Over two years ago, I reviewed Sleepwalking Sailors, the third album from Seattle sludge metal band Helms Alee. To this day, that album remains one of my go-to listens when I need something fun, exhilarating, and fascinating.
Now the band has released their new album Stillicide, which marks their second release on Sargent House. Featuring 11 tracks of brand new material, it’s a hefty slab of captivating music that defies easy categorization, instead shifting and weaving through multiple genres with grace and ease.
The album opens with the track “More Weight”, which is a subtle misdirection. Rather than the thick and rich distortion that their songs usually contain, we’re greeted with a strong piano that acts as the herald for the other instruments, the guitar roaring forth, the drums pounding with authority, and the bass rumbling and upheaving all before it. This is all there to introduce “Untoxicated”, which pulsates rhythmically, although it feels like it’s restraining itself, holding back untold amounts of rage. This is all so the album doesn’t “blow its load” too early. It wants to take listeners on a journey and going full force right away would ruin the dynamics of what’s to come.
“Tit to Toe” takes this concept a step forward, adding in a strangely Western feel. The song weaves sinuously back and forth, almost hypnotically and seductively exuding its melodies. “Meats and Milks” is a brief respite, moving slowly and assuredly from its mellow opening to its distorted middle and culminating in a delay effect outro that shimmers.
The title track shifts from earth rumbling lows to bright top notes while the vocals hover and almost warble, fully aware of their dissonant lilts before slamming into focus. The song is almost psychedelic in nature. The word “swampy” comes to mind when hearing this track. Skipping forward, “Bullygoat” has a magical air about it. There is a quiet yearning here that then falls way to demands. Meanwhile, “Andromenous” is a dizzying and eerie track, one that feels “off” yet works wondrously thanks to the band and their songwriting abilities.
Much like Sleepwalking Sailors, Stillicide has a thick and almost raw tone to its production. Everything can be heard if focused upon but the grittiness removes any shine and polish, leaving something weather beaten and tarnished. However, there is beauty in those “flaws” as this sounds and feels like an album that has been around for a long time and we are here to listen to its old tales.
The Final Word: While not as throat-grabbing as Sleepwalking Sailors, Helms Alee have released a powerful, exciting, and fantastic album in Stillicide. This is an album I’ll be revisiting constantly throughout my future.