Tripping With Dr. Faustus by Amplifier

Release date: June 30, 2017
Label: Rockosmos

Even though impressed by Manchester’s progressive space explorers live performance at 2011’s High Voltage festival, it is with Amplifier’s critically acclaimed 2014 tighter packed, hooks aplenty, Mystoria album and subsequent stunning performance at 2015’s Desertfest, which cemented this reviewer’s interest and respect. An album which bridged their Soundgarden influenced heavosity and Rush progginess into a more song orientated approach than their previous sprawling concept opuses. It is an accessible way in and raised one’s expectations to a far higher degree.

During the three years which have passed since the release of Mystoria there has been a significant behind the scenes enterprise. After their record company Superball Music’s parent company Century Media Records were bought out by the major label Sony Music, it was decided in Amplifier’s best interests for them to move on. Led by guitarist/vocalist Sel Balamir the band set up their own record label, Rockosmos, which Trippin With Dr. Faustus, written and recorded over an 18 months’ period, is the band’s debut label release.

And in keeping in spirit with earlier Amplifier albums Trippin With Dr. Faustus once again takes you on a long extensive journey. In the Christopher Marlowe play Dr. Faustus, the titled protagonist decides to explore beyond law, medicine, and religion, in pursuit of knowledge in the unpredictability of the black arts. Amplifier update this fable for the 21st century as Sel informs in the accompanying press release that the central theme focuses on us humans’ relationship with ‘the ultimate baddy’, the devil.

Musically, though, it is an album of two halves. It is front loaded with the meatier, rockier, more immediate knock out blows as the opener ‘Rainbow Machine’ takes us ‘on a ride to the heavens, with rainbow eyes, sapphire skies.’ The powerfully built and dense ‘Kosmos’ is the swaggering album highlight with its wonderfully busy drumming, swirling guitars and ‘to the stars’ quest. And they are at their melodically swooning best with ‘The Commotion (Big Time Party Maker)’.

But it is the middle stages where, while they aim high, they just fall short of achieving the wider scope and musical mind expansion they probably are reaching for. There is a tendency to over complicate things as on ‘Horse’, which begins brightly but ventures into Rush inspired intricacies with unnecessary self-indulgence, which though musicianship wise is admired loses this writer’s attention completely. While the finger picking simplicity of ‘Anubis’, though a welcome respite from the hitherto weightiness, is however largely unmemorable.

There are a couple of end tracks which rescue the album from just petering out limply. The keyboard infected melodies of ‘Supernova’ has lighter of touch textures similar with the mid 80’s to mid 90’s era Rush. And album closer ‘Old Blue Eyes’ jerkiness combines well with slow burning grooves, and Sel’s understated vocal melodies, to climax in a cosmic melt down departure.

Ultimately, Trippin With Dr. Faustus is Amplifier staying confined within their comfort zone, even though this still is a fair sized far out listening experience in comparative with many of their contemporaries. But while consisting of some marvellous moments it doesn’t quite maintain a consistent electrifying oomph. It should be enough to please, even delight, the die-hards but may not be the gateway to further widen their appeal. A coming full circle to again self-release produces a solid album rather than an exceptional one. But, despite these misgivings, it is good to have them back.

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