As much as I like sitting around listening to furious, depressive, philosophically-twinged, hidden context-encrusted, sometimes suicidal metal – it’s the highlight of any weekend, really – there are times when I want to hear something that just makes me forget the heavy shit going on around me.
This is why I balance out the above with some Bolt Thrower, Helloween, Iron Maiden, hell, Mercyful Fate. You don’t really have to immerse yourself in any darkness, and in Helloween’s case, their music’s so goofy you pretty much have to ignore everything else but the music. It’s like good-times music for me, and it’s an essential part of my collection. While they don’t sound even a little bit like the bands I mentioned, I put Helms Alee in that same category. Their last record “Night Terror” was an expansive, heady, sometime post-rock-style platter that, while it didn’t break any new ground musically, was something you could just put on and enjoy for the sake of the music. Sometimes I’ll put it on at night when trying to go to sleep, and not because it bores me, but because I can just relax and go with the band’s flow. I appreciate having that option with a band (the new Crone also is serving that purpose).
Now comes the band’s second record “Weatherhead” (out on Hydra Head), and from some of the other reviews I’ve read, I appear to be one of the few writers who have thoroughly enjoyed this record. It’s certainly a bit of a departure from “Night Terror” and there is quite a bit of trying on new threads as this record goes on, but I’ve dug every listen. Maybe all the jumping around is too much for some people, and there is a lot of that, but it’s not like their experimentation results in trainwrecks. For me, it’s basically part of what holds my interest through this 14-track album, because you can’t really guess accurately where they’re going next until you go there with them, and that’s kind of cool. That’s also what makes this a fun listen, something you don’t have to sit around and analyze and dissect, but rather a record you can put on and enjoy for the sake of the music it contains. That’s still OK to do, right?
For those new to the band, here’s some quick background: Ben Verellen (Harkonen, These Arms Are Snakes), bassist Dana James and drummer Hozoji Margullis comprise Seattle-based Helms Alee, and each member shares vocal duties. Verellen handled the bulk of the duty on “Night Terror,” and he has a large role here (with a bit more singing to go along with his harsh shouting), but the ladies get a bigger say, making “Weatherhead” a more diverse listen. For the most part, the band plays sludgy metal with a pop awareness, sort of like labelmates Torche, but they do a lot more than that, conjuring other bands such as The Pixies, Veruca Salt, Baroness, Neurosis, the Breeders and The Foo Fighters. This is so clichéd, but there really is something for everyone on both Helms Alee albums, and for those who can digest all parts, then it’s even better for you.
“Weatherhead” begins inauspiciously enough with the brief instrumental cut “*” that leads into the screaming missile “Elbow Grease.” It’s enough to make you think you’re tearing into a total fireball of an album, but then things change. “8/16” admittedly sounds like 10 different songs and 10 different genres stitched together, with each member of the band playing an equal role, but there’s something about it that works despite its apparent lack of focus. “Music Box” actually is kind of pretty and meanders a bit, but it’s one of the strongest representations from the female contingent of Helms Alee. The rest takes you globetrotting, from the slight AC/DC guitar bite to “Pretty as Pie” to the early Pink Floyd-meets-modern-metal of “Mad Mouth” to ’90s college rock flavors of “Pig Pile” to the gnarly, gutter punk-style title cut closer. In fact, that song makes me want to see people fight. Yes, as many a reviewer has pointed out, this band tries to do a lot of stuff here, but I think it works. The songs are good, they demand repeat listens, and they open up more each time I go back to “Weatherhead.” That’s all you can ask from any record, really.
I will say I think I prefer “Night Terror” to “Weatherhead,” but it’s not by a wide margin. And as time goes on and I toggle back and forth between both records, that opinion very well could change. This is one of those records where you shouldn’t put too much credence in any one review, this one included, because “Weatherhead” is bound to strike each listener differently. And the fact there are so many varying opinions at least tells you there’s something exciting going on here and that it’s not a mundane listen where you won’t remember much or feel a thing as it plays out before you. No matter how you ultimately feel about “Weatherhead,” you do have to give Helms Alee credit for making something conversation-worthy, and for me, they’ve given me another record I can take on for the pure enjoyment of music and not for any philosophical noodling. Plus, it’s great beer-drinking music. I can’t believe it took me thins long to say that.
For more on the band, go here: http://www.myspace.com/helmsaleemusic
To buy “Weatherhead” (and check out their awesome new T-shirt elsewhere on the site), go here: http://www.bluecollardistro.com/hydrahead/product_info.php?products_id=3996&cPath=4_135&store=
For more on the label, go here: http://www.hydrahead.com/
To check out Helms Alee on tour with Torche and Big Business, go to one of these places:
July 8: Baton Rouge, LA @ Spanish Moon
July 9: Birmingham, AL @ Bottletree Cafe
July 11: Tampa, FL @ The Orpheum
July 12: Miami, FL @ Churchill’s
July 13: Orlando, FL @ The Social
July 14: Atlanta, GA @ EARL
July 15: Greensboro, NC @ Greene Street Club
July 16: Washington, DC @ Rock and Roll Hotel
July 17: Baltimore, MD @ The Ottobar
July 19: Philadelphia, PA @ First Unitarian Church
July 20: Brooklyn, NY @ Music Hall of Williamsburg
July 21: Cambridge, MA @ Middle East Downstairs
July 22: Buffalo, NY @ Mohawk Place
July 23: Cleveland Heights, OH @ Grog Shop
July 24: Newport, KY @ The Historic Southgate House
July 25: Grand Rapids, MI @ The Pyramid Scheme
July 26: Detriot, MI @ Magic Stick
July 27: Indianapolis, IN @ The Hoosier Dome
July 28: Chicago, IL @ The Bottom Lounge
July 29: Minneapolis, MN @ Triple Rock Social Club
July 30: Omaha, NE @ The Waiting Room
July 31: Denver, CO @ Bluebird Theater
Aug. 2: Salt Lake City, UT @ Club Vegas
Aug. 3: Boise, ID @ Neurolux
Aug. 4: Seattle, WA @ Neumo’s