Sound: The Octopus. Where do I even begin? Although I am a relatively new fan of the band, I do have some understanding of the background surrounding the monolith I am about to review. Nearly four years in the making (without any label or third party input whatsoever), this is an album which says a lot about the determination and sheer love for their art which this Manchester three-piece clearly possess, and is as bigger artistic statement as I have ever had the pleasure of hearing. Breaching the two hour mark and spanning two discs, The Octopus is Amplifier at their peak. It also features their first songs to break past the ten minute mark!
How can I describe the sound of The Octopus? Well, imagine Soundgarden, Tool, Black Sabbath, Oceansize and Pink Floyd taking copious amounts of mind-altering substances and venturing on a trip through time and space (to another dimension), and back again. The Octopus is remarkable in the fact that it manages to sound like both the soundtrack to the aforementioned mindf--k, and at the same time the down-to-earth dinosaur rock of three guys you might well bump into down your local pub.
To me, part of Amplifier's appeal is that they manage to sound as big as any band with twice as many members. There are no extended range basses or guitars down-tuned to earths core here, yet the massive riffs manage to sound just as heavy and downright evil as the majority of metal bands around at the moment.
Overall, "The Octopus" spans an incredibly wide range of timbres without ever sounding schizophrenic. It is one entity, spreading it's tentacles out to the world. And boy, are we ready to embrace them.
Track by track breakdown:
01. The Runner - An amazing introduction to the album, three and a half minutes are spent building the tension, until it finally spills over into a single piano chord. The kind of introduction which makes you sit up and realise you're in for a treat.
02. Minion's Song - Reminiscent of Muse, this song is grand, and dare I even say "epic". It really shows off Sel's vocal skills, and boasts a great chorus inviting us to "sing along to the minion's song". The song ends with a heavier section, but only a taste of what's to come...
03. Interglacial Spell - The first thing that comes to mind when you hear this song is bass. Neil Mahoney really shines here, with a bass line which sounds like a gloriously sludgy version of Iron Maiden's signature gallop. Sel shares a call and response pattern with some psychedelic sounding trumpets in the verses. Cracking tune.
04. The Wave - The "single" from the album. It's the only song I was previously familiar with, the band having given away a free version prior to the albums release. It is another sludgy track which throws a curveball by breaking into a happy-clappy pop-rock style bridge. It's a great song, but still remains one of my least favourites from the album.
05. The Octopus - Based on a simple bass pattern and a wave of eerie atmosphere, the title track might just be the best thing Amplifier have ever done, and that's saying a lot. The heavy section in the middle really packs a punch, and Sel offers a superb vocal performance, each line being delivered with the utmost conviction and attitude.
06. Planet Of Insects - The fastest song on the album by a long shot, Planet of Insects harks back to their previous album "Insider". The 7/4 bridge really makes this song for me.
07. White Horses at Sea // Utopian Daydream - This really is a beautiful song which really gets under your skin. Some interesting sounds come from Neil's bass here, which provide a nice foundation for Sel's acoustic guitar. Utopian Daydream is a Short piano interlude from guest pianist Charlie Barnes, and serves well as a breather before the final song of disc one.
08. Trading Dark Matter On The Stock Exchange - Just from the title this song had a lot to live up to, and my god does it deliver. A gorgeous guitar solo occupies the build up to a heavy, atmospheric ending.
09. The Sick Rose - Set to prose by William Blake, this opener to disc two is the furthest from conventional Amplifier that The Octopus gets, but that is by no means a bad thing. Matt Brobin turns in an incredible drum performance, while middle eastern influenced melodies swirl over the top.
10. Interstellar - Tied with the title track for my favourite of the album. The verse is accompanied by a groove almost reminiscent of Herbie Hancock, and the ending pays a cheeky homage to Pink Floyd. Travelling faster than light indeed.
11. The Emperor - Nothing as spectacular as its predecessor, but this is a nice little song with a few great guitar riffs and a cool chorus.
12. Golden Ratio - Wow, what a groove! Sel shows off a great clean guitar line. Can these guys do no wrong?
13. Fall Of The Empire - Probably my least favourite. The off-kilter verse is interesting and the outro is crushingly heavy, but something about this song doesn't gel quite like it feels it should.
14. Bloodtest - Matt provides yet another great groove, which sits below a set of lyrics which seem rather more real than anything which has come before. These last three songs really bring us down to earth nicely, after everything that has come before.
15. Oscar Night // Embryo - A fantastic acoustic-driven ballad condemning Hollywood. Something about this song really makes the hairs on my neck stand up.
16. Forever And More - Lead by a nostalgic vocal line, this song is the perfect closer. Another great guitar solo from Sel in this one. // 10
Lyrics: In my short career as an Amplifier fan I have come to regard Sel as truly great lyricist, and this album is no different. On each song the lyrics compliment the music perfectly, whether it be "Minion's Song" pulling us in or "Forever and More" letting us go again.
The Octopus really sees a step up in terms of Sel's vocal performance. His voice is stronger and more diverse here than we have ever heard it before. Every line is delivered perfectly, and you can really tell that he has put his heart and soul into this album. // 10
Overall Impression: I would usually be wary of giving full marks for any album, but with The Octopus I can't bring myself to do anything else. As a body of work, it stands head and shoulders above the crowd.
Hyperbole aside, this is a jolly good album, which I would highly recommend checking out if you are into modern rock.
If it was lost or stolen, I would cry because I have one of 500 hand dedicated limited edition copies. After that, I would order a new copy (standard edition) without hesitation. // 10