Darkness rises with HEELE’s Pathos

album cover for Heele EP, Pathos - black pixelation on white ground

Why you need it: music for a dark and stormy night

Style: alternative rock

Thunder–and the alternately reassuring and unsettling clatter of hard summer rain–define the atmosphere of Pathos, the debut EP from songwriter, producer, and multi-instrumentalist Michael Henss’ alternative rock project HEELE.

Pathos envelops the listener in a complex aural experience that’s both urgent and meditative: a scene from an action movie, yet filtered through a dream. It’s a dark EP — the single, “Losing It All,” has a feel of soul-rending and inexplicable loss — that brings the same emotional release as a good thunder storm.

Come along on this adventure track by track — you can listen on HEELE’s official site if you prefer that to Spotify (it’s also available in all the usual places to buy).

The Paper Sky opens with drums that speak of thunder and guitars that sizzle with rain. There’s a Nine Inch Nails influence here, in the angry instrumentation and the deadpan vocals, where “I want the world to know” sounds equally like defiance and a cynical decision to tweet about it. When the song disintegrates into a jangle of piano notes, it emerges as an action-movie theme — with its conventional energy deliberately undermined by a repeated “blah blah blah.”

Losing It All brings intermittent rays of light to the darkness, with the energy of reaching frantically for someone who’s tumbling away. Henss wrote the song around the memory of a intense dream: don’t be surprised if the imagery of falling, stalling, remembering, and losing, with the emotional arc created by the instruments layered over the percussion of an erratically beating heart, summons your own dream memories to fill in the narrative. The layered vocals contribute to the sense of retreating dream memories, while “there’s nothing you could do” finds its resolution over an effect like a saw inexorably buzzing forward — only intense longing survives into the light of day. This is the song that grabbed me on first listen, and it’s all too tempting to leave it on repeat in the hope that the story comes out differently on the 300th listen.

Tangent No. 1 brings a feel of Spanish guitar to wander through a twilight lit only by buzzing lamps, where the world occasionally pixelates. The repetition of the guitar riff is reminiscent of meditation music, but sits just on the edge of being unsettling. Is it a tangent or a tango? Is it the first (no. 1) or a solipsistic path (no one)?

Oncoming Wave is doom in musical form, from the full incoming-tide throb of the percussion to lyrics where imagery flows from reassuringly delivered lies and threats. On your second listen, pay attention to how that sweet end-of-day guitar that promises hope and insight at the beginning mutates into anger that plucks at your nerves.

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