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Helm - The Hollow Organ [PAN - 2014]

Luke Younger's project Helm mines a particularly rich seam at the intersection of electro-acoustic, noise/drone and industrial music. Two years after his PAN debut with Impossible Symmetry we find him moving away from his previous flirtations with techno to further refine his art with four dense pieces.

Carrier opens the EP with a typically wide angled drone which is soon joined by various unheimlich mechanical sounds and rhythms. Younger makes full use of the technology available to him as he weaves an array of elements around the stereo field, letting some fade away only to be replaced by stranger textures and rhythms. On the face of it there's nothing ground breaking in the composition, but it's the execution and handling of the sound sources that really strikes the listener. Analogues is a fine example. Numerous noise acts use cymbals or metal percussion in their music but here the familiar crash and envelope of the sound is twisted into a whirlwind of unfamiliar textures and timbres; some reversed, others clipped or overdriven, all swept wildly around the mix as a semi-percussive rumbling like the collapse of some ancient structure lurks ominously in the backdrop.

Throughout the record Younger makes subtle use of field recording to add another layer of intrigue to his soundscapes, but like every other sound he deploys they are rendered strange, obliterating any easy reference to leave only the suggestion of a time or a place. Was that rain or some demonic form of torture? Spiteful Jester is a more straightforward expression of tectonic drone and feedback abuse with a restricted pallet but no less artfully executed. The subtle variations in the underlying drone and yet more use of odd field recordings draws the listening beyond the screeching feedback into a smoke filled ante room filled with broken machines.

The final title track is the longest and most impressive of all. Here all the previous elements are distilled into a composition that takes all that's best about dark ambient and electro-acoustic music while avoiding any of the clichés associated with "the dark side" of those disciplines. Around five minutes in just when you think you've got comfortable what sounds like a hastily made tape recording of an atmosphere featuring a dog appears. The lo-fi quality of this element and the intrusion of what could be Morse code being tapped out (or an alien transmission) provides an interesting counterpoint to Younger's conspicuously well balanced production. A more recognisably human element seems to break through, no less uncanny, but perhaps signifying the presence of the producer within the mix, or maybe Younger had in mind the Byzantine emperor Justin II who demanded organ music be played throughout his palace as he was pulled through it upon a wheeled throne. Finally the oppressive atmosphere gives way leaving only the sounds of the organ and whatever shadowy world evoked by this ancient instrument is allowed to fade back into the dark.

Rating: 4 out of 5Rating: 4 out of 5Rating: 4 out of 5Rating: 4 out of 5Rating: 4 out of 5

Duncan Simpson
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