Sunday, September 16, 2007

Who's Driving Now?

Amebix has been touted as the first crust band in existence. For a definitive description of this particular genre of punk music, read Felix Von Havoc's article on the Rise of Crust (found on the website of Havoc Records). The use of dark imagery combined with a lo-fi approach to audio engineering that is uncommon for bands who have a sound that smacks of heavy metal seems to be a defining characteristic of this musical style. You won't hear the obsessive quest for finely-crafted sound sculpting that is all-pervasive in the metal arena on an Amebix recording; although it can be dangerous to toy with words when it comes to describing "sub-genres" of music so this is as far as this thought will be taken. (There was a day and age when there was no need for concern amongst underground or alternative musicians to wrap their music into a neatly-bundled package so as to make a tantalizing product fit for consumption by the masses, but whatever...)

This CD was the last recording that was issued by the band before their breakup. Despite the obvious HR Giger rip off artwork on the front cover, it's quite good. An interesting thing about this band was their use of the synthesizer and audio production techniques that are so subtle, you don't realize that they're even there until you've heard the album many times over. For examples of this on the Monolith album, listen to the track The Power Remains. About 1:15 into the song, you can hear the synthesizer harmonizing the guitar riffs, however the synthesizer never overpowers or even equals the volume of the guitar, so its voice is just a faint glimmer in the actual recording. However, if the presence of this synthesizer were stripped from the actual recording, the sense of doom that exists within the recording would be absent, making the band lose some of its emotional punch. When you get further into the meat of the track (about 2:45), you can hear the "back masking" (to co-opt a phrase often used by the Christian right) of the drums; a feat that was created by physically playing a tape recording in reverse while capturing the whole song on various tracks in the recording studio onto a master tape. A feat that could be more difficult than one could imagine in 1987- especially with a band consisting of squatters who ate out of trash bins in order to get by and refused to go on the dole to obtain assistance. Bear in mind that this was an underground recording done in a purely analog recording studio. Digital recordings were just barely being conducted and it was an extremely expensive technology. Digital recording was strictly used in capturing classical music recordings and big money record labels who could afford the costs; the result of which was a musical irony as it had to be brought back into the analog realm in order to be pressed to the LP format. The majority of music listeners in the mainstream were still buying cassette tapes, while underground bands dealt mostly in vinyl, so it was a vastly different world for musicians to live in when compared by today's standards.

Apparently, Amebix are in the process of putting together some kind of discography of their work after a prolonged battle over their existing recorded work with John Loder of Southern Studios. The band states on their website that Loder was denying them royalties for their work by diverting the funds into his personal account. It would be interesting to know more about this situation, as the picture that Penny Rimbaud (of Crass) paints of Loder seems far different than the "cunt" described on Amebix's website. See the obituary Rimbaud wrote after Loder's death in 2005.


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