One year ago I reviewed the album, Leading Edges, by Leeds dark ambient duo, Helicopter Quartet. Leading Edges was dark, dismal and oppressive, but with a post-rock leaning in some of the songs, which created this, thankfully, not stock post-rock sound that’s being pushed everywhere these days. And so, one year on from Leading Edges and Helicopter Quartet have released their new album, Ghost Machine. Let’s start things off by saying that, the dark ambient is fully out on this release, darkly teeth gnashing and snarling with the frightening viola and synth tones produced by Chrissie Caulfield.
The oppressive and dreary nature of the songs on Ghost Machine has been turned way up and never have these two sounded so doomed. Romanze is looks like it would be right at home in a post-apocalyptic soundtrack, very akin to that of Godspeed You! Black Emperor, but without the monolith run times and bombastic build-ups. The guitar from Michael Capstick and the viola work on this track are so damning and remind me eternally of East Hastings by GY!BE, but dronier and less driving than that track. Because of this droning, it can be rather hard to listen to casually. To truly enjoy this track, or any of them, you have to be paying attention, or at least not doing anything that takes up to much RAM, because this music requires your attention.
This mood strikes me as the kind of atmosphere that this album is hitting. All of the tracks seem a lot longer than they really are, but this gives a feeling that each of the creeping sounds in each song has a chance to grow. Cortege, is the best example of these dark tones shifting and growing throughout the song. The guitar contrasts with the massive and constant booming here and even the viola has moments of not sounding likes it’s been bathing in complete despair. This track travels in a lot of different ways in a lot of very subtle manners. The booming on this track did make me wish for a bit more percussion though, as a tool to help break things up a little bit.
Even with so few instruments blaring off in this mix, it sounds like a lot is going on, but I think there’s room in there for more, nothing large and obnoxious, but something subtle to help space things out.
Just like last time, subtle is what these two are here to do – Each song starts with a little idea and grows from there in a carefully considered way. The title track starts with something being dropped and dragged along some strings and it grows from there. It’s like a machine winding up and getting ready to haunt your ass. When this song is ready to haunt your ass, about halfway through, it lets you know and catches you off guard. It made me jump the first time I heard it, but I’m a complete wuss.
This album is massively comparable to the last one, but it does do enough for me to think that it treads interesting enough ground for it to not get boring. This Leeds duo has managed to pull off dark and oppressive even darker and more oppressive than last time, but I would like some more percussion play next time, something of a personal preference, but something breaking up this massive textures would be more than welcome.