Review: Moths & Locusts ‘Helios Rising’

Moths & Locusts’ second album Helios Rising was originally released on CD in 2016. Now reissued on vinyl through Cardinal Fuzz and NoiseAgonyMayhem, various descriptors of the album include ‘psychedelic’, ‘surf’, and ‘space rock’, while the band’s influences count the likes of Hawkwind, CAN, Tangerine Dream, Boris, and The Ramones.

Moths & Locusts ‘Helios Rising’

As you might expect, the album is both punky and psychedelic, but this is far from an obvious take. There’s high energy riffs, songwriting dynamics, and lots of natural melody. It’s tight, well crafted and carefully arranged, avoiding overstatement and meaningless pedal stomping. It has an improvisational quality, but it’s full of consciously memorable vocal lines. And perhaps the most unique aspect is that the overall experience is smoothly serene and sustained, but also neat and concise. It’s not what I expected at all.

Emerging with delicate guitars and a flurry of bass, Our Dear Leader builds from urgent but sonorous vocals to energetic punky riffing. In a Hawkwind-like trance with an aggressive streak, the song ascends to a melodic passage that showcases the band’s flair for sudden shifts into catchy melody and simple but thumping rhythms. Tight, lean, and clean, it keeps the psychedelic atmospherics to a subtle undercurrent rather than an overwhelming force. The result is an immersive but balanced trip which favours and follows the song, rather than jamming into the ether.

With wavering discord and feedback, intermittent samples from what sounds like British news reports, and the droning slide and slither of rattling surf guitars, the start of Beach Party Shakedown suggests Moths & Locusts might be breaking off into the void, but again, they opt for another high energy melodic chorus. The vocals are surprisingly smooth while being delivered at pace, part of an effective songwriting pattern of mind-expansion/chorus/mind-expansion followed by a prolonged breakdown of tersely controlled drumming, determined bass meandering, and a razor sharp wash of guitar and synths.

Third track Troubled is subdued and mellow, with weighty piano chords, a sustained tension, and distant female vocals that verge on being unsettling.  Somewhere between relaxing and overbearing, it’s another mini-trip of light and shade hanging in the balance. Within just the first three songs Helios Rising is a showcase for Moths & Locusts’ unique sound and considerable skill in creating controlled chaos working in harmony with a placid calm that never gets complacent. It’s a strange and unexpected musical equilibrium which is repeatedly captured, held briefly, then let go.  

head trip music that’s captivating and full of heart…

And just as I was expecting that same harmonised chaos & calm for a fourth time, Invisible Light breaks through as the most immediate but lasting track on the album. Vocals awash in majestic peace, it’s uplifting but not melodramatic, bursting out over a detuned drone of guitar and a steady beat while improvised details ebb and flow. It’s notable that the song is so structurally straightforward, with neither twist nor turn. It’s just a glorious rise and a steady, controlled fall with richly layered voices calling out.

The surprises keep coming with Capsule and its subdued passages of upbeat drumming, brooding bass, and the shimmer and sheen of psych guitar. It’s the sound of total release, but just when it seems like it might overstep, it’s over. It’s followed by the two-minute anomaly that is Aftershave & Nicotine, a mash-up segue of 90s drum programming, 70s krautrock experimentation, and quirky sampling.

Clocking in at nearly eleven minutes, Biblical Prophecy at first seems to hint towards an excursion into outer space and unexplored levels of consciousness, but Moths & Locusts once again opt for a great vocal melody rather than a relentless jam. It slowly swells, conjuring images of a sedate cosmos. There’s a Syd Barrett-led Pink Floyd sensibility as the music teases a violent eruption that never comes, instead falling away to a synth-led mellow. It expands at a such a steady pace, gradually but firmly opening out to reveal something subtle and beautiful, that it feels like it’s over in a couple of minutes.

Closing track Helios Rising is a surprisingly, more likely deceptively, simple song that holds a wistful quality that left me feeling moved and a little perplexed. I had expected this album to be more overbearing, with heavier tones and bombardments of noise and colour, but it’s surprisingly delicate. There’s a maturity and restraint to the playing that has a sombre and meditative effect. Not melancholy as such, more dreamy and drifting and given to a natural flow.

While Moths & Locusts can twist and turn and switch and shift, there’s no sense of frustration, angst, or violent catharsis. As the album closes, the overall sense I have is of a band that carefully follows the vibe or idea and players who aren’t afraid to eschew the obvious, or expected, in favour of what feels right to them. The result is head trip music that’s captivating and full of heart.

Label: Cardinal Fuzz Records | NoiseAgonyMayhem Records
Band Links: Official | Facebook | Bandcamp | Twitter | Instagram

Scribed by: Josuph Price