Heldtentod - The Ghost Machine [Cold Spring - 2012]Enticed by a very efficient Edward Gorey-like black-and-white cover artwork and some glowing reviews (you’d think I’d know better by now), I had meant to check out this album for quite some time but somehow never got the chance to. What with the flow of releases being unleashed upon us poor music-loving souls every month, it is already hard enough to keep track of the bare essentials, thank you. And since the unknown is often full of promises but expectations prove disastrously deceiving more often than not, it was with a mixture of apprehension and curiosity that I approached Heldtentod’s first professional full-length album.
Formed about a decade ago by one Jeff Williams, this project had already self-released three CDRs that apparently (in other words and to be brutally honest, they have yet to grace my ears) exhibited a more martial-folk approach. ‘The Ghost Machine’, released last year on UK’s best-known industrial label Cold Spring, can however only be described as a death-industrial machine that follows an unapologetic the-darker-the-better course of action throughout and should appeal to music lovers on the lookout for the kind of murky atmospheres favoured by bands like Brighter Death Now, Genocide Organ or even Haus Arafna.
Once we’ve established the above, it becomes distinctly easy to review an album that wears its heart on its sleeve with such patented bravado. The atmospheres are suitably tense and gloomy, and filled with enough despair and anguish to depress a busload of Prozac executives. And if you can get past the annoyingly nasal American accent of the female narrator, the title-song that opens the album does a good job at introducing the menu early on in the listening process. The main course should appeal mainly to lovers of meaty fare, with tracks clearly going for the throat (‘Incorruptible’, ‘Betrayal’), the material on those being best qualified as sonically harsh without ever becoming pure white noise.
As for the side dishes, they favour lighter, though not exactly brighter, ingredients and do achieve quite good results (‘Encystment Process’, ‘Revenant’), featuring soundscapes that would do Les Joyaux de la Princesse proud, and are arguably the moodiest of the lot, ‘The Sentient Darkness’, with its mantra-like ‘Let me see where I am at’ lyrics, being a definite point in case. On the whole, I’ll admit I found the latter tracks to be slightly more convincing than their noisier counterparts, as they offer pretty convincing dark ambient fare, but then again, that might just be a question of taste and is in no way intended as a criticism on the harsher material, which still floats above most of what passes as death-industrial these days.
On the whole, ‘The Ghost Machine’ showcases enough professionalism and sense of purpose to come across as convincing but misses the spark of brilliance and touch of originality that would elevate it beyond merely promising. Heldentod is definitely a band to keep a close eye on in the future but won’t make it onto the shortlist for a Michelin star this year. Still, if you’re feeling hungry and feel like a change of diet, you could do worse than sink your teeth into this fairly enjoyable album.europakorps