Mt. Helium Rises like the Phoenix

Album Info

Artist: Mt. Helium (formerly known as The Apex Theory)
Album: Faces
MYnstrel Genre: Hard Rock & Heavy Metal
Album Release Date: 06.23.2008
Band Members:
Art Karamian – Guitar, Vocals
David Hakopyan – Bass
Sammy J. Watson – Drums
MySpace Homepage:
Noteworthy Video:

Spotlight Summary

It’s hard to put into words how excited we are about this album! Long-time fans of Mt. Helium’s previous band, The Apex Theory, we’ve been waiting anxiously for years to hear the timeless, unique, talented, and soul-grabbing vibes on Mt. Helium’s new album, Faces.

From the first track, through the last track of the album, prepare for an immense adventure of rockin’ goodies. Production quality and sounds are phenomenal, with deep bass, slightly fuzzed, but still hanging on to its girth, grabbing your gut in unique timing in synch with the unbelievable drum rhythms – not just homage to legendary Led Zeppelin-like rock styles, and Armenian folk music, but truly compositional with a level of intellect you’d expect from master composers.

As the rhythmic goodies traverse a wide variety of tempos, the harmonious vocals use patiently sweet sing-song verses to crescendo into full-blown, powerful choruses that give you goose bumps. Meanwhile guitars run up and down brilliantly composed chord structures, with interesting textures – all the while using echoes and delay-effects for uncommon sounds that are sure to give you a fresh breath.

We can imagine an audience that is lucky enough to see Mt. Helium live, just being awe-struck by the upbeat, Armenian-folksy, happy-sounding verses, which are frequently followed up by a melodic explosion of the full force of Karamian’s lungs.

Give Mt. Helium an honest chance and you will not be disappointed by their masterful use of diverse emotions and the original sonic techniques that they employ to express them.

Album Breakdown

Mt. Helium provides listeners with diverse and conceptual lyrics featuring images of challenged relationships, the multiple “faces” we are compelled to wear, and other natural occurrences in life. This comes amidst an explosion of instrumentation that helps add solidarity to gluing life’s chaotic moments together with a steady stream of consciousness. The melodies carried by the vocals range from soft falsetto to powerful note-explosions from the top of Karamian’s range; the choruses are complex but you will find yourself humming them afterwards. Art Karamian’s rapid vibrato accentuates the lyrics and duly honors his Armenian heritage.

While the guitar is delicately plucking out some clever counter-melody, the bass is carrying a fascinating bottom, running through well placed notes. The rhythms are extremely complex, but locked tight between the vocals, guitars, bass, and drums. Most rhythms play off each other in interesting ways; often a cut time will play on top of a regular time and the music is rampant with polyrhythms that dance around the downbeat.

The harmonies are always tight and pleasing. The bass, guitar, and vocals constantly feed off of each other to make interesting combinations. The instrumentation is unique and unusual, both building and breaking down in interesting ways throughout the album. The song structure is very different from the norm; full of crescendos, ritardandos, accelerandos, and odd time signatures.

The overall recording is clean, which is critical for the level of complexity of this music. This Progressive Rock mix is true to the ambition of the genre, which contributes to the incredible experience listeners will have with this album.

The level of musicianship is phenomenal. Like the lyrics, the music is original and complex, but not for showmanship’s sake – you can tell that these artists are immensely thoughtful and deliberate in their expressions. We have never heard such brilliant implementations of delay effects (a processing tool by which the notes of the instruments echo and repeat themselves for long enough to wrap over new notes that are being played).

The last time we were so thrilled with this technique was in Dream Theater’s Lifting Shadows off a Dream from their album Awake. But on Mt. Helium’s Faces, they employ this technique on most of the album and with uncommon time signatures that are difficult to maintain. You can imagine how mind-boggling this type of composition is. Timing is crucial.

Are you ready for another amazing fact? Mt. Helium achieves all of this with a guitarist who is singing at the same time. The amount of expression they achieve with only three humans is truly superhuman. If we could issue a world record for usage of delay effects in musical composition, no doubt, Mt. Helium would be the current title holder.

Setting the Record Straight

Currently MYnstrel is unaware of any unfair press or slanderous reviews of this album.

Personal Connections to this Album

Spotlight Editor, Tony Abbruscato’s Personal Connections

I will never forget the very first time I heard the Byzantine scale opening guitar riff to the song “Apossibly” by The Apex Theory in 2002. I was so intrigued that I pulled my car to the side of the road so I could listen and hear who was playing this incredible song. To my utter disappointment, the radio station didn’t mention the name of the band. When I got home I researched and finally found out. This taught me a lot about the band and was an invaluable learning experience.

I went out and bought the album Topsy-Turvy that night and experienced a musical awakening. This music affected me the same was as when I first listened to Dream Theater. I probably have listened to this album at least 50 times over the years, and I still enjoy every minute of it.

The first time I heard that “The Apex Theory” was reborn as “Mt. Helium”, I was excited to see if the intricate talent would be preserved. I was satisfied and more! As a drummer, singer, and guitarist, I certainly appreciate great skill and complex rhythms. Mt. Helium does not disappoint. Not only do they conquer vastly complicated polyrhythms, but their layering of various tempos and time signatures creates an experience very rare in today’s musical landscape.

From the thrashing guitars and drums on “Crzy Juce”, “Pins”, and “Fast Break” to the well placed falsetto vocals on “Where”, Mt. Helium will provide you with an album like none other. I suggest you buckle your seat belts and get ready for a rollercoaster of music, with plenty of twists and turns to surprise even the well-listened members out there.

Mt. Helium provides a hefty dose of the unexpected all wrapped in a package that unveils a beautiful masterpiece. If experiencing these incredible artists’ creation comes with going against the mainstream, why would one ever want to go with the mainstream?

Tommy

I remember spending hours upon hours running on the campus of Virginia Tech with Mt. Helium’s prior act, The Apex Theory, exploding through my portable CD player. Can I measure how much inspiration and relief throughout difficult times that they gifted me? Not likely – we left the truck weighing stations on I-70.

A few may be unfamiliar with the level of abstraction used in Mt. Helium’s lyrics, reminiscent of bands such as Stone Temple Pilots and Deftones – as opposed to a more folk-oriented, story-telling approach to songwriting. Regardless, I’m an avid lover of all lyrical formats. A strength of abstract and conceptual lyrics is that they are better suited to locking the listener into moods and emotions because they allow the listener’s mind to wander into places that are unique to them. They also tend to have a longer shelf-life – whereas story-based songs tend to wear more quickly with their concrete imagery.

Mt. Helium and The Apex Theory are masters of this lyrical abstraction. How does this relate to my personal experience with Mt. Helium? I found myself over the years being able to apply their songs to many diverse experiences in my life.

As for the music, it’s just unstoppable. It builds up, it breaks down, it explodes, it drives. In your vehicle, you can drive full speed with this album, or you can cruise. You can workout at full impact, or you can groove. If you’re a professional dancer who can handle the complex rhythms, you can probably push your dance to the limits with these challenging beats.

The highly textured chords and unique melodies keep me mesmerized no matter what I’m doing while listening. The musical themes are so broad and diverse that I don’t have to be in any particular mood to listen to Mt. Helium, which is a good thing because this is an album that I want to listen to very frequently. It’s already a classic in my music library.

Featured Tracks

Track 1: Crzy Juce

Since the lyrics are so abstract, we’ll leave their interpretation up to you, the listener. We’re quite sure you’ll find interesting moods and emotions to mould your interpretations within.

Odd time signatures reign supreme in this song. The introduction begins with a prominent bass drum and hi-hat in 11/4 time. The rhythms remain exciting and interesting throughout the entire song – with powerful, contrasting changes locked to the lyrics. For example, an abrupt change to the second verse is locked in with the lyrics “Tossing and turning”, perfectly expressed by the fast, syncopated guitar strums and whirlwind triplet-laden bass line. Usage of doit in the vocal melody adds that extra sense of drama and tension, perfectly placed. We just love the expressive slides in the vocals.

The middle of the song features a delicate breakdown that slowly builds back up, only to take a short subtle break before the powerful climax that is the last chorus and outro combined – ending with an amazingly talented and brilliant accelerando, featuring a powerful, sustained downbeat.

The guitars sound incredible, and when the bass guitar plays a stand-alone pattern it comes across very clear and piercing. The song structure is very intricate and unusual overall, accentuated by mixing the different instruments to take the prominent voice in each section properly. Their timing remains impeccable, especially when guitars and drums are playing different time signatures on top of each other.

If you’re a rhythm-meister, you may really enjoy the mind-boggling technical aspects of this song’s rhythms. The first verse cuts right to 11/8 time with the bass guitar carrying the main rhythm. The time signature then changes to a pattern of two measures of 5/4, also counted as two measures of 4/4 and one measure of 2/4. It then changes quickly back to 11/4, then 11/8, then 10/4 again. A long instrumental passage follows to build up the climax, with an interesting part in which the drummer plays an 11/4 downbeat on the bass drum and hi-hat with the guitarist playing an 11/8 riff on top of it. The drummer then joins in with his splashes and other effects cymbals playing the 11/8 pattern.

Track 2: Pins

Holy-delay-moly!!! Do you hear that amazing echoing guitar riff that sounds larger than life, ambient in the verse, and triumphant in the chorus? Do you hear that explosive rhythm underneath it with the bold bass filling up the textures of the interesting chord structure? This song really features an impressive use of rests, creating space that is filled in with dramatic brilliance. The chorus comes at the listener in a cascading wall of sound that is clear, discernable, and complex.

The bass riff in the bridge adds a lot to the mix, gaining some interesting effects that add to the ambience. Their timing is once again excellent; following a full-band rest, they all come in together perfectly to bring the chorus back. The dynamics are effective, especially with the explosive burst of interesting notes at the end of the song.

Track 7: Remind

How about that bass line during the verse of this song? The notes are so interesting together, as they climb all over the fascinating chord structure. The last time I remember hearing this incredibly unique and uncommon chord structure was when I was a young child, playing the Nintendo Gameboy’s “Final Fantasy Legend” game with music from the renowned composer Nobuo Uematsu (I believe it was the “sky world” music).

For sure, Nobuo would find kindred artistic spirits in Mt. Helium. This song presents a 6/8 time signature with a chorus so hummable and melodic you might just sing it for a while after you listen. The bridge has a thrashing rhythm in which the lead guitar, bass guitar and bass drum play a complicated and superbly syncopated, 32nd note pattern.

The vocal melodies are resounding and dramatic; they are accompanied by interesting, well-placed harmonies. The guitars are very bright during the intro and verses, but not overbearing, once again providing wonderful ambience. During the chorus, all three instruments blend well to let the vocals stand out and carry the expression.

Overall, a terrific contrast between different parts of the song to create different sounds and maintain a unique density. Mt. Helium once again demonstrates their mastery of timing during the fast 32nd note run and the whole measure rest for the instruments in which the vocals carry the song with great spirit and resilience.

This song is mixed very brightly overall, but with some tension brought about by the dark, dramatic, minor verse. Mt. Helium successfully captures unique sounds and rhythms which remain essential to their expression.

Additional Tracks:

I’ll admit, I’m a fan of the whole album. It is tough to pick other tracks to highlight, so we asked some Washington DC community listeners to weigh in with their opinions. The consensus? Other noteworthy tracks include: “Where”, with steady 6/8 timing and brilliant use of guitar work during the verses; “Keep”, with a very slow and deliberate 5/4 time signature throughout and prominent vocal harmonies; and “Get to Work”, with possibly the best and most complex drum and bass guitar work on the entire album and a really well placed 6/8 bridge and a classical guitar outro that is a perfect conclusion to a timeless album.

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