Tag: Mari Kattman

HELIX Unimaginable Place EP

North America’s alternative music power couple Tom Shear and Mari Kattman are back as HELIX.

The former is the mastermind behind ASSEMBLAGE 23 while the latter has established career as a solo artist as well as collaborations with the likes of PSY’AVIAH, 3FORCE and BLACKCARBURING. Originally coming together for Shear’s 2014 EBM side project SURVEILLANCE, their debut HELIX long player ‘Twin’ came in 2018 but busy with their main musical outlets, an EP follow-up ‘Bad Dream’ didn’t appear until 2021.

Blessed with one of the most captivating voices in electronic music, Mari Kattman is on top form with the new HELIX EP ‘Unimaginable Place. Meanwhile Tom Shear creates soundscapes sympathetic to his leading lady while exploring textures and beats in a variety of dark styles without resorting to the calculated miserabilism of some acts.

The opening ‘Unimaginable Place’ title track is an infectious slice of electronic pop that is perfect for goth club dancefloors with its sparkling hooks and groovy rhythmics. The shadowy drama of ‘Lie To Herself’ though allows space for ominous piano in that present day Gary Numan vein while manoeuvring a staggered lattice of traps.

But sparkling arpeggios act as the draw into ‘Grey’ with the chime of eerie bells alongside bass frequency bubbles for a chilling Eurocentric atmosphere… it is kind of pretty although something far more sinister lies behind the façade that might have more than a few shades… to close, ‘Hurt Like Me’ provides percussively the hardest song on the EP as Mari delivers an impassioned vocal to suit the powerful but distressing backdrop.

There’s a strange appealing romance and hope about this ‘Unimaginable Place’ which presents the best and most immediate body of work that Tom Shear and Mari Kattman have made together as HELIX. Hopefully, there will be more…


‘Unimaginable Place’ is available as a digital EP from https://helix.bandcamp.com/

https://www.facebook.com/HelixElectronic

https://www.instagram.com/themarikattman/

https://www.instagram.com/tom.shear.58/


Text by Chi Ming Lai
1 February 2024

BLACKCARBURNING Watching Sleepers

A product of lockdown, BLACKCARBURNING is the solo vehicle of Mark Hockings, lead singer of MESH.

While MESH have been on numerous concert outings with a live document ‘Touring Skyward – A Tour Movie’ in 2022, there has been no new material with bandmate Richard Silverthorn since 2016’s ‘Looking Skyward’ album.

Addressing the existential crisis than emerged following the pandemic, Hockings took on the challenge of multiple roles including programming and production, a legacy of him almost accidentally falling into the role of MESH’s vocalist. So far, there have been three EPs plus a JAPAN cover ‘The Other Side Of Life’ for the tribute collection ‘Still Life In Polaroids’.

Although a solo project, Hockings does not hog the limelight on BLACKCARBURNING’s debut long player ‘Watching Sleepers’ as special guests Mari Kattman, Neil Francis and Janne Marvannen of LAKESIDE X take turns as featured artists on a number of songs. As far as the material contained on ‘Watching Sleepers’ goes, there is no carry over from the previously released ‘Divide Us’, ‘Reset’ and ‘All About You’ EPs, save the title songs, albeit in different versions.

The opening salvo of ‘All About You’ is MESH in all but name with a suitably angst-ridden delivery and feisty backing that will keep the faithful happy. The spikey throbbing energy of ‘The Mirror’ provides a dark disco highlight away from the parent band’s template but with a rockier edge, ‘Reset’ ramps up the pace to MESH-like proportions. Something of a banger and very immediate with ominous orchestrated lines to boot towards the end, ‘Losing Our Way’ will also please Meshheads.

But taking different paths, ‘Echo Chamber’ brings vocoder into the vocal aesthetic for some emotive electronic pop while the sparse structure of the ‘Watching Sleepers’ title track brings in an unusual mix of acoustic guitar lines and dominant synth arpeggios.

‘The Sound of Running’ is archetypical MESH with female vox humana phrases and cut from a similar cloth, ‘Breaking Bones’ brings a moderate bounce and plays with interesting pitched voice manipulations for its intro hook.

