The fourth solo album for rock cellist Alison Chesley (Helen Money), Becoming Zero is more melancholic than its predecessors, and for good reason: the album was recorded after the death of her parents. The stages of grief are apparent here, in particular the sadness and anger. Returning for this venture is Sleep / Neurosis drummer Jason Roeder, which gives listeners some idea of what to expect: this is a metal album, recorded with wood. It may in turn comfort and stir, but it certainly won’t lull one to sleep.
The fanciful cover art is a curveball. One imagines a younger version of the artist, parents intact, opening the chest of life; or an older version, recalling her youth. One doesn’t become zero after losing one’s parents, yet one may feel that way: deserted, decontextualized, rubbed out. The title track, the first to include drums, seems to rail against fate, a cello against a storm. But it’s in the tender moments that Chesley reaches for ~ and is able to grasp ~ a more complex array of emotions. First apparent in the opening notes of “Every Confidence”, the contrast between rage and reserve echoes that of a soul in turmoil, searching for a single emotional perch on which to alight. For a few short minutes, the surprising Bach-referencing “Blood and Bone”, featuring the piano of Rachel Grimes, seems to provide such a purchase, its steady tempo belying an unsteady heart. But slowly the agitation sets in again.
Chesley is not one to sit still. If so, she’d be another sort of cellist, a more common composer. Instead, she experiments with her instrument, allowing it to be modified, amplified, distorted. The dynamic contrast is not only between her and the other performers; it’s within herself as well. The center of the album seems to be the shell in which she rests and regains strength. The fierce “are you sure that’s not a guitar” of “Leviathan” demonstrates an emergence, the finale “Facing the Sun” a reconciliation. In these pieces, Chesley insists that she is the product of her parents, yet fully herself: a simultaneous gift to her parents and a recognition of the gifts she has been given. The first and final notes of “Facing the Sun” are pure, pristine, unadorned. In the end, she has not become zero; if anything, by embracing her new reality, she has finally become one. (Richard Allen)
Release date: 16 September