This is the second album proper from Leeds quintet Vessels, who return to the same Dallas studio where their well-received debut, White Fields & Open Devices, met its makers. Back for more, too, is producer John Congleton, as the band look to build on the appreciative support they have had thus far.
From this detail you might discern that little has changed for the post-rock heroes – and, in a sense, you’d be right. There is still music of great power and virtuosity here, with long strands of instrumental thought put down on record and allowed to breathe and evolve naturally. This much is clear from the increasingly detailed paragraphs of Monoform, which keeps an obstinate melody in the bass regions but gets more elaborate with every forward move.
Initially the music takes on the form of a struggle against the elements. Dark, minor key harmonies, low, thudding drums and growling bass lines do battle against each other in both Monoform and The Trap, shrouded in what feels like dry ice towards the background. Once again there is little in the way of discernible vocals, the music doing the band’s talking for them as it gradually makes the most of its latent power, which comes mostly from the prodigious drumming of Tim Mitchell.
There is incredible musicianship here, be it in those increasingly fractious percussion fills, the sudden flurries of guitar notes or in the sheer profusion and complication of different rhythms, negotiated seemingly without worry by the band.
Throughout, Helioscope unfolds as one giant whole, its structure seemingly pointed towards the massive release of All Our Ends, where the listener might finally be staring directly at the sun. This is the album’s towering culmination, a rush of consonant peals of guitar and titanic drumming, all over a stone clad bass – and like the solar experience would be etched in to your retina, this track stays with the listener long after its first hearing. The closing track Spun Infinite is a mere footnote detailing the fallout.
Despite the virtuosity and strength of feeling, it does prove difficult on occasion to glimpse the inner soul of this music, the feeling being in some of the build up tracks that this cleverly written prose can lack emotion through its precision and calculated effect. Given the impact of All Our Ends, that may be intentional – but it means the album is best experienced as a whole rather than in snippets. Then it can fully reveal its power.