Is Stoner Prog An Oxymoron?
Helms Alee are an ass-kickin’ three piece from Seattle, and it will take only a single, snarling riff from “Untoxicated” for listeners to understand why grouchy sludge rock legends The Melvins dragged them out as support on their current tour. Unlike many modern metal bands that deal in overdriven sludge, Helms Alee are not content to simply repeat the same dirge-like riffs ad nauseam. Nor do they shy away from flourishes, such as crooned vocal melodies. To offset their indulgences, Helms Alee write complicated, serpentine riffs that stagger and stop short of each other, whilst constantly playing with time signature and tempo. Throughout Stillicide, the group’s latest effort, Helms Alee attempt to challenge their complacent, jaded audience with songs like “Galloping Mind Fuk,” that throw Funkadelic-style R&B proclamations into a churning, syncopated mix of punishing distortion and caveman shouts.
Most of the album grabs you by the collar and shakes you until you are dizzy. Yet Helms Alee are no strangers to phaser pedals and calmer moments. In certain songs (e.g. “Tit to Toe”), ghostly chanting works to compliment a foreboding tom pattern – a tactic passed down from Jefferson Airplane to Siouxsie and the Banshees on down to Helms’ contemporaries. “Worth Your While” flaunts a chopped-up and slowed-down version of a needling post-hardcore lead, like Fall of Troy on quaaludes. There is even some swirling, pastoral shoegaze in the fittingly named “Dream Long,” which establishes a clean warmth of bridge pickup strums, providing a much-needed refuge from the angular onslaught.
All this textural variety makes for a refreshingly engaging album. It is unprecedentedly thrilling to hear a metal band of such a sludgy palate whose music isn’t just unabashed Sabbath worship. Unlike other modern stoner rock groups like Uncle Acid and Blood Ceremony, Helms Alee are not trying to sound “retro” or mimic the sound engineering of the early ’70s golden age. Yet, at the same time, the trio refuse to skimp on the heavy moments, delivering mammoth riffs that stand alongside those of Torche, Baroness and Big Business. With their ambitious songwriting, twin dynamic vocalists and refusal to gaze endlessly into the idealized past through rose-colored glasses, Helms Alee are one of the few bands pushing metal in a direction it needs to go: forward.