Amebix - Arise! [reissue] (Cover Artwork)
Staff Pick


Arise! [reissue] (2014)

Easy Action

Amebix's Arise!, released in 1985, represented a merging of the ancient and the modern- an intersection of thousands of years of Briton culture with brand new anarcho idealism. The record bore the marks of its influences plainly: the deep rumble of Joy Division, the gothic phrasings of Bauhaus, the ferocity of Crass. But, unlike their contemporaries and progeny, it was hybrid that produced as much as that from which it drew.

In fact, the fundamental character of Arise! was quite distanced from its forefathers. Joy Divison, Bauhaus, and Crass were all cerebral bands- Ian Curtis drawing clever, extended metaphors, Peter Murphy drawing on gothic literary troupes, Penny Rimbaud and Steve Ignorant references tracts and political scientists. But, while those were all songs stemming from the brain, Arise! is music stemming from the soul.

Arise! roots itself in a primal energy. Brothers Rob Miller and Stig Miller bind their bass and guitar into a unique, blunt, chugging attack. There are hints of Black Sabbath and Motorhead here, but neither of those bands were able to blend raw power and darkness like the brother’s chemistry here. Of course, part of the credit is due to Spider, who, as the band notes, anchored the band in a more traditional 4/4 rock beat, which paradoxically, took the band forward, beyond the shaman-ish buzz of 1983’s No Sanctuary. You need look no further than “Axeman” to see how the band was able to wield gigantic doom-y riffs in a way that moved as some sort of primal beast, crunching along at a determined, but ever increasing pace and ferocity. Rob Miller’s voice is the perfect companion to this striking. A voice heavily coated in English-country accents and tar, he sounds like a cross between a Viking and some mad sorcerer. It’s a tough bark that at once shows an anger at the world, a viciousness, and a wizened humanity. Of course, the Lemmy influence is there, but it need not be overstated- that biker snap is ever present, but it’s not pure aping of thee warty-one.

Then, to counter balance this, every so often, Stig Miller slides in an ornate, gothic twinkling behind the rhythm section’s thwomp. In weaker hands, these more ornate sections would dilute the band’s primal charge (which is likely why so many stoner-metal bands and crust bands avoid the style all together). But, here, Stig Miller is deft enough to apply just enough of the baroque stuff, which such precision, that not only does it act as a foil to the blunter strikes, but it adds an intangible spookiness that creeps that lingers long after the actual notes end.

And really, the intangible is where Amebix rise above contemporaries. Arise! is where the band really focuses their lyrical concepts and establish themselves as innovators. By 1985, the “rules” of punk rock where very much in effect. Most, if not all, anarcho-bands wrote lyrics that were as much instructional sheets as they were art pieces, and, in almost all works, atheism was demanded. Not so, here. Amebix succeeds in, perhaps, creating a new “positive agnostic” philosophy in punk rock. Echoing the ancient pagan rites, perhaps as filtered by The Wicker Man, the band quite openly discusses metaphysics. “Drink and be Merry” comments on the frailty of the flesh without stating that it’s where life ends. In the slightest of nods, the band also opines, “there’s more worth living than meets the eye,” despite the song’s negative descriptions abutting the words of encouragement. (It also has wild guitar solo at the end that sounds like a machine tearing itself apart.) That’s not to say that the band is pro-religion. “Fear of God” is a direct attack on the church with the observation, “the money spent on Churches could appease the starving poor!” Still, “The Darkest Hour,” which is anchored in the last moments of one’s life, seems to suggest a sort of Pagan look at life- human’s don’t know everything about how the universe works…

Perhaps the most striking part of Arise! is its fundamental paradox. As the band fixes these swinging, biker riffs and tales of decaying bodies, it seems like the album should be a morbid, depressed look at the human condition. But to the contrary, as the title track makes clear, throughout the release, the band urges strength and a certain dark positivity. “Arise, get off your knees!” Rob Miller commands. Not only is he suggesting an inherent strength to the downtrodden, he’s demanding that they fight for themselves and improve their own situation. It’s almost as if he’s some punk-drill sergeant. (One does note that Rob Miller did spend some time in the armed forces).

The Easy Action 2014 remaster is the release’s third rendering, following the Alternative Tentacles 1985 release and AT’s 2000 reissue. This version is dramatically the most different from the previous two, with its sharper, louder sound. Remastering Arise! is a dangerous prospect. Cleaning it up too much could theoretically remove its defining grime, and quite horrifically, rob this beast of its claws. Thankfully, this remaster plays it just right. Somehow, they were able to pull out the formerly buried intricacies of the album- “Slave” is more vibrant than ever with its warbling, collapsing guitar and the aforementioned “Drink and Be Merry”’s shattering guitar sounds like an Eno production- while leaving that trademark sludge in the low end. The result is that the album has the same primordial power as its earlier versions, but has a bit more clarity and punch, showing that the band weren’t quite the brute cavemen that critics suggest. There is now finesse here to match the ferocity… though there is a lot of ferocity.

The re-release also appends a 1985 concert to the release, and really, it’s a boon. Although there have been limited run live Amebix releases before, Ambulance Station the first full-length live release overseen by the band. More so than ever before, the live recording makes it clear just how powerful and raw Amebix was live. Perhaps leaning more on their punk influences than their metal ones, the band plays with combustible energy. This isn’t the precision of, say Megadeth live, but rather, the hot fire of the Stooges or, yes, even Motorhead. “Largactyl,” which, somewhat ahead of its time, attacks the mental-health pharmaceutical industry, now sounds like a bi-wing plain crashing. Likewise, it’s thrilling to hear the Miller brothers do a call-and-response on the refrain, very much reflecting anarcho-punk chants. What an attack! Quite surprisingly, “Fallen from Grace,” which wouldn’t have a studio version until 1987’s The Power Remains is already in rotation. And, unlike the studio version, here “Power” is less thrashy and more guttural, though it already shows the band growing towards more complex arrangements.

If anything, Ambulance Station shows that Amebix was one of the few bands able to merge raw power with vision and skill and also an anarcho-punk composition with a curious mind. Even now, some thirty years later, there are still puzzles deep within the grooves and frankly, most of them will never be solved. Fitting.

This is some of the greatest music ever recorded. Essential listening.