Back in 1998 the German-American progressive rock band Amon Ra released their debut album Precarious Balance. A very good album, which I liked a lot. It was followed by a German tour with the famous Canadian band Saga,. Who were at the time promoting their album Full Circle (1999). Some line up changes followed and strangely enough not much was heard about them after that. The band never said goodbye to their fans and therefore the question always remained if they had split up or not. I received the answer to that question early 2016, when one of their band members contacted me and told me they were back with a new studio album which had already been released in December 2015, 17 years after their debut. They named it very appropriately We Never Said Good-Bye. I am glad they sent me a copy of the new album to review, because I was curious how the band had developed after the release of their first musical effort.
The songs on the album emerged largely after the earlier mentioned tour with Saga, although some tracks were not written until last year. It is no surprise that the musicians who recorded them are mainly the same guys who contributed on the band's debut. Out of the five original band members only bassist Sebastian Amberger isn't mentioned in the booklet any more. His successor Gerry Boiciuc is one of the guest bass players on the album. Most bass parts were done by one of the three core members, drummer Lothar Hermann. The other two are the American lead singer Scott Balaban and guitarist Thomas Wenzel. Keyboard player Dierk Neldner also contributes on this album, he could also be heard on Precarious Balance. Strangely enough he is not mentioned as a permanent member and acts as one of the guest musicians.
When you listen to the first track Master Of Strings, you notice right from the start that being on tour with Saga had a great impact on the band. The song has a lot of musical references to this band. You will hear more Saga influences throughout We Never Said Good-Bye, which I quite liked. I don't think Amon Ra are copy cats though. The band gives the songs a twist of their own and manages to come up with different sounding tunes as well. Songs that have a link with a style that is rather popular in the country the band's lead singer hails from. I am referring to a musical style which is known as A.O.R., often loved by those who are into progressive rock. You could call it a rock style where melody and strong vocal parts have a good marriage. Furthermore hints of neo progressive rock, metal and pop can be heard throughout the album. All those styles together give it plenty of variety. The song with the most variety compared to the rest of the progressive rock songs on the album is without doubt the song Tango Mortale. You might call it a rock tango with musical elements taken from Mexican music, above all brought with a lot of humour! You can't be serious all the time, right?
Storytelling rock is how the band labels their own music. If this is how you should call the twelve compositions on We Never Said Good-Bye, I do not know. What I do know is that the combination of sometimes catchy tunes and complex pieces of music works very well. It makes We Never Said Good-Bye an even better album compared to their debut Precarious Balance. Above all an even more professional sounding album where you hear that the musicians have grown to an even higher level of musicianship.
There is always a time to say goodbye. But it may be too early to do that now, because everybody who hears the songs on this release will agree with me that they would love to hear more beautifully made progressive rock music! Hopefully it will not last another 17 years. The band promised to get back with a successor sooner. Let's hope they will keep their promise! All I can say finally is, welcome back Amon Ra!!! You came back with a bang!
**** Henri Strik (edited by Astrid de Ronde)
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