Helen Money will change the way you think of cello, metal on ‘Arriving Angels’

Meat Mead Metal – January 30, 2013 – By Brian Krasman


This is one of those refreshing days writing stuff here at Meat Mead Metal. Refreshing because I get to dig into something different, out of the ordinary, challenging, and weird. Don’t get me wrong, I love writing about copious amounts of new metal records because it’s what I do and what excites me. But it can get mundane. Today is not one of those days.

When Profound Lore announced the release of “Arriving Angels,” the new album from Helen Money, the stage name of cellist and composer Alison Chesley, one of the more unique musicians of this day and age, it both was surprising and totally logical. She was a member of Verbow in the 1990s along with Jason Narducy, was a member of Poi Dog Pondering for a while, worked with Bob Mould, and added her work as a contributor to bands such as Anthrax, Broken Social Scene, MONO, Russian Circles, Plaguebringer, and many others. She was one hell of a hired gun when it came to cello work, but her most fascinating creations came along with her Helen Money project, which highlighted her aggressive, amplified, fucked up string work that was scarier and more riveting than what a lot of people dream up with multiple guitars.

“Arriving Angels” is the third album from Chesley’s Helen Money, and she’s joined by drummer Jason Roeder (Neurosis, Sleep) on what’s already one of the most unique records in January, but one that’s likely still going to hold that distinction when we’re putting up Christmas trees in December (or October, if you’re an asshole). If you’re new to Chesley’s work, then chances are you never heard anyone use the cello in quite this way before. You’re going to think you’re listening to a damn suffocating and dark doom metal record created by a roomful of people working to dump as much fog and chaos as possible from walls of amps. But you’ll be wrong. All of the fire and brimstone on here is Chesley and her cello, sometimes played classically, sometimes offering comfort, but often distorted and mangled like a never-ending nightmare.

There are many moods and atmospheres created on this eight-cut record (recorded and mixed by Steve Albini), and the music here can be absorbed in a number of different settings, from meditation, to studying, to confronting and battling your demons, to simply watching nature outside your window. This mix of classical, ambient, drone, and doom may not, on the surface, seem like something we’d traditionally call metal, but again, I invite the more closed minded out there to expand your thinking. This record very well could be your gateway to stretching out your boundaries and discovering new and exciting things.

Opener “Rift” doesn’t grab you and yank you to the floor. It seeps into the room like a ghost, makes some initial sounds so you know something might be there, before it rises up and takes you. The doomy melodies, dark, chunky playing, and ominous tones make for a provoking, chilling open. “Upsetter” has sweltering, strong work and piercing sounds, and a strange melody loops behind everything else, making this feel like the score to a real-life horror story. Not a slasher film or the likes, but something where a human being melts down from the inside and faces himself or herself as a villain. “Beautiful Friends” is mournful and baroque, with distortion and drone pouring in and filling the room to your knees, and percussion kicking in, adding more drama to the story. “Radio Recorders” opens with a panic of echoes, sort of like an old Voivod song, and despite the muck and grime of the track, there’s a gorgeous light that breaks through the clouds and chaos, offering a glimmer of hope.

“Midwestern Night’s Dream” allows you something of a downhome breather, as Chesley delicately plucks her cello, and the song maintains a simple, quiet aura. The title track then lets the noise rip you apart again, with a breath-taking build, windswept passages, fucked up riffs, and a boiling pot that, just when you think it’s going to burn you, it settles back down. Then it rises back up again just as violently. “Shrapnel” has some more traditional cello playing, deliberate, calculated drumming, and a cool pace that gets you ready for the finisher “Runout,” where melodies bend like rubber, eerie echoes allow your mind to wander through the song, drums kick in to keep your lungs blowing, and eventually cool piano drops tap like an easy rainfall.

This record isn’t going to strike everyone the same, and I’m sure some listeners will be too confused or bewildered to accept it. But “Arriving Angels,” as far as I’m concerned, is an intoxicating, fascinating listen that proves not only is Chesley a disarming force in the metal and extreme music world, but is one of the most inventive and creative in all of music. This is a landmark release for Helen Money and should get her the recognition she deserves not only for what she’s contributed in the past but mostly for what she’s still offering us today. She’s a killer.

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