“Ease the ship! Put the helm a lee” is a call a wise old seafarer would emit as a large vessel plunges into deep water and sails close to the wind.
As the sludge-filled post-metal ship enters mature seas, some observers have been growing somewhat tiresome of it taking the oft-trodden route. Weighed down by many a leaden Isis imitator, it seemed to be drifting aimlessly. Fortunately, “Helms Alee” (a call that was urgently required) has been invoked; Night Terror carries the genre to richer waters and fresher shores.
Prior to Night Terror, this stout but limber collective from Seattle only had a self-titled EP to its name. If there were any doubts of the band’s proficiency or maturity, these doubts can be thrown overboard. With able crew-members Ben Verellen, Dana James and Hozoji Matheson-Margullis formerly serving time in bands like These Arms are Snakes, Lozen and Harkonen, Helms Alee no doubt have able hands manning its deck.
Whether they are unleashing torrents of churning riffs, hypnotic waves of distortion or gruff or lilting calls into vast spaces, Helms Alee do so in limpid, atmospheric and unique fashion. No doubt, the crisp and cavernous production from Matt Bayles serves them well as tremolo-picked guitars gush like waterfalls, drums rattle timbers and the Pixies-esque male-female vocals sound like they’ve traversed continents. Devoid of sterile pro-tools sheen, a Night Terror sounds warm, earthy and comfortably worn.
Songs like “A New Roll”, “A Weirding Way” and “Shmnna” comprise plenty of weight in their barreling riffs but also reveal delicate indie-pop melodies and a sense of rattling looseness and space that would sound like Slint if they were covering Kyuss on a runaway sloop. “Big Spider” begins ominously on the back of dexterous drum rhythms and several commands (“Run! Hide!”) before submitting to subtle melody and threatening to once again build up before coming to a close. “Paraphrase”, another crushing yet understated song, slides into a swirling tide complete with mysterious female vocals (“And when your heart of gold turns to cancer / You will hide out underground / Wait for answers” ) countering the undertow of the churning riffs.
The closer “Wild Notes” rests on a simple piano motif married with haunting singing, leading you “Out of the yard and into the hills.” Ending in wonderfully restrained fashion, it serves as a bookends to a thoroughly engrossing record.
Helms Alee are not the first ‘metal’ (the term metal is used loosely in this context) band to leave a few pop-hooks embedded in their billowing tapestry. Groups like Faith No-More and, more recently, Torche have implemented genuinely catchy tunefulness to their intrinsic heft. However, very few employ melody as naturally, tastefully (without sounding contrived) or maudlin as Helms Alee.
It remains to be seen whether Night Terror will register in the periscopes of those skimming the sludge/post-metal/heavy-rock waters. If the call is “helm a lee”, much adventure can be found when sailing these oceans.