I finally get to review one of my most anticipated records of the year. Amarok have put out amazing music for 20 years, and there is just something compelling and mysterious I find in their sound. The album is called Hero, and it releases on October 15th.
Amarok are a Polish band, and you know what that means. They have a certain sound, from the dark and evocative music to the recognizable accent in the vocals. They do feel, shall I say, separate from the rest. The band includes Michał Wojtas on vocals, guitars, synthesizers, electric drums, flute, and miscellaneous; Marta Wojtas on percussion; Kornel Popławski on bass; and Konrad Zieliński on drums.
The band produces music that feels eclectic and diverse in sound. The foundation of their sound is a smooth, crisp, and flowing progressive rock, but you will hear layers of trip hop, electronic, psychedelic, and post prog. Their songs are generally interesting affairs with strange sounds and instruments in play, reminding me of Mike Oldfield in all his creativity. In fact, Michał happens to be one of my favorite guitarists, and his tone is also similar to Oldfield’s. You will hear plenty of influence coming from that direction, despite the Floydian album cover art.
The band’s previous album, The Storm (2019), was more of a Michał solo effort, delving deeply into progressive electronic. Before that, we received Hunt (2017), and this new album is more like that one in overall tone. However, I think there is a notable difference. Hero is shorter and more concise, as are all of the songs individually. Hunt possessed a lengthy title epic, and simply felt more like “progressive rock”, if you know what I mean. Hero has thrown off those shackles, though, offering songs that are typically shorter and maybe even a bit more repetitive. However, as I have noticed, the songs are always flowing, building, and growing in some fashion.
The band released two singles, “It’s Not the End” and “Surreal”. Both are fairly repetitive; but, my, are they addictive. The former has a gracious texture to it that I love, but also a gritty instrumental in the second half that contrasts brilliantly. “Surreal” is bit different, with an unorthodox chorus that I love trying to sing to myself, but I always seem to fail. This song has more of a trip hopping feel to it, and I especially note how incredibly pure Michał’s vocals sound.
The album only has 7 tracks, so there are five more to discuss. One of my favorites comes next, that being “Hail! Hail! Al”. This track has a quirky, squidgy texture that comes and goes, and the trip hop is even stronger here. Most of the track is abstract and maybe even a little folksy thanks to some violin that enters the picture, and the whole thing feels like music hanging over a void. I really like this song. “The Orb” is similarly abstract, just in its own way. It could almost be called a ballad in some ways, but it has plenty of musing and even strange moments that make it just seem different.
The last three tracks are all fantastic. “The Dark Parade” is an instrumental track with a blackened aura. It feels a little “Lunatic Soul” to me (Michał being friends with Mariusz), and its hovering atmosphere slowly speeds up into a satisfying close. Next is the title track. “Hero” gives us guitar solos and a leisurely pace, both which serve to make the track an instant favorite. This track has a quality I am having difficult describing: just this lush, inviting, and passionate air to it. Finally, we get “What You Sow”. This closer is not the grand, towering ending that you might suppose. This song is a slow-burning monolith, one with fire and cinema in its lungs. Its spacey and emotive perspective always gives pause to whatever else I am doing.
Amarok are one of my favorite Polish bands, and this album shows why. They have brilliant artistry in how they present themselves, but also the writing chops to create songs that will stay with you. Sumptuous, oceanic, and layered in what they do, the band is very purposeful in what they produce. This will certainly be one of my favorite albums this year.
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