Envenomist: The Helix

[10 June 2009]

By Chris Conaton

The coolest thing I can say about Envenomist is that The Helix scares my cats. Every time I started up a track from this album, with its droning bass and screechy overtones, both cats would scurry for the nearest cover, hiding for several minutes until they adjusted to the creepy sounds coming out of my speakers. Envenomist is a full-on synthesizer project from David Nathan Reed, who has done a lot of other dark industrial-style music with a bunch of different names including his own, Starlight Fleecing, Avant Collective and Luasa Raelon. The material on The Helix consists of minimalist, slow-moving, unsettling soundscapes. It’s interesting stuff, at least for a little while.

Reed makes no attempt to make anything on the album resemble natural instruments, and there’s nothing approaching a beat on any of the five tracks. This album is really just a collection of creepy soundscapes, like the soundtrack to some art-house horror film that never existed. The formula is relatively simple: Most tracks start with a low-bass sound and add high overtones that seem to scrape across each other as they pass. Sometimes it’s a single tone, but most often several dissonant high sounds clash against each other, coming in slowly and leaving gradually. In the midrange, other sounds come and go, adding more atmosphere as the tracks flow glacially along.

This is all very effective at first. The first two tracks, “The 11th Hour” and “Heptadecagon” use these elements quite well and are sort of fascinating to hear. It’s a bit unnerving to hear these sounds push against each other like thick oil or some other viscous fluid. But by the third track, “Final Frontier”, it’s clear that this is the only trick Reed has up his sleeve. Every one of these five soundscapes sounds essentially the same and even after listening to the album many times, listeners will be hard-pressed to identify one track from the next. “Gyres” leaves out most of the highest tones, while “Bestowal” pumps up the dissonance a bit, but it’s not enough to make any one chunk stand out from the next.

Essentially The Helix sounds like one big 35-minute experiment in dark sound collages. And the novelty wears off after about 10 to 12 minutes, so either Envenomist intended this as a full-length album piece, or he thought the tracks would stand on its own. Either way, there isn’t enough here to keep things interesting for the length of the album, which is too bad because Envenomist has the potential to be something quite exciting. It leaves you wishing David Nathan Reed had changed things up a bit throughout the course of the album. This is possibly the pitfall of having your hand in too many projects at once. You tend to compartmentalize your ideas to the point where the music within one project sounds too similar because you’re saving ideas for another project.

Published at: http://www.popmatters.com/pm/review/94262-envenomist-the-helix/