Monday 12 September 2016

Manatees - Helvellyn (Album Review)

Release date: October 24th 2016. Label: Shelsmusic. Format: CD/DD/Vinyl

Helvellyn – Tracklisting

Helvellyn I
Helvellyn II
Helvellyn III
Helvellyn IV
Helvellyn V
Helvellyn VI

Band Members:

Greg Wynne – Guitar, Vocals, Percussion
Alex Macarte – Bass, Vocals, Percussion
Paul Heron - Drums


Often when I listen to intense, avant-garde music of this ilk the sonic tapestry will conjure bleak textures and fanciful themes of anguish. What is both interesting and incredibly attractive about Manatees’ epic new release, ‘Helvellyn’ is that just beyond the brusque flesh of its abrasive introduction lies a vibrant undercurrent of uplifting and joyful catharsis.

I enjoyed Manatees’ 2009 release, ‘Icarus, The Sunclimber’ hugely. It was a titan display of energy that made more ripples than every marine creature that has ever lived. Helvellyn however, manages to sound as colossal as the 950m mountain for which it is named and yet glisten with a dynamic subtlety that holds me captive as it breathes. It feels as though Manatees have focussed on developing the nuanced and delicate elements in tracks like Sunclimber in order to attain a beguiling cocktail of enchanting sound enriched with ethereal wonder.

As with most great records, anyone would have a difficult time summing up this particular listening experience with a handful of simple references; so I will employ a maritime theme and use nautical language in an attempt to log my journey. This is a diverse, heavy record with more hooks than a whaling ship and the dynamic array of an underwater mountain range.

Helvellyn’s evocative introduction is complemented by a melancholy doom groove reminiscent of Pallbearer and Windhand. It is instantly enthralling. Layers of rich guitars and diaphanous organ create an omnipresent whale song as beautiful bass groans in the deep, setting the tone for a mesmeric incantation. It proclaims, “The paths we follow will show. The light inside us will grow” forecasting the journey ahead as it beckons us to give in to the immersive allure of the absorbing ambience and allow ourselves to be carried across the waves as they rise and fall in a dynamic composition of oceanic scale. Seriously though, fanciful language aside I listened to it on repeat in the bath and managed to lose the majority of my Saturday to its extraordinary charm, almost drowning myself in the process. Those that enjoy the more subtle elements of the likes of Boris, Isis, Russian Circles and perhaps even the post-rock flair of artists such as Sigur Ros and Mogwai will find much to enjoy in the first half of Helvellyn.

After a rejoiceful eternity in which our buoyant, disembodied minds drift aimlessly across black, empty waters we are suddenly stirred by an early Melvins-esque rhythm which bangs away like the clunking mechanics of a hefty war vessel as it tears through the waves towards battle, carrying us with it in its wake. If you enjoy the sinister grooves of YOB and Cough then the latter half of this record will satisfy your appetite for noise with thunderous guitar and a level of fuzz equal to that of Captain Ahab’s beard. A battle ensues and the once peaceful horizon is ablaze with the muzzle flash of a thousand guns.

The smoke clears and once again, Macarte adds a distinctly uplifting and emotive element to the caustic timbre of Manatees’ heavy growl as the bass pulses through the blackness like a beacon upon the war vessel’s radar. The final track on the album plays out like an incensed swansong with the band persisting defiantly against the still, cold waters as the engines of the formidable SS. Helvellyn lull lamentably to feedback and then we sink into silence.

Words by ThisHairyGuy

Helvellyn will be available to buy on CD/DD/Vinyl via Shelsmusic from October 24th 2016.