Record Reviews

Spiral Vortex

Categorising the Melbourne trio The Night Terrors is a tricky venture, to the extent that the most fitting descriptor is simply ?strange.? The tension lies between their penchant for dark, menacing synths and their prog-jam impulses. Spiral Vortex, the band’s long-gestating second LP, threatens cheesiness often as it blends ornate live-drum rhythms with stoic reverence to the primitive epoch of electronic music. The album’s mitigation of any such pervading silliness stands as its greatest strength and, to a slight extent, its detriment.

The Night Terrors? ace in the hole, of course, is the masterful theremin work of band progenitor Miles Brown. Live, his right hand is transfixing to the point of initial distraction – tones telekinetically extracted from antenna. The novel, retro-futurist stigma associated with the instrument dissipates instantly as Brown (trained in the craft by [Lydia Kavina](http://www.lydiakavina.com), regarded as the world’s leading thereminist) conjures steady melody in an aural sphere somewhere amongst soprano and violin. Save for the vocoder-heavy closing track, Spiral Vortex is a strictly instrumental affair – leaving the theremin to occupy the emotive realm reserved for vocals, which it achieves often. Still, it’s used sparingly.


Despite the prevalence of electronic noise on Spiral Vortex*, many of the tracks find more in common with orchestral compositions. While the music isn’t cheesy, it isn’t difficult to envision each of the tracks acting as score for vintage sci-fi/horror schlock. Again, this may be the connotation of theremin; Brown’s mentor did contribute to Howard Shore’s soundtrack to *Ed Wood*. At weaker moments, *Spiral Vortex* feels like it’s left wanting for such visual accompaniment. When it hits its stride, which is often, it conjures celestial visions in the mind’s eye, something like an internal *2001: A Space Odyssey stargate sequence. The gritty ?Monster?, the album’s apex, congeals the outfit’s elements in perfect measure, firing like an interstellar dogfight.

Everything clicks into place when the at-times sprawling compositions lock down into rhythmic syncopation, when the loose live drumming concedes to a more conventional electronic percussive structure. ?The Devil Played Backwards? unleashes a euphoric dose of stadium-scope electronica, reminiscent of the level Fuck Buttons frequently sustain. ?Lasers for Eyes? strikes success with the inverse, building to an anticipated drop (to borrow EDM parlance) only to breathlessly strip back to a creeping, Kraftwerk-like synth.


It’s interesting that Spiral Vortex* arrived virtually concurrent with Brown’s debut 7? solo release, seeing as he is the Trent Reznor to Night Terrors? Nine Inch Nails. Brown’s *[Electrics](https://itrecordsmelb.bandcamp.com/album/miles-brown-electrics-7-single) 7? shares much in common with his band’s output, substituting his voice in for live drums and theremin. There’s an enticing space between the two ventures. In solo mode, the minimalism seeks to be expanded. In The Night Terrors, the histrionic impulses can translate as cheap, as if the live confluence of crashing cymbals and pulse-fire synths struggles to be contained on record without the benefit of big-budget studio polish.

Brown’s 7? B-side ?Night Time? features a ridiculous, Presets-style, banging coda. It’s danceable. Hell, it’s fun*. ?Force Field?, the closing track on *Spiral Vortex, bends the rules established earlier in the album, with commanding vocoder providing a counterpoint to the soaring theremin. While the album lacks the resounding impact you’d hope to expect from the nearly five-year space since [their debut](/releases/2000304), these two closing statements signal a less inhibited evolution: promising signs for either, or perhaps both, of Brown’s musical endeavours.