Album review: AMBERJACKS – Amberjacks


Self release  [Released 01.02.14]

The Dutch band Amberjacks have so much energy that they’re not always sure where to channel it. Their self titled debut album is a roller coaster of heavy stoner rock, with psychedelic proggy colourings and occasional grunge and bluesy influences.

Apart from the catch-all of rock, it’s experimental music that can’t easily be pigeon holed, and it’s all the stronger for it.

Their broad musical sweep has a big sonic presence fuelled by a big production that frames some imposing guitar lines and a humongous drum sound. It’s an album full of contrasting moods and crashing dynamics that explode thrillingly on the riff driven ‘Nation On Fire’,

This jammed out track could easily have come from the early 70’s underground rock era, with its wild guitar and unfettered drums. That said, there’s also a garage rock minimalism at the heart of the track that fans of The Graveltones will surely lap up.

‘Amberjacks’ the album, is a slow burner on which the quiet-to-loud dynamics help build an encompassing wall of sound.  Jeroen Ansems adds snaking guitar lines and Jack Westenberg’s vocals are consistently good, except on the intro to ‘Sweet Summer Rain’ where he struggles against the band’s exuberant bombast.

‘The Manic’ is also unashamedly heavy with boisterous drums and a vague Rush like proggy feel. Gavin Harte’s pounding drums also anchor the high-energy ‘Sweet Summer Rain’ which derives its light and shade from a cleverly conceived segue into Ruud Peeters’ moog driven uplifting hook.

One minute we’re speeding down the highway and then suddenly we’re swept up into the melodic hook. It’s the first of several adventurous arrangements that makes the band’s music both challenging and exciting.

‘Blackwater is a mix of Zeppelin style swagger and stoner rock and leads to a big guitar break and delicately sustained notes over Gavin Harte’s military drum pattern. It’s another great arrangement given its full grandeur by some exhilarating playing.

It’s often a feature of contemporary albums that the mix and mastering process is almost given equal billing with the actual musicianship, but this album undeniably sparkles with resonant riffs and an incredible drum sound.

The frequently explored dense wall of sound is also superbly captured by Wessel Oltheten’s crisp mix and Pieter Kloos’s bright mastering.

The band seem completely oblivious to any suggestion of claustrophobic studio ambience as they rock out manically on ‘Catch Me Alive’ which once again evokes the raw gut rocking of The Graveltones with Ansems’s intense soloing.

They then surprise us with the gentle vocal, nuanced ‘ooohs’ and the delicate guitar line of ‘The River’s Own’. The same melodic sensibility re-appears on the intro to the extended ‘High Speed Love’ as the band builds towards a final imposing wall of sound with proggy experimentation and a heavy rock finish.

There’s more contrast to be found on ‘Return of the Obeah Man’ which moves from a grungy opening, via a Hendrix and Trower style guitar line, into full blown whammy bar driven psychedelia.

Perhaps only a band with such a wide musical horizon could contemplate pulling together such contrasting musical elements so coherently, while still finding room to jam eloquently on a rocking finish.

Like the best of early prog bands, Amberjacks explore oblique arrangements before packing a punch with a potent resolution.

In that context, ‘Castle in the Sky’ feels like an elemental stomp with a grungy style hook. But there’s an unexpected break-down and a sinewy guitar line, crisp cymbal work and an explosive return to the catchy hook.

The sudden segue into the radio sample of ‘Nations on Fire’ levers us into some heavy riff-led rock and revolutionary verve, before the proggy experimentation of ‘High Speed Love’.

Amberjacks might not sit comfortably in a world full of instant downloads and youtube clips, but give this album a couple of patient listens and you will be hooked. They still have a long way to go, but if nothing else this album makes rock music sound essential again ***½ 

Review by Pete Feenstra

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