Amebix breathe fiery new life on ‘Sonic Mass’

There are those bands that, for some reason for another, don’t enter into your music listening world until much, much later in your life. Not even for any reason, really. It just happens that way. Tom Waits was that way for me, and granted I’ve now been listening to him for well over a decade, but his music wasn’t in my ears when I was a kid, it didn’t shape who I was in my formative years, and he didn’t help me get through college, awful relationships and a lot of other crap he could’ve helped make more sense.

I don’t really know why it happened that way, but it did, and luckily my eyes were opened to Waits’ music. Once I got married, I magically inherited a ton of Waits’ music (and my wife now co-owns a ton of Celtic Frost!) and have it all at my disposal. A win for me. Another band like that, in that they failed to find their way to me, is English crust-punk/metal veterans Amebix, who haven’t put out a new record since 1987. To put that in perspective, when “Monolith” dropped 24 years ago, I was busy obsessed with pro wrestling, He-Man cartoons, and finishing up my middle school career. Come to think of it, not much has changed, other than that middle school thing. But there was no Amebix in my world.

I also never have been a huge punk rock fan, and maybe that has to do with the fact that when I got heavily into metal, I was something of a target to that crowd. It was totally different than it is now and for the past 15 years or so, and when you get punk and metal bands on the same bill, no one goes home stabbed. But I tended to shy away from punk, even though it had a huge role in the development of the thrash metal I loved so much. Also, Amebix didn’t get a lot of attention from Headbanger’s Ball or the magazines I read, which shaped my worldview at the time, and sadly, this band never made an impact on me or formed who I was. But recently, that changed.

A few years ago when I read Amebix had reformed and were going to tour and do a new album, I had one of those awakenings where I wondered why I never tried to get into the band’s music. I remember reading the band’s name listed as influences in countless interviews with admiring artists and from the description of their sound, they seemed like something I’d like. So I tracked down 1985’s “Arise!” and “Monolith” (as well as their 2010 EP “Redux” of reworked old stuff) and the rest was history. Turns out their music was way, way more metal than the brash punk I imagined (though those strains certainly are there), and had I had their albums next to my early Megadeth, Overkill and Nuclear Assault cassettes, my guess is Amebix would have blended in nicely. And now that the band finally has returned with their long-awaited new opus “Sonic Mass,” I was lucky enough to be one of those people in the waiting line to hear the thing, swelling with anticipation of what the reformed band – vocalist/bassist Rob “The Baron” Miller, his brother and guitarist Stig C. Miller, and new drummer Roy Mayorga (Nausea, among, um, other bands) – had in store on this record.

If you were into “Monolith,” you’ll more than likely enjoy what you hear on “Sonic Mass.” It isn’t quite the same approach, as you can hear some of the industrial and post-doom and post-metal sounds that rose to prominence once Amebix disbanded in the ’80s, but those threads feel like they were absorbed organically by and became a part of the group’s DNA. I’d say anyone whose record collection consists of Swans, Killing Joke, Motörhead, and Ministry should be blown away by these 10 tracks, which bear the marks of an awakened giant stomping back with new life. Opener “Days” is a gorgeous, haunting song that reminds me of Primordial, with Miller promising, “These days will never come again.” It sounds like a last will and testament, yet it’s a new beginning instead. Instrumental “Shield Wall” crashes full force into “The Messenger,” a throbbing song where Miller sounds like Lemmy Kilmister at his most sinister. “God of the Grain” has some Middle Eastern melodies and chanting and has an industrial feel; “Sonic Mass Part 1” is a gentler, acoustic-led cut, where Miller sounds like a mix of Johnny Cash and Michael Gira as he weaves his tale of doom, and that sets up the bulldozing “Sonic Mass Part 2,” that scrapes land and swallows buildings. “The One” feels like thrash metal done right, in the way all these younger bands don’t seem to understand; and closer “Knights of the Black” is an ominous storyteller of death and destruction that has a folk underbelly.

I’m stunned how good, vital and relevant this record sounds, especially after Amebix disappeared for a quarter of a century. They are as hungry and devastating as ever, and they still have something to say. In fact, “Sonic Mass” puts to shame with its sheer passion a lot of the other metal and heavy music releases that saw the light of day this year. You feel every ounce of this thing and live the band’s fury. It’s a new dawn for Amebix, and if this record is evidence of what they have left in the tank, we’re not going to be seeing the sunset of their career for a long time.

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