The title of “Galloping Mind Fuk,” the sixth track on Helms Alee‘s new album Stillicide, should be enough to win over any first time listeners of the Seattle band. But if that’s not enough, the furious pulse of the track should erase all doubts: It’s a psychedelic chugger of an anthem, its one-note polyrhythmic rumble calling back to the post-hardcore punch of Helmet in their heyday, it’s psychedelic bassline loops approximating krautrock at its sludgiest, and the vocal tradeoff between guitarist Ben Verellen and rhythm section of Hozoji Margullis and Dana James providing a three-dimensional approach to heavy noise rock that’s most definitely a mind fu(c)k of the best kind. And, yeah, it’s got a hell of a gallop to it.
“Galloping Mind Fuk” is Helms Alee at their most churning and heavy, an offer of proof that they’re still on some hazy level a metal band of sorts, albeit one with a more complex approach to composition and a good sense of humor. Yet Helms Alee’s never been all that straightforward a metal band, their background rooted more in post-hardcore (Verellen previously was a member of These Arms Are Snakes) and their aesthetic owing as much to the Pacific Northwest progressive punk tradition pioneered by the likes of Unwound. Lest there be any doubt of Helms Alee’s commitment to blowing speakers and penetrating eardrