[18 March 2014]
PopMatters Assistant Editor
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.