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Helms Alee

Sleepwalking Sailors

(Sargent House; US: 11 Feb 2014; UK: 17 Feb 2014)

Sleepwalking Sailors, the third studio outing by the Seattle-based Helms Alee, begins with a short wave of feedback followed by fast hits of the hi-hat. Yet, amazingly enough, what follows is not a nasty, dissonant hardcore punk riff—the sound one would probably hear under normal circumstances given those signposts—but instead something that sounds like a lost Isis riff. Not long after this, however, the song has kicked into overdrive, with screamed vocals and sludgy guitars driving high into the mix. This push-and-pull dynamic is consistent throughout Sleepwalking Sailors, an album that impressively and gracefully walks the line between amp-melting brutality and ear-friendly accessibility; hell, the opening riff on “Crystal Gale” isn’t too far from Dashboard Confessional territory. While some parochially minded folk might toss this aside as yet another entry in the growing catalogue of all things hipster metal, they would be in error. This band does really rock, a fact proven in spades by the wicked drumming on “New West”. But, furthermore, this trio doesn’t sound like it’s watering down the music for accessibility’s sake; rather, it’s undergoing the difficult task of throwing several genres into a single sonic all the while trying to maintain coherence. If a band can do that and sound as accessible as the one on Sleepwalking Sailors, then more power to them.

Admittedly, there are times when it’d be nice to hear these guys roar rather than keep things cool; the thunderous opening to “Dodge the Lightning” is far more interesting than the soft guitars that commence the curiously titled “Fetus. Carcass “. Helms Alee, fortunately, is one of those groups that sounds as though they should be a force of nature live. Even when these Sailors take to relatively calmer waters in the studio, in a live setting it’s not hard to imagine those same waters getting choppy—in the best way possible. While Ahab has the funeral doom market cornered with respects to nautically themed enterprises, Helms Alee looks to be making a powerful name for itself with its own seafaring brand of sonic conglomeration. So, hop aboard, but don’t expect an ordinary cruise through placid conditions; this is music for those who love weathering a storm.


Brice Ezell is Assistant Editor at PopMatters, where he also reviews music, film, and books, which he has done since 2011. He also is the creator of PopMatters' Notes on Celluloid column, which covers the world of film music. His writing also appears in Sea of Tranquility and Glide Magazine (formerly Hidden Track). His short story, "Belle de Jour", was published in 67 Press' inaugural publication The Salmagundi: An Anthology. You can follow his attempts at wit on Twitter and Tumblr if you're so inclined. He lives in Chicago.

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18 Dec 2008
With able crew-members formerly serving time in bands like These Arms are Snakes, Lozen and Harkonen, Helms Alee no doubt have able hands manning its deck.
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