- One of a handful of genuinely good things coming out of the 1980's, along with yours truly...
I recently learned something new about progressive music in the dark days of the 1980’s. I found an interesting statement by a handful of users on Progarchives.com, and decided to make a giant leap to the conclusion that this statement accurately reflected the opinion of the general prog-loving public. These users were shouting the praises of a self-titled debut by a German band called “Amenophis” — and damning to “Prog Purgatory” all those who were ignorant of its existence in the mid-80s. I was born in 1987, thus precluding me from damnation, and I was more than a little curious about this release. I attempted to contact Michael Rössmann (guitars/keyboards), who provided some helpful information to piece together the story of this incredible album.
Amenophis had been playing regular live shows from 1979 to October 1982, but the album was recorded and first released in 1983, right at the beginning of the darkest era of music since pre-Gregorian Chant Europe. As you could probably imagine, progressive rock in the 70’s vein had experienced a massive decrease in popularity, so the guys decided to leave some trace of their existence before breaking up and going their separate ways. Recording took place from February 4th through August 15th, a length of time due partially to low funds and partially to band members Wolfgang Vollmuth and Stefan Rössmann (yes, Michael’s brother) serving in the Army. In Michael’s own words:
The budget was quite low. Most of the hardware was rented or borrowed. We had a good relationship to a music hardware store in our town who supported us greatly. Other bands recorded in our studio as well so that we could pay the rent for the hardware.
Did he supply me information about that sweet analog gear they used? Of course he did!
[The] heart of the recording hardware was an 8 tracks analog Fostex A8 audio tape. We had an 24/8 mixer, reverb, delay and EQ. The challenge was to get all of the instruments on just 8 tracks. Once the recording of a song was completed we mixed the Fostex tracks down to a Revox stereo audio tape. This Revox tape became the base for all pressings.
The self-titled debut was released with an initial 200 pressings, and mostly went to friends and supporters of the band. Several years down the road, one of these pressings caught the attention of a music journalist named Rainer Weber, who set events in motion that ended up with French label MUSEA re-releasing the album in 1992.
Let’s just say I’m glad they did.
Amenophis is an innovative work of progressive music. While comparable to the “symphonic prog” archetype popularized by Genesis in prog rock’s early days, the German group has their own distinct style and approach to the genre, eschewing powerful vocals and precise structure for an experience that is sometimes artsy, sometimes rocking, and sometimes dreamy and rich with lots and lots of keyboards.
Considering the limitations of a home studio in 1983, the album sounds incredibly good overall. I say overall, because I never felt good about the vocals at any point on the record. For all I know, Wolfgang is a capable vocalist, but it is certainly not reflected in this recording. The vocals are often underrepresented in the mix, and pushed further to the back than any other voice I’ve heard in music. Mix that with some pronunciation issues with the English language, and the vocals provide the lowlight to an otherwise fine album. Oh, and there’s also some strange timing issues on several tracks that could be one of two things:
- An artistic choice of the composer, Wolfgang, who composed the two pieces that have said timing inconsistencies.
- Straight-up timing issues. I recommend a metronome.
I’m leaning toward option one, since the compositions written by the Rössmann brothers don’t seems to have the same timing inconsistencies, and they all seem like excellent musicians. As for the positives, there are many. The piano and classical guitars sound absolutely incredible, especially when they play some of my favorite passages in “Suntower”. There is an abundance of deliciously rich keyboard parts that hold together “Venus” and several sections of the epic “The Last Requiem”. The solos are generally good to excellent, and make the necessary contributions to the overall sound when the music transitions to its classic rock sections.
The sticking point of Amenophis, at least for me, is that I was able to enjoy nearly one hour of music that felt entirely innovative and original. Obviously, this isn’t the case, and reviews of the albums that compare the sound to Camel and Genesis are more than fair. Several of the chord progressions and riffing sounded quite familiar, in fact. But the entire original album, in addition to Stefan’s fantastic instrumental bonus tracks, left me amazed and even partially restored my faith in the 1980’s.
I guess what I’m trying to say is… the users from Progarchives.com are right. This album probably would have received five stars with a better vocal performance, and it sits proudly among the finest examples of symphonic prog. You’re going to Prog Hell unless you find some way to listen to this gem of an album. Happy hunting!