Contemporary music criticism has become infected by its own version of retromania – in other words, its own obsession with the past.
James Parker and Nicholas Croggon, The Trouble with Contemporary Music Criticism

I originally set out to write a specific sort of review. It was going to be a combination of praise and repentance — the admiration of new material from a group that hadn’t been heard from in decades, followed by a mea culpa for the words I printed about the group’s debut record. I sat on this review for several weeks, then life got busy, and then months started to pass.

These [] users were shouting the praises of a self-titled debut by a German band called ‘Amenophis’…
Markus Cueva, Amenophis: Amenophis, 2012

Time, the third and most recent release by German proggers Amenophis, has been out about a year now. I haven’t listened to an album so many times in a similar span since high school. The CD itself has held almost permanent residence in my car’s stereo, although I rarely listen to music that isn’t on my phone anymore. The album is expressive, interesting, and beautiful; on one listen, I nearly wept at the end of the second track (“The Sandglass Symphony”) for reasons I’ll explain later. Last March I had the distinct impression that Time is better than Amenophis’ debut in almost every possible way. Today, I still feel this way.

The writers referenced in the quote at the beginning of this piece helped immensely in providing context for what I feel about these two albums. In their own article, they mention Simon Reynolds’ book on “retromania” and how Reynolds sees music as at its “best” or even attaining its “core social function” when it provides something new to the listener. We need the thrill of having been there when a new genre is birthed unto the masses, where we can experience the historical context of that music while also revelling in its progression. But here’s the kicker, in the words of Parker and Croggon:

“The retromania of contemporary music, characterized so astutely by Reynolds, fundamentally challenges this way of relating to music. Its contemporaneity consists precisely in its repudiation of process, its refusal to create new sounds…”

There may not be a genre more beholden to its past than progressive rock and its offshoots. Criticism by prog fans has become an exercise in musical historicism. What does it sound like? Who were their influences? When something new is produced, its genealogy is investigated to form a “family tree” of past music that shaped its path. Anything truly unique is met with thunderous approval: under the right circumstances and with proper execution, vintage ideas are taken in as an acceptable “throwback” to the glory days: the rest is left over as musical filler.

The German group has their own distinct style… 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.
Markus Cueva, Amenophis: Amenophis, 2012

I’m generalizing, of course, since many prog fans live on the repetitions of the genre’s own history. But I worry that a significant portion of new progressive music is seen simply on the “throwback” level, if not worse, simply because of the year it was recorded. How many flawed albums from the early 1970s are still being highly reviewed and rated on music blogs to this day? Conversely, how many incredible albums from the past 10 years have been overlooked or undervalued? Progressive music is beautiful because of its deep history and rich catalogue of worldwide textures as much as for its leaps forward in sonic progression.

I wonder if musicians who haven’t produced music together in a long while feel a need to redefine the group dynamic and purpose as much as they feel a need to create art again. When taken as a whole, Amenophis’ Time gives off the distinct impression of a band searching for balance. Bandleader Michael Roessmann mentioned the challenges of four individuals creating music after not playing together for 21 years, especially when those individuals have spent that time listening to different material. The album necessarily became an amalgamation of tastes and preferences, bound together by a unifying prologue and a helping of nostalgia from the beloved debut.

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.
Markus Cueva, Amenophis: Amenophis, 2012

This album is good. It’s an excellent comeback album from passionate progressive rock band, with production quality and musicianship that far outpaces the debut. The one strong issue I take with Time lies with the vocals, which are weaker than the instrumental performances and suffer from bizarre effects choices, but even these are superior to the singing from 1983. There is a wide array of sounds from a variety of instruments, few dull sections, and several tracks with true replay value. But ultimately, this album leaves the listener with a feeling of purpose and love behind the music; maybe I got a little too close throughout the past year, but I don’t hear that often.

I’ll present two examples of this from the album. The first, “Avalon,” hearkens back to classic Amenophis in a superb and surprising way. As it turns out, the composition was written by bassist Wolfgang Vollmuth in 1988 and is based on the book “The Mists of Avalon” which, as fate would have it, had first been published five years earlier. Wolfgang and Kurt Poppe rearranged the piece for this incarnation of the band, treating old fans to memories of the “Amenophis” sound while fitting in nicely with the rest of the album. That’s a tough tightrope to walk.

The second, “The Sandglass Symphony,” struck me from the first words. It’s a powerful performance, building through the solo sections and crescendoing through the final, haunting chorus. I asked Michael specifically about the song’s meaning, finding out that it was written shortly after his brother (and former band member) Stefan suddenly passed away. The lyrics, which were already a beautiful mix of sadness and hope, now had the great weight of catharsis, and I couldn’t help my emotions on the next listen.

The historical sense involves a perception, not only of the pastness of the past, but of its presence.
T.S. Elliot

I’m glad that music isn’t black and white. I find that a significant portion of the music I hear for the first time offers something fresh to my ears, regardless of the original year it was released. Conversely, most every album, including both Amenophis albums, can be viewed as a sum of its historical parts. Looking back, I suffered somewhat from “retromania” in my review of Amenophis’ debut; it stood alone as a beacon of hope in 1983 for fans who were probably just realizing that their beloved music had become a dinosaur. Yet it’s still an original, it carries a signature sound that I still find captivating, and I feel that our community will keep it alive in some capacity.

What I do know is that I still enjoy that 1983 album. I enjoy Time even more, but I have no idea if that will continue in the coming years. I worry that it will fail to stand out and become lost to history, a shame for a record that is filled with genuinely good music. Or maybe some young, intrepid music fan will uncover it in 30 years and praise its originality.

All in due time.