Currently enjoying “HElicopTEr” by Download
The ninth studio LP from Download, and their contribution to the Beyond the Vault series released in October by Subconscious Communications, is one of the group’s best albums in years. With HElicopTEr, the duo of cEvin Key and Phil Western have fulfilled the promise of 2007′s FiXeR; following years of more subdued electronic releases that felt right at home with Western’s terrific solo material, the group has returned with a harsh, heavy record that flashes back to their early releases.
But it’s not as much a return to the roots as it is a new take on an old aesthetic. The album’s driving beat and chaotic ambient elements measure up to the best work of founding member Dwayne Goettel, who died young in 1995. Meanwhile, original vocalist Mark Spybey, who rendered the band an instrumental project when he left in 1996, makes another guest appearance on the final track. But beyond the surface similarities and the general return to a more abrasive sound, HElicopTEr doesn’t have much in common with the group’s early records. Simply put, Download has found a brand new way to make compellingly difficult music.
On 1996′s The Eyes of Stanley Pain – which I’m pretty sure is the only industrial record in existence to feature an unintentional cameo by Candice Bergen – the aesthetic was mainly achieved by cranking up the distortion and the tempo. “That which is not slightly distorted lacks sensible appeal,” reads a Baudelaire quote in the liner notes, “from which it follows that irregularity – that is to say, the unexpected, surprise and astonishment, are an essential part and characteristic of beauty.”
The best example of this approach, and the highlight of Download’s early days, was a track called “Glassblower.” The video, directed by William Morrison, wonderfully sums up the look and sound of that point in the band’s history. It’s not for everyone, to put it lightly, but it’s still a pretty remarkable piece of music.
By the way, if you’re curious, Key’s the one on the right in the porthole shot towards the end of the video, and I’m pretty sure that’s Spybey on the left and Western at the bottom. You never can tell with these virtually anonymous industrial musicians, I’m afraid.
On HElicopTEr, arrangement takes the place of volume. It’s still a brutally loud album for the most part, but the impact and the dissonance of it come from the way it’s laid out. The second track starts before you have time to realize that the first track is over, and that sets the tone for the rest of the album. Repetitive phrases that don’t match the beat consistently pull the listener’s attention away from the time signature. New instruments are introduced out of tune, and then deliberately detuned further. Through it all, the pace of the record is so intense that you actively have to work as a listener to keep up.
Again, it’s not for everybody. If you’re not the sort of person who’s likely to enjoy what Download does, then this isn’t the album that’s going to change your mind. But if you’re a fan of their early sound and you’ve lost touch with the group as they’ve moved away from it, then this is the record you’ve been waiting for.
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