Album Reviews

Issue 2022-080

It's Prog-Tober! 31+ albums and reviews in 31 days!

Amarok — Hunt + Hunt Live

2017 / 2022
61:00, 42:00
Amarok - Hunt + Hunt Live
Hunt: Anonymous (6:41), Idyll (5:41), Distorted Soul (5:32), Two Sides (5:09), Winding Stairs (4:34), In Closeness (5:52), Unreal (4:40), Nuke (5:48), The Hunt (17:52)
Hunt - Live In Poznan 2018: Anonymous (6:28), Distorted Soul (5:34), Winding Stairs (5:02), Hunt (18:53), Nuke (7:01)
Andy Read

Formed in 1999, Amarok quietly released three albums in their early years before going on an extended break between 2005-2017. Since then, they've released three more studio efforts. The most recent of these, Hero was reviewed by DPRP last year.

Amarok is principally a vehicle for the multi-talented Michał Wojtas. It was this album, Hunt that first brought the band some real attention from outside their homeland, garnering many positive reviews in the underground prog media.

That this album did not give Amarok an even bigger profile, was probably due to its limited promotion and distribution. I could not track down a copy at the time, and it has long been out of print. So a big round of applause to Oskar Records, who have not only re-released this wonderful album but added a second disc featuring most of its songs performed live at Amarok's 2018 concert in Poznań, Poland.

Amarok, promo photo

Those of you who enjoy the particular style of neo-prog/art-rock performed by numerous Polish bands over the years, then this is an essential listen. Probably one of the top 10 such albums ever released. Equally on a par with the best of Collage, Believe, Satellite, After, early Votum, Millenium, and of course Riverside.

Each of the eight main songs are highly listenable with a wonderful blend of Floydian atmospheres with strong melodies and the occasional crunch from the guitar. Probably Idyll and Distorted Soul are my favourites but there isn't any dip in quality. Only the extended title track at 18 minutes loses my focus.

Two songs are given added appeal by the addition of two 'big names'. Colin Bass (Camel) adds his sound to both the studio and live version of Nuke, whilst Mariusz Duda (Riverside, Lunatic Soul) can be heard on the lead single, Idyll. If anything, I prefer the songs as performed in a live setting, where the added energy and rawness from the stage brings the music to life. Even The Hunt works for me in this context.

This is a great package that all fans of the genre can now own. Simples!

Amarok — Storm

2019 / 2022
Amarok - Storm
Warm Coexistence (7:28), Dark Mode (5:10), Natural Affinity (11:04), All the Struggles (7:30), Uplifting (10:42), Subconsciousness (3:18), Facing the Truth (The Grand Finale) (18:36), The Song of All Those Distant (5:04), The Storm (4:35).
Andy Read

After the success of Hunt, the next album in the Amarok discography was a bit of a weird career-choice.

On paper, a soundtrack to a contemporary dance performance is an intriguing proposition. However musically, The Storm is (for the most part) such a departure from the lovely collection of neo-prog/art-rock presented on Hunt, that it would have been much better to have been released as a Michał Wojtas solo project.

Especially, as the main instrumental part of the album was created and performed solely by Michel. A handful of other musicians are credited with the two closing songs.

Opener Warm Coexistence is a very slow evolution of a very annoying, repetitive keyboard whoosh. The lovely guitar comes in too late to save it. The addition of another repetitive keyboard theme does little other than add another two minutes to the playing time. This definitely needs the extra visual activity, to add interest and meaning.

Dark Mode features a clarinet sound over eerie electronics and echoing throbs of bells. It oozes atmosphere and melancholic-foreboding, but little else. It leads nicely into Natural Affinity. Again this is in no rush to develop its limited themes but does fit together well and has a more engaging atmosphere and flow. All the Struggles doesn't really go anywhere that I remember.

Uplifting is again glacial in its progress. One has to wait until eight minutes to hit a tone that at least vaguely reflects the title. The final two minutes are frosty breathing. Theatrically it may be mesmerising but musically it's like trying to sleep next to someone heavily-breathing!

Subconsciousness has a great intro to a song that never comes. The Grand Finale does at least build to the album's most energetic beat, but takes an eternity to get there. It's not a journey I wish to repeat. And it's not grand, and it's not even a finale, as there are two songs to come.

And this pair make the album even more confusing, as they are both vocal songs that could easily fit onto either Hunt or the Amarok album that followed.

Based on the official video (below), the title track was the reason that I picked up a copy of this album on its original release. It's a great song, even if a little too poppy in a Pet Shop Boys-meets-Riverside sorta way. The Song of All Those Distant is created from a similar mould but the hook isn't so compelling.

However, sitting completely at odds to the atmospheric electronica that makes up the bulk of this album, they exist more as "bonus tracks". I am not sure that they would have featured as part of the dance spectacle. I can only conclude that these two songs have been added to draw in existing Amarok fans. Sadly, like me, I feel that any fans drawn in by the promo for the title tack, will have been sadly disappointed by the music contained on the rest of the album.

Those who enjoy electronic-based music that has been stripped down to create little more than atmospheric emotions and gently (oh so gently) evolving rhythms, may react more positively to this. It certainly achieves its goal of allowing listeners to create their own spectacle in their heads. However, for me, a dance soundtrack without the accompanying visual interpretations is only half of a spectacle; and the least-interesting half at that!

I can not find more than a few excerpts of the dance performance online, but if you wish to explore further, then take a look at the James Wilton Dance website. There is a short studio preview of the show as well as in the official music video below.

Amarok On

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