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Amebix - No Sanctuary
Review: What made punk music dynamic and vertiginous as an artistic movement was that it united the idea of a frontier, where laws did not apply, with the concept of a society dragging itself down through too much disorder described as order but really conforming to an ethic of convenience which made people sheep. As a result, the best of punk was a cry from hell where irony took a backseat to a desire for authentic chaos to fragment the illusion and show people a sense of power in the opposition to control, and the best punk works often were those which aimed less at being an entertainment product for credulous teenagers than short bursts of insurgent artistry from outsiders who, removed from the social chain, could see the illusion of both order and social disorder masquerading as a civilization.
Early recordings compiled from Amebix would later be described by rock historians -- a group no serious historian will address because they report marketing as truth -- as crust punk, crustcore or punk hardcore, but that musical category was solidified on later works and not these more challenging, less consistent, more ambitious early releases. Amebix created a scattershot of technique and song conception that nailed so many categories it is difficult to document them all: post-rock, with its lessened drumbeats over which melodies emerge slowly from the gentle strumming that plays distortion itself like an instrument; speed metal, from the abrupt riffs riveted by chant-cadence vocals; black metal, from the use of minor chord progressions to move between power chord shapes and produce a summary atmosphere by sweeping through the harmonic topography thus generated.
Before punk became fully self-aware, and fully self-conscious, it was its own frontier. Amebix exploit this with ambitious song structures based around the patterns of conversation, as a guitar lays out a riff and then comments on it, joined by bass and drums fragmenting the conversation and then manifesting in another pattern which is united to the first after a transition when a semi-final riff state emerges, and then transitions back to the first. While like many punk bands Amebix create a theatre of their music that allows lyrics to promenade after background values are defined through sonic symbol, in this case it is more like a rock opera where each instrument is a voice that finds synchronization at the conclusion of recombination.
Unlike the neutered emo to follow, however, Amebix do not pacify their music. It is lawless, yet longing for the order that laws intended to serve; it has a strong moral basis and where it deviates into a now-dated sense of pity or altruism, its underlying direction is toward a civilization that grows beyond its problems. To this end, every bristling abrasive riff elides into a pattern like the wind singing inverted phrases in the ears of a rider of a galloping horse, giving a sense of vertigo and hope through the power of life itself. This attitude, that appeals to our souls beneath political or moral logic, coupled with the vastness of what is attempted here defines this CD as a classic that even surpasses later more homogenous releases.