Review: Helm – Impossible Symmetry

In a first for Helm’s Luke Younger, Impossible Symmetry is founded on live improvisation rather than studio sessions. Personally I’m unfamiliar with Helm’s previous output (which extends back to 2006 and includes four previous full lengths), but it’s certainly feasible to see how the live environment has come to inform the way in which these tracks are structured: sounds are gradually stacked one on top of the other and then carefully peeled away again, with cores of rhythm and noise playing host to everything from swarms of white noise to warped, operatic vocal fragments.

But while “Minatures” and “Liskojen yo” are almost symmetrical in their structures – shaped by the patient growth into climax and steady dissipation into silence – “Arcane Matters” ruptures such impending dynamic gradients with a sudden jolt of dissonant piano that thumps home once the opening distortion hurricane clears. The restless chatter and laughter of children (awash with a ghostly, school corridor ambience) hangs ominously behind each stab against the keys, with the walls soaking up each resonant clash of notes. Meanwhile, the first half of “Above All And Beyond” keeps the canvas of quiet visible behind the noise, swapping the upward volume swells for the awkward stasis of a vacated room. Synthesiser solos emerge and recede – sometimes angular and glistening like glass sheets, sometimes swooping up and down like slow motion birdsong – while muffled rumbles hint to some sort of tectonic activity beneath the earth’s crust.

Much of Impossible Symmetry lingers in those reverberant spaces occupied by dark ambient music, with texture rendered obscure by the echoes that blur its form into the unfamiliar, but Younger avoids simply melting into the large spaces he creates. Instead, he chooses to use them to emphasise the more striking sound choices of the foreground – the scuttle of giant insects, the chimes of haunted music boxes, the hiss of dead intercom in outer space – as gestures that celebrate those spontaneous improvisatory moments, possessive of a brash distinction that excessive studio scrutiny may have opted to eject.