Big Fish Audio | Sound on Sound | Helter Skelter Product Review
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Helter Skelter | Sound on Sound

Rating: 4 out of 5 Back to Helter Skelter product details

So you're Alice Cooper and you've just bought a sampler. Who you gonna call? Quite possibly, the good people at Big Fish Audio.

Their latest release, entitled Helter Skelter, promises to provide a "21st Century hybrid of Rock, Industrial, Goth, Hip-Hop, Techno and Metal", and while it's perhaps difficult to imagine what the average hybrid fan of all those types of music would look like, it's a safe bet to assume that long hair and body odour could feature heavily. What a hybrid of those music types would sound like, however, is deftly answered by this 59-track, 72-minute audio CD. Big Fish like to work in the realms of the construction kit, offering short chunks of near-completed songs and then deconstructing them into the various mix elements, from which you can pick and choose. This CD is an example of just that method.

Helter Skelter offers just 18 full construction kits to play with, but what you lose in numbers you more than gain in the range of instruments used, and the musical authenticity that is on display. Obviously, drums and guitars are the sonic stalwarts here, and in each construction kit the performance and execution of both is immaculate. The juicy metal guitars thrash and strut their stuff against a marvellous fusion of traditional cock-rock drumming and turntable-inspired hip-hop. Obvious stylistic comparisons can be drawn with post-grunge pantomime dames such as Marilyn Manson, but this release also tips its musical hat in the direction of more inspired sonic experimentalists such as Nine Inch Nails and Placebo. It even touches on Gangsta Rap territory, with gritty homeboy beats that wouldn't sound out of place if used by bands such as the dope-smoking, cop-hating Cypress Hill. CDs like this, with a strong retro-sampling agenda, tread a fine line between legitimate irony and downright camp, and there are a couple of times on Helter Skelter when things get just a little bit too Whitesnake -- but luckily there's always a killer squidgy analogue bass line, some turntable scratching or a distorted rap vocal hiding round the corner to save the day.

Tracks 20-34 offer a collection of highly usable and appropriate drum loops which once more manage to fuse rock, funk and lo-fi hip-hop, both stylistically and sonically. The mixed bag of 'Events, FX and Noise Loops' on tracks 35-40 provide, as you might expect, some hard-edged sound effects, vocal snatches and general grot, with names such as 'Swirl Vox', 'Fast Wah', and (my particular favourite) 'Baby in a Blender'. Tracks 41-52 contain an excellent selection of bass and synth loops which are perfect as starting points for those seeking a bit of hard-nosed analogue inspiration. And just in case you need a few more guitars, there's a useful set of chromatic guitar power-chords, as well as some funky DJ scratching, to round things off at the end of the disc.

All in all, Helter Skelter is a worthy and largely successful attempt to bring the post hip-hop goth and indie rock music genres to the attention of the sampling generation. While most of what it says musically is, by its very nature, derivative, there are moments of sheer genius that won't be lost on those looking for a set of sounds with a bit of bite. And if Helter Skelter carries just one message, surely it must be this: don't rage against the machine -- just put some more RAM in it.

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