Deathprod‘s most celebrated album, 2004’s Morals and Dogma, is described by the artist as “a ritual.” Its four slowly unfolding, side-long pieces each feel like a kind of spiritual vibration in which the material and unseen worlds eventually join in parallel and collide. I wouldn’t advise anyone actually listen to it in a sweatlodge, but you could easily imagine it blasting through the hifi there. Compositions, by contrast, would look almost on the surface like a project rooted more in academic or artistic discipline rather than something more metaphysical—there’s a certain formal detachment in a title like Compositions in addition to each track being named “Composition 1,” “Composition 2” and so on, as if they were studies in a series or loose sketches.
The power and intensity behind these 17 compositions tell a different story. Helge Sten’s music remains often ominous and alien, his alternately soothing and terrifying analog drones sometimes closely resembling the spaciest wormhole trips of Tangerine Dream in the ’70s in miniature. That Sten refers to his unique recipe of homemade electronic instruments, effects, samplers and processors as the “Audio Virus” gives some indication of the menace these pieces can harbor. Just through computer speakers alone, “Composition 1” carries a massive throb that seems as if it could displace any nearby loose objects or possibly beckon any apparitions within earshot.
Yet the sense of scale on Compositions is in large part what sets it apart from Sten’s other work as Deathprod. Many of these pieces are concise and contained, sometimes just the exploration of a certain texture or resonance rather than a piece in need of resolution, and during a moment like “Composition 4,” even eerily calm. But even within the space of 91 seconds, Sten presents his “Virus” in the form of sharpened saw blades rather than a bass-heavy rumble, and just one track later, conjuring terror through the slightest of movements. There’s both intimacy and aggression on Compositions in equal measure, sometimes with just a hair’s breadth of difference between them.
Though taken with a little detachment the presentation of Compositions can still feel at times like a painter in the studio, working away at a series of variations on a theme to capture various nuances, the emotional resonance nonetheless remains. This is an album made for close listening and even a kind of physical reaction. You can feel these pieces in the most literal sense, whether as a kind of meditative frequency or a goosebump-prickling fear provocation. However it presents itself, it acts to draw you in closer.
Label: Smalltown Supersound
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Jeff Terich is the founder and editor of Treble. He's been writing about music for 20 years and has been published at American Songwriter, Bandcamp Daily, Reverb, Spin, Stereogum, uDiscoverMusic, VinylMePlease and some others that he's forgetting right now. He's still not tired of it.