crimson in there too, particularly obvious in the opening (and only) instrumental, Magic Carpet, with it’s jarring, angular opening riff, angry drums and dissonant chords. It’s noisy and busy, and it’s right in your face. This is the lost aggressive track on the album and as such isn’t totally representative, but it sets the general tone nevertheless.
Black Rainbow continues the frenetic pace, more distortion-heavy guitars, spacey leads, thumping drums and busy bass – all with a singalong melodies and psychedelic undertones, whilst Named After Rocky is pure grunge and very reminiscent of Soundgarden, circa Superunknown. Cat’s Cradle is an eminently singable song and I can already hear in my minds-ear the concert-goers singing the song-title refrain. The track is carried along by some deliciously syncopated guitar chords – almost ska-like, in fact.
The psychedelia returns for Bride before we launch into perhaps the most interesting tune on the album, Open Up. This is a track that wouldn’t be out of place on The Octopus, the opening distorted guitar riff leading into off-kilter, lilting guitar chords and a very typical Amplifier vocal melody too, heavy chords and an anthemic chorus counterpointing the verse nicely. Without a doubt the best song on the album for me and an instant Amplifier classic.
OMG brings back the psychedelia, this time with heavy new-wave influences and a predominant distorted bass. The Meaning of If has a distinct early Rush aura (minus the singing, of course), mid-70’s crunching hard rock with more of that busy bass. Conversely, Crystal Mountain is a slow, reflective track which does nothing for me at all, spoils the flow – way too twee and psychedelic (there, I’ve used that word again) for my taste. No doubt some will say it winds things down nicely before Crystal Anthem closes the album out nicely with one final hurrah.
Mystoria is distinctly Amplifier, but as viewed on an old black and white TV. It would be a disservice to call Mystoria a commercial album, but there’s no denying that the songs are mostly very short and very melodic, with plenty for established fans to appreciate and a easy route into the band for those that haven’t heard them before.
01. Magic Carpet (03:41)
02. Black Rainbow (03:20
03. Named After Rocky (05:01)
04. Cat’s Cradle (05:03)
05. Bride (03:56)
06. Open Up (06:16)
07. OMG (06:27)
08. The Meaning Of If (02:55)
09. Crystal Mountain (04:29)
10. Crystal Anthem (04:15)
Sel Balamir: Vocals, Guitar
Steve Durose: Guitar, Backing Vocals
Alex ‘Magnum’ Redhead: Bass, Backing Vocals
Matt Brobin: Drums
Label: Superball Music
Formats: Standard Jewel Case / Limited Edition Media Book / Digital Download / Gatefold 180g 1LP incl. album on CD
Discography: Amplifier (2004), Insider (2006), The Octopus (2011), Echo Street (2013), Mystoria (2014)