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Heldon - Stand By CD (album) cover

STAND BY

Heldon

 

Progressive Electronic

3.92 | 67 ratings

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Neu!mann
Prog Reviewer
4 stars Remember the movie "Videodrome"? David Cronenberg's bizarre fantasy/satire starred James Woods as a cable TV pornographer who stumbles on a mysterious pirate transmission of hardcore S & M, exposure to which can lead to wild hallucinations and horrifying physical mutations (Woods develops a gooey, organic VHS tape deck in his tummy).

I only mention this because it's entirely possible that the music of Heldon may generate a similar effect. There was always something dangerous, if not downright seditious, about their sound, best described as the musical equivalent of guerrilla warfare (an early album was even entitled "Electronic Guerrilla"). Under the leadership of guitarist Richard Pinhas they patented a blend of proto-industrial-ambient electronica, long before such labels became fashionable, and worlds away from the comforting Utopian vistas of most '70s Progressive Rock.

My memory of their early, more radical stuff is (perhaps thankfully) somewhat hazy now, but this 1979 release is easily their most accessible effort, and possibly their best. It was also the last album of the original group, although Pinhas continues to tour and record, with occasional help from his ex-Heldon bandmates. But they went out with a bang, to be sure.

The track list (all three titles) was shuffled for the CD reissue, with the monster title track better employed as the curtain raiser here. This one doesn't waste any time with polite introductions; it simply grabs the unwary listener by the throat with a savage 14- minute instrumental assault of synth-laced guitars and aggressive rhythms.

Talk about an attention getter, but the track is mis-titled. "Stand By"? Consider yourself fortunate if you don't end up running around the room in a blind panic, clawing the walls and tearing at your headphones like a gibbering idiot. Power chords have rarely sounded so powerful before, and the almost regal majesty of the last few heavy metal minutes does little to alleviate the near relentless brutality of the preceding jam.

By comparison, the more concise and playful "Un Drôle de Journée" functions almost like comic relief: a four-minute, caffeine driven sprint through a maze of racing sequencer arpeggios and busy (acoustic) drum patterns. Special guest Klaus Blasquiz, of the Kobaian band MAGMA, provides the "voices" (not "vocals", take note).

All of which leads to the almost 22-minute "Bolero", a typically open-ended Heldon epic, composed (with plenty of room for improvisation) by Pinhas and drummer François Auger, credited here with "Kölossal" Percussive (another Zeuhl reference?). The track bears no relation to the Maurice Ravel orchestral masterpiece, except perhaps in its trance-like repetition, divided here over eight strictly nominal sections. Good luck trying to find the divisions: it all sounds very homogenous to me, a mix of endlessly pulsing analog synthesizers and long, discordant guitar solos. Pinhas made no secret of his admiration for KING CRIMSON (even, believe it or not, naming an early Heldon song "In The Wake of King Fripp"), and most of "Bolero" sounds not unlike a collaboration between Fripp at his mid '70s fractured best and classic TANGERINE DREAM.

Undiscriminating listeners might call it boring; I prefer the word hypnotic. Either way the music is its own altered state, with no other chemicals required, and was so impeccably produced it might have been recorded yesterday. But if, while wedged between the headphones, you see (or imagine you see) a compact disc cartridge emerging from your stomach, dripping with viscera, don't say you weren't warned.

Neu!mann | 4/5 |

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