Acclaimed cellist Alison Chesley (AKA Helen Money) continues to craft emotionally heavy, intriguingly constructed compositions on her new full-length, Become Zero. Though listeners may have heard her virtuosity in albums by Russian Circles, Mono and Disturbed, it is Chesley’s Helen Money releases where her skill as a composer truly shines. Her manipulation of her stringed instrument through effects and unorthodox techniques creates some pretty intense and enthralling listening experiences. There will be times where listeners will be taken aback by her unconventional approach to the classic instrument.
On Become Zero, Chesley takes things to new heights. Written after the death of both of her parents, Become Zero blends ferocity, melancholia and elegant beauty into a maelstrom of emotion. The sadness, the anger and confusion, and the eventual acceptance associated with loss can be felt deeply throughout these eight tracks. The first of which, “Every Confidence”, sets the stage for what’s to come.
The track weaves together ethereal, layered melodies with distorted bursts of aggressiveness throughout its lumbering, five-minute duration. The back-and-forth struggle between palpable, icy sadness and gripping, distorted hell mimics the emotional push-and-pull of those suffering the loss of a love one. The album’s closing track, “Facing the Sun”, features a similar approach. Chesley’s classical patterns and motifs gently glide across this five-minute tune, but are often displaced by dissonant doom-laden stomps. The meat of the album between these two tracks is where Chesley experiments a bit more with sound and direction.
Tracks like the bestial “Leviathan” feature primal, concussive percussion (courtesy of Neurosis‘ Jason Roeder) and intense cello riffs that crawl in a doom metal fashion, or tremolo rapidly and menacingly in a parody of black metal. Chesley’s aggressive, almost percussive approach to her instrument can be heard in its purest form on the album’s title track. Here she relentlessly churns out raw, hammering riffs that will bury the listener under their weight. In addition to her formidable presence on the track, layers of ambience, driving percussion and expressive yet minimal piano intertwine with one another on this multifaceted track.
The nine-minute “Radiate” storms right out the gate with a dirge of noisy stringed hell that seamlessly bleeds into lengthy section of sampled choral vocals and soothing, interstellar ambience that eventually dissolves into nothingness. Other cuts worth mentioning include “Machine”, which shows cello-generate somberness colliding head-on with minimal electronica and effects.
Without the use of words or excessive instrumentation, Chesley captures the emotional turmoil associated with the loss of life. In terms of composition, she expertly crafts a multifaceted and unique record with limited tools at her disposal. Become Zero is a powerful record that shows that more can be achieved with less. It’s an album that fans of classical, metal and forward-thinking music in general should not sleep on.
Release Date: September 16, 2016
Label: Thrill Jockey Records
Favorite Tracks: “Every Confidence”, “Become Zero”, “Radiate” and “Leviathan”
For Fans Of: Musk Ox, Jarboe and Disemballerina