If drummer Stockton Helbing's new album Battlestations & Escape Plans was a film, it'd be a widescreen epic. In a sense, it already is. This ambitious, visionary work lights up the imagination with the blinding force of an atomic bomb. That is not hyperbole; every track on the record pulses with dazzling arrangements, thumping energy, and breathtaking cinematic atmospherics. What Helbing has produced here is a movie for the mind, one that unreels scenes of high adventure and poignant drama without spoken narration.
Composed, arranged, and produced by Helbing himself, Battlestations & Escape Plans does not skimp on anything. From its eye-popping booklet, featuring the striking painted illustrations of Grace Lie, to its crisp, booming sound, this is no low-budget affair. But there is substance to the sizzle. The title track opens the album with Josh Hanlon's crystalline piano. It is the calm before the storm until the horns kick in and black-and-white images of warfare bolt from the subconscious as Helbing's slamming drums and Brian Mulholland's jamming bass electrify the air.
Helbing delivers one high-impact performance after another. His jumpy drumming on Kelsier" heightens the intensity brought upon by Mulholland's throbbing bass lines and Hanlon's rollicking piano. It makes one long to see this record played live in its entirety, to see these top-drawer musicians tear off the roof. But it's not all about thunder and lightning. For example, Transfer Notice" is relatively subdued; nevertheless, they capture the uneasy quietness of stalled gunfire.
Helbing wrote a short story for the booklet as well, turning this project into art that awakens all the senses.