Album Review: Massive Attack – heligoland

I find with every album I listen to and generally I try to bend my head around at least 7 or 8 a month, I have a growing appreciation for attention to detail when it comes to song writing and producing and I think that’s why Massive Attack’s newest offering, Heligoland, has me completely spellbound.



I’m not going to lie, the mood is pretty heavy throughout this album, which is why it will go down a lot better when you’re lost in a moment of intense introspection than it will at the next house party you go to and so, even though I really liked this album, I’d be very hesitant to recommend it to just anyone.

Though the overall tone does tend to waver between jaw-grinding comedown paranoia and desolate despair, it stops short of going the route of their contemporaries Portishead, who’s last album had most people gassing themselves in their cars by track 4.

Suffice to say, critics love Heligoland because it’s coherent and you can tell right from the opening few seconds that a lot of thought and care went into producing it. The result is a polished and highly-accomplished album that, while it sure as hell ain’t gonna make you shake that ass, will definitely appeal to trip hop fans and people naturally attracted to the darker side of music.

‘Pray For Rain” the opening track sets the standard for the album and features vocals from Tunde Adebimpe from TV On The Radio which are so quietly and creepily sung they’ll make the hairs on the back of your neck stand up.



The song haunts like a nightmare long forgotten, the kind where whatever it is that’s out to get you isn’t chasing you, it’s watching you from the darkness, waiting to drag you down when it’s good and ready.

“Dull residue of what once was / A shattered cloud of swirling doves / And their eyes change / As they learn to see through flames…”

Track 2, ‘Babel’ is a great choice to follow from the menacing opener that is ‘Pray For Rain’ and adds a nice touch to the desolate soundscape of Heligoland in the form of Martina Topley-Bird’s sultry vocals. The track builds to a surprisingly catchy chorous but it still anything but upbeat.

Topley-Bird also does the vocals for the track ‘Psyche’ which, with it’s frantic and discordant guitar picking is enough to drive anyone caught in the vicious jaws of a weekend MDMA binge completely shit-your-pants crazy.



That track and the intense downer that follows right after it (‘Flat of the Blade’) are definitely not this albums greatest moments, but are thankfully countered by brilliantly arranged and expertly produced tracks like ‘Paradise Circus (featuring Hope Sandoval from Mazzy Star)’ and arguably one of the best tracks on the album ‘Saturday Come Slow (featuring Damon Alburn from Gorillaz)’.

It’s a thought-provoking album that in many ways reminds me of novelist Cormac McCarthy’s post apocalyptic masterpiece, The Road in the way it is loaded with equal parts of menace, desolation and in rare and precious moments, hope.

In Heligoland, Massive Attack has finally, after 12 years, recorded an album that is comparable to the album that put them on the map, 1998’s Mezzanine. It’s trip hop at it’s darkest which is why many people might dismiss it as a mood-killer and nothing else.

However, if you can get past that, Heligoland may very well speak to you on a level very few other albums will, just don’t give it to your broody teenage brother or sister or they might lock themselves in their room with it and not come out until the firemen come to bash the door down.

Final Verdict: 7/10


2 Responses to “Album Review: Massive Attack – heligoland”

  1. 1 Toffee Boy
    April 14, 2010 at 8:42 am

    add to basket!

  2. April 14, 2010 at 11:02 am

    Massive Attack have definitely taken full advantage of the, ‘better late than never!’ excuse for releasing albums in the past 12 years. With Heligoland, apology was the last thing on their minds whilst releasing this album. The fans and critics will wait until we’re ready! However, with all this musical postulation and intermittent touring schedules over the past 5 years, is this album better for it having been simmering in the slow-cooker? I’m not entirely convinced this comes to their best work, or their full potential. A lot of the tracks seem like afterthoughts from really good ideas, that probably sounded good at the time but weren’t as successful in delivery. Flat of the Blade, featuring vocals from Elbow’s, Guy Garvey is a good example of this lack of direction and purpose. The song floats around in tendrils of repetition, with Guy’s vocals actually not adding anything to the song, but making the track worse for it. It’s not endearing, it’s annoying.

    However, there are crackers on this album which rank not quite as high as MA’s best, but they are better than most other bands around. Pray for Rain, Splitting the Atom, Girl I Love You could be set on repeat and have devastating effect. Now that I write this down, I realise the first half of the album is actually pretty brilliant.

    If I was MA, I would have challenged myself with two options.

    1: Released this album as a set of outtakes, or B-sides.
    2: Taken 5 of the album’s best tracks, and released an EP which would satiate fans’ desires long enough for them to record another seminal album. A Mezzanine for the 21st century if you will.

    Whilst that may have disappointed some (I am one of the some), bear in mind, MA’s weakest stuff trumps most other bands on their best days.

    On the whole, a disappointment, specked with amazing singles wrought with disturbing and slick as f*** production values.

    6/10. (-1 for taking so bloody long to release albums. +1 for being so amazing live, though!)

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