As an editor for this website and quite fanatic music listener and reviewer, I get to listen to a lot of new releases on an almost daily basis. The more new music I get to listen to, the more I realise how important the first few minutes of a new release are. It tells a lot about what’s to come and in the worst case it makes me skip through a release a lot faster than the artist probably was hoping for. Fortunately, in the case of Helm Alee’s new release Sleepwalking Sailors, this is absolutely not the case. From the opening seconds it becomes instantly clear that Sargent House have done another outstanding job including them on their roster after the band was without a label when Hydra Head sadly went under.
This is Helm Alee’s third full-length release and interestingly the recording was largely funded by fans using the now almost ubiquitous crowd-funding option. Sargent House then heard the early mixes made by engineer Chris Common (ex-drummer of These Arms Are Snakes, and previously worked as a engineer with bands such as Palms, Pelican and Chelsea Wolfe) and the label decided to take the band on board and release Sleepwalking Sailors. A very wise move, demonstrating yet again Sargent House’s instinct for signing and releasing some of the most exciting bands and artists in the current alternative music business.
Talking about business, what’s the music like? Well, it’s bloody awesome! The press release mentions terms such as “pop”, “art rock”, “metal” and “punk”, which seems like a bit of a mixture of randomly picked genres, but they couldn’t be more right. After the brief feedback intro of opening track ‘Pleasure Center’, followed by some nice clean guitar notes played over Melvins-like pounding drums, the thickest and fuzziest distorted guitar hits you straight in between the ears! Whoa!
There is a huge post-punk meets grunge vibe going on here. Guitarist and vocalist Ben Verellen demonstrates nicely his guitar playing skills and vocal range, varying from beautifully clean singing to loud screaming and growling, and in the background the ladies making up the trio that is Helms Alee, drummer Hozoji Matheson-Margullis and bassist Dana James, provide some hauntingly sounding screaming/singing.
The Melvins have definitely been a big influence to this three piece, in song structures as well as in drum rhythms, vocals and fuzziness. Listen for example how the next track ‘Tumescence’ kicks off. Though there is a lot of melody mixed in, provided by the beautiful female vocals and the guitar soloing going on in the background, reminding me a lot of Cave In around their Jupiter release. This melodic playing continues nicely on ‘Pinniped’, though there is always this comeback to the fuzzy sludgy sounding guitars and bass. The bridge/intermezzo part that starts around 2.5 minutes in is absolutely fantastic, with lots of nice melody and rhythmic changes, before the final part of this track repeatedly switches from melody to heavy as fuck distorted fuzz.
After the short track ‘Crystal Gale’ we almost hit a turning point on the album as the next two songs ‘New West’ and ‘Fetus. Carcass.’ have Dana James and Hozoji Matheson-Margullis’ vocals in a more central role, with minor parts for Ben’s shouting and growling, although he’s very clearly still present. I can’t help but think of Kim Deal and her time in the Pixies and the Breeders hearing these beautiful vocals.
As an ex-drummer I always find myself listening very closely to the drums on offer and what Sargent House releases always seem to have in common is outstanding drum work. Hozoji Matheson-Margullis is maybe not an outright energetic air drum inducing drum machine like Chris Wee or Dave Turncrantz, but she’s making great use of the whole kit with lots of fills and she demonstrates some great technical skills on numerous occasions, such as the subtle rhythm change at the end of ‘Slow Beef’ or the technical playing on ‘Dangling Modifiers’.
Honestly, there’s so much on offer here I can’t really go into the fine detail of every track or bar even. Just get this release and listen to it. Let it sink in, and listen to it again. And again and again and again. You’ll keep on finding different layers and different melodies.
I would like to draw the attention to the fantastic cover artwork as well, depicting some beautiful Sci-Fi horror scene, which more than justifies a vinyl pressing of this album. Now, make this reviewer happy and someone please get Helm Alee over to the UK, preferably Edinburgh or Glasgow, as I’ve heard some amazing things about their live shows!
Sargent House had a brilliant year last year having released only amazing releases and with Sleepwalking Sailors they continue nicely where they left last year. Helms Alee is another diamond added to their roster, but one that has lost a lot of its rawness already and I have no doubt this release is one of many great releases we can expect this year from Sargent House.