With the four guest lead vocalled works, ‘Divide Us’ featuring the beautiful voice of Mari Kattman compliments the song’s varying tempos in utilising her range of understated and aggressive modes. Fronted by Janne Marvannen, ‘Your Heart Is Like An Island’ springs an aesthetic surprise and does something a bit different with its downtempo rhythmic stutter.

On the two numbers featuring Neil Francis, the mid-paced but rousing ‘Watch Me Die’ enters into crooner territory and his smoother timbre will surprise MESH fans. But another unexpected turn comes with ‘Love In Control’ which recalls the forgotten Romo duo ORLANDO in its acoustic six string assisted synthpop with Francis at the point of almost sounding like Gene Pitney. MESH fans will probably be scratching their heads but this is a classic pop ditty shows the songwriter aspect of Mark Hockings. A song that Hockings himself had troubling nailing, with Francis realising its potential vocally, a future as a songwriter for other singers may beckon.

Those who might have been disappointed with the BLACKCARBURNING EPs will be pleased with how ‘Watching Sleepers’ has turned out. Although there are perhaps are too many songs on it, this can be seen as a positive in that Hockings is clearing the decks to proceed with Richard Silverthorn to work on a new MESH album.

A thoughtful electronic pop record, ‘Watching Sleepers’ makes a fitting and largely enjoyable stop-gap before the follow-up to ‘Looking Skyward’ eventually emerges.


‘Watching Sleepers’ is released by COP International as a CD, deluxe 2CD + download on 23 June 2023 available from https://linktr.ee/blackcarburning

https://blackcarburning.com/

https://www.facebook.com/blackcarburning

https://www.instagram.com/blackcarburning/


Text by Chi Ming Lai
20 June 2023

HELIX Bad Dream

Shakespeare posed the question “If music be the food of love…” and over the course of popular music numerous couples have released work. From Ike & Tina Turner to Chris & Cosey through EURYTHMICS and more recently our own VILE ELECTRODES and WITCH OF THE VALE, all have shown what can be achieved if partners do more than spend their evenings watching ‘Love Island’ (let’s not mention John and Yoko though…)

Another romantic pairing who have released music are Tom and Mari Shear under the name of HELIX. Their 2018 debut ‘Twin’ was one of the highlights of the year and they have now returned with a new EP, ‘Bad Dream’.

Tom of course is well known from his band ASSEMBLAGE 23 who have been leading lights on the EBM / Industrial scene for some 20 plus years and he brings the muscular instrumentation and production from that project to HELIX but with a number of twists that will raise a few eyebrows.

All of this underpins the new Mrs Shear’s frankly spectacular voice which has been heard across numerous collaborations from her new husband’s SURVEILLANCE release to guest vocals with, to name a few, COMADUSTER and IVARDENSPHERE. More on those vocal skills in a moment…

Opening with the energetic ‘Run’, which picks up from where the ‘Twin’ album left off, this acts as an excellent appetiser for what’s to come. A fine danceable pop infused number, this will no doubt go down a storm not only in a club setting but also in the set at the, currently, infrequent HELIX live outings. Mari easily harmonises with herself in the layered vocals on the chorus to wonderful effect.

One of the great things about any side project is it gives the opportunity to try new things musically and this is evidently the approach taken on the next few tracks by Tom himself. ‘Slip’ opens with a laid-back percussion track underpinning effected samples leading into verse which sensibly allows the vocal to carry the thrust of the track.

As previously stated, I think Mari has one of the best female voices on the scene and this is proven on this track which allows her to be heard without swamping with unnecessary processing.

‘Kill The Unknown’ further allows Mr Shear the scope to do new things musically. This moves into almost ‘indie’ territory with live drums and, gasp, guitars courtesy of multi-instrumentalist Elias Black. These add an expected texture and bite to the track and shifts HELIX in another direction entirely.

Closer ‘Bad Dream’ is a brooding slice of electronica with an almost metal chorus which drops in and out of the arrangement that hinges around a frantic drum track. The accompanying remix included on the EP by MESH frontman Mark Hockings is actually my preferred version, again the ‘dancier’ mix will go down a storm in a club and the mix further highlights Mari’s great vocal take.

Closing the tracklist out is a mix of ‘Run’ by ex-IRIS member Andrew Sega under his HALLOWED HEARTS moniker. This is an almost goth interpretation with chiming guitars and a straightforward 4/4 drum track. Again, this version underlines how well this song will go down in a club set.

In the second part of Shakespeare quote at the top of this article he asks that we “play on”. On the strength of both the earlier album and this all too short EP, we can but hope that Mr and Mrs Shear do just that, there is much here to feed even the hungriest of souls.


‘Bad Dream’ is available as a digital EP from https://helix.bandcamp.com/album/bad-dream

https://www.facebook.com/HelixElectronic

https://open.spotify.com/album/6Qth7TB3nPqWlvPIxgrnne


Text by Ian Ferguson
5th November 2021

HELIX Twin


The long awaited synth collaboration between the East and West of the United States is finally here.

HELIX marks the musical marriage between the Rhode Island songstress Mari Kattman and the man behind everything ASSEMBLAGE 23, Seattle-based Tom Shear.

Kattman, previously of DAY TWELVE and MARI & THE GHOST, debuted with her personal signature sound on a rather fetching long player, ‘Hover’, where she collaborated with Matt Echo. The record settled in a genre of its own and turned many musical heads, including Shear’s.

It wasn’t the first time that his compass pointed East, as the pair had worked together on his side project SURVEILLANCE, where Kattman provided her vocal skills on ‘Husk’ from ‘Oceania’. Tom Shear needs no introduction within the hard core lovers of electronica; being the musical, lyrical and vocal supplier of ASSEMBLAGE 23, which continuously provides top shelf synth offerings, appreciated not only by those “on the verge of collapse”.

It is therefore imaginable that such collaboration is bound to bring miraculous effects and show yet another side to the Seattle based producer. And indeed the new approach comes out on their debut ‘Twin’, especially with the opening ‘Widescreen’, where floatingly gentle melody creates the base for Kattman’s vocal journey further East.

If she’s out to snake whisper, she certainly succeeds, for ‘Anymore’ ushers a change of mood ear worthy a repeat play time. Subtly subdued, yet containing multiple layers of instrumentation courtesy of Shear, it provides an excellent canvas for the voice reminiscent that of Sharleen Spiteri’s. The power of ‘Bird Of Prey’ accents itself in this uptempo gem, where Shear goes vintage musically and on production, while Kattman channels her inner MADONNA, just like MECHA MAIKO had done on her debut ‘Mad But Soft’ couple of months back.

If you’re expecting ‘Kicking & Screaming’ to do what it says on the tin, you’ll be in for a disappointment. This piercing semi-ballad has plenty of subtle power, that’s best served with the addition of darkness, and perhaps it doesn’t prepare for the corker that is ‘Expensive Things’. Here Shear does what Shear does best: takes that beat and twists it into something amazing, adding a pinch of heavy synth and a dollop of ear teasing percussion, interloping with regularly appearing arpeggios and nudges of beats paying homage to vintage DM via ‘Shout’.

This could be a hard act to follow but ‘We Are’ does a good job regardless, changing the feel into a modern offering of off-beat hipster styles, leading into the school disco of ‘Like A Drug’. What SPECTRA PARIS did on ‘Retromachine Betty’, Mari Kattman does here; enhanced by electrifying guitar, fast paced rhythm and plenty of pink and fluffy synths.

While ‘I May Be Wrong’, HELIX keeps going and now Shear joins Kattman on vocals to make it right. This middle of the road track provides a delicate easy listening experience; star gazing and romantic, making Shear sound a tad like Peter Heppner, which is always a good move.

But the ripe beats return suddenly on ‘Live In My Heart’. And what a fast pleasure that is! Kattman goes quirky with her vocal provision and Shear shows he can do the club feel very well. Pure ASHBURY HEIGHTS on steroids, riding on Space Mountain, getting stoned… hang on, that’s LA based NIGHT CLUB… you get the idea!

As all good things have to come to an end, ‘The Beautiful Unseen’ ushers the wrap for the album. Slightly slower, deeper and marvellously executed, where the piano paves the way for the haunting voice and pointed synth, this closing track leaves plenty of thinking space and hope for continuation.

It comes as no surprise that Shear can deliver musically, it’s also not news that Kattman is a valid artist on her own, but those two twinned together provide higher levels of musical enjoyment.

While the debut offering from HELIX may feel like a mixed bag for some and too demure for others, let’s not forget that musical knowhow is deeply ingrained in the pair, and for their first full album as a newly found partnership, ‘Twin’ provides heaps of listening pleasure.

And if it’s too mainstream for you, go and indulge in ASSEMBLAGE 23 instead. Either way, you won’t miss out on the good thing.


‘Twin’ is released by Metropolis Records on 24th August 2018, pre-order the CD direct from https://www.metropolis-records.com/product/11631/twin

Album previews can be heard at https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCXy3cSLVcbsGBlI4M2pjzLA

https://www.metropolis-records.com/artist/helix

https://www.facebook.com/Helix-744516182407113/

https://www.facebook.com/MariKattman/

https://www.facebook.com/Official-Assemblage-23-138651156153800/


Text by Monika Izabela Trigwell
14th August 2018

MARI KATTMAN Hover

Hover FrontThe American town of Providence in Rhode Island is the home of MARI KATTMAN.

Mari, previously of DAY TWELVE and MARI & THE GHOST, had become a sought after voice, following her collaboration with SURVEILLANCE, a side project from ASSEMBLAGE 23’s Tom Shear. Her marked vocals on ‘Husk’ from SURVEILLANCE’s album ‘Oceania’ earned her a well-deserved interest and rapid following.

Recently Mari has joined forces with composer Matt Echo and under the umbrella of MARI KATTMAN, they release their first album, ‘Hover’.

‘Heart Over Mind’ opens the long player with high pitched guitar and seductive, yet measured vocals from Mari, enveloped within a production ASHBURY HEIGHTS wouldn’t be ashamed of.

The atmosphere shifts with ‘Skin’, a gritty synth gem of a more serene nature, like an aphrodisiac, finding its way into the bloodstream of breathy, surreal soundscape. Vocally layered with Mari’s chameleon renditions, it leads into ‘The Tide’. Further subdued, arty and ready to burst… yet, it never does. The intricate suppression of this track is the essence of eloquent beauty in it, whereas ‘Hunter’ heralds a musical digression, involving heavier electronica and haunting vocals.

‘Hearts On Fire’ is possibly the finest creation on the album, rendering influences ranging between De/Vision and Grimes and everything in between, whether with or without Mari’s realisation.

The Berlin Love Parade ringing synth awakens in ‘Reanimator’. This bouncy and flamboyant mixture of layered club sounds rounds up the excellent vocal, encapsulating the soul of techno packaged into a perfect electro track.

‘Numb’ floats above all with atmospheric production similar to one of the excellent John Fryer’s. The ethereal, enchanting textures wrap around the dreamy, floaty vocal, leading into the darkness of the unknown.

The “unknown” is ‘Invisible’. Further references to ASHBURY HEIGHTS, mixed with the feel of German techno clubs again, cross referenced to Americana Noir; the melting pot of genres, put together to entice and excite. ‘Full Of Light’ closes the opus with the fastest tempo of fascinating layers of off beat drums, synths and that delicate, yet powerful voice of Mari.

Hover Disc TrayWhat does Mari teach us? Well, that she refuses to rest on her laurels and continues to make the best music she can. Accompanied by the skilled Matt Echo, the pair have produced a record, which could easily be classed as genre creating. ‘Hover’ is fresh, full of energy where required and docile where necessary and, all in all, a capable manufacture, proving that East Coast of America can deliver in the electronic field in bunches.


‘Hover’ is released in a variety of physical and digital formats on 19th July 2016, pre-order from https://marikattman.bandcamp.com/

https://www.facebook.com/Mari-Kattman-1495816770648951/

https://soundcloud.com/druidelectro


Text by Monika Izabela Goss
16th July 2016