posted on 11/2008 By:
Helms Alee’s MySpace site sports the following biographical information, quoted here in its entirety: "We are a loud rock band."
Fair enough. I can’t—and I won’t—disagree with that, but I will say it could use a bit of further explanation, so read on, sisters and brothers of metal.
Hailing from Seattle, Helms Alee are a three-piece consisting of two women and one dude, that masculine entry being a former member of post-hardcore units Harkonen and briefly of These Arms Are Snakes. (The name Helms Alee, for anyone who may care, is a nautical term. I learned that in all my years in the Merchant Marine. Or maybe I just looked it up.) Despite their self-description as simply "rock," Helms Alee isn’t the Motorhead-esque type of band that immediately sprang to my mind—they’re not amphetamine-fueled speed or bluesy classic rock redux. Helms’ particular brand of indie-influenced metallic rock exhibits the artier side of hardcore, that edgy awkwardness of riff coupled here with a healthy dose of shoegaze dreaminess and copious amounts of weighty post-metal atmosphere. At times, Harkonen themselves are an apt comparison, and at other times, particularly during the shoegaze moments, Helms drifts from that band's hardcore stylings. This is dissonant riffing topped by Pixies-ish male/female vocal trade-offs, and both performed at a deliberate pounding pace, even when the music is "rocking."
Night Terror is the band’s first full-length, following a self-titled EP a year or so back, many of the songs from which are reprised here. This latest and longest endeavor is an interesting ride, starting with the instrumental intro "Left Handy Man Handle," with its dirty bass riff that slides into a repetitive 7/8 descending figure that in turn morphs into (and out of) hanging surf-rock tremolo chords. After that, Helms Alee run through a variety of brash indie-rock guitar lines, pounding rhythms, fuzzy Kyuss-like bass tones and those dueling loud/soft, brash/sweet vocals. Where the album lets me down somewhat is in the songs themselves—there’s not one particular track that stands out. The whole thing ebbs and flows, goes up and goes down, but never does any individual song reach out and grab me as a fully developed sub-section of the whole, as anything more than just another verse in some thirty-minute long opus that doesn’t quite coalesce when all is screamed and done. Before anyone scoffs: I don’t require radio singles, from this band or any other, but Night Terror suffers a bit from "one giant song" syndrome, which is another way of saying, "This song is good, but gets a bit old after thirty minutes and ninety different sections, only about twelve of which stand out." Only the intro track, the busy riffing of "Big Spider," and the devastating fuzz-bass in "Paraphrase" really reach out and grab me, and all three of those are arguably the most "riffy" moments of anything on hand. (In its best moments, "Paraphrase" is especially powerful.)
All in all, regardless of catchy songcraft (or more often, regardless of a lack of it), I don’t think Night Terror is a record the vast majority of metal-heads will immediately "get," and thus I don’t think it’s one the vast majority of them will love. But I do think that, like most everything released on Hydra Head, it’s a worthwhile listen—if perhaps not an essential one—and especially so for those with a penchant for indie-rock or for those interested in a new twist on stoner and post-hardcore/post-metal.
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