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Hercules and Love Affair’s In Amber is a dark and dramatic rebirth

Release date: 17 June 2022
7/10
Hercules love affair amber art
16 June 2022, 09:00 Written by Simon Heavisides
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Could there still be people out there who view any music that claims an ability to make you dance to be lacking in emotional range?

If there are then In Amber will be an instructive listen. There’s no doubt the fifth album under the Hercules and Love Affair banner marks a break with the past but it makes its move in a way that, while dramatic, feels totally natural and necessary when you consider the subject matter.

Single “Grace” demonstrates the scope of the album in microcosm – beginning with a little of The National’s gaunt severity before giving way to a jaunty keyboard line and a gorgeous New Order-esque section with spine tingling backing vocals from Icelander Elin Ey. There’s a very enjoyable sense of being slightly wrong-footed by music that doesn’t follow the straight line you thought it might. Then, taking into account the somber subject matter with its talk of mortality and coming to terms with life’s mistakes and failures, and you have a rich and moving piece of music. And if all that wasn’t enough, the rhythmic genius of ex-Banshee Budgie tugs the track in yet another welcome direction.

Budgie’s contributions are key throughout. His unmistakable tribal tom toms propelling the intro of “Christian Prayer” will send a frisson of recognition out to those who have missed his work and that’s before you take into account Anhoni’s contribution. The sentiment of this plea for life and death on your own terms is one that few singers could handle with the requisite gravity but at the same time convey the beauty within what may appear a stark lyric. A lesser vocalist could have left this song as an overwrought mess but not Anhoni.

Butler’s own vocals have a Brendan Perry style authority, indeed a song like “The Eyes of the Father” has some definite Dead Can Dance blood coursing through its veins, a reference point that might raise eyebrows but seems undeniable.

It’s all a lot to take in and that’s before you imagine the scope for some club friendly remixes of key tracks. Ultimately In Amber demonstrates an unexpected mastery of dance floor inflected, gothic-folk tinged, post punk, driven by raw feeling and humanity. With topics as grave, the fact these songs only occasionally teeter on the hazardous borderline where meaning meets portentention is a mark of the sheer skill of those involved.

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