As heavy music goes, Seattle’s Helms Alee’s sound is remarkably fluid; it trafficks in shifts, permutations, and movements, rather than relying solely on the plodding riffs and fuzz that have come to be associated with bands bearing the “heavy” descriptor.
That’s not to say the trio’s fourth album, Stillicide, is without its share of doom. It just happens to be long on melody, as well: a confluence of the disparate elements that each member brings to the band. “It is not a conscious, strategic move by us to write songs the way we do. It’s just the natural result of our three different stylistic personalities building songs together,” says drummer and vocalist Hozoji Matheson-Margullis via email.
This unorthodox fusion requires the band to finesse elements that might not be immediately harmonious into something approaching a cohesive whole. This inherent conflict is by design.
“What has always been … important is that each of us is free to express themselves through their instrument in an honest way,” Matheson-Margullis says. Even when these components don’t fully gel, the results are always sonically compelling, calling to mind the grandiosity of prog and the technical precision of math rock. The band builds dense passages from tight musical and lyrical phrases.
Band members pursue their own ends as a function of the larger sound. Personal journeys take place within the context of the journey taken together. In total, Helms Alee delivers music that is rife with nuance and emotion. That scraping passage of fuzzed-out guitars can segue into transcendent vocal harmonies in such order is perhaps a metaphor for the unpredictable arrival of emotions. Despite the epic sweep, Stillicide plays like the band is mapping personal, interior territory. Most importantly, the band is doing it democratically, to unapologetically uneven results. “Nobody is the boss of the sound,” Matheson-Margullis says. “And luckily our three different stylistic personalities seem to balance each other out.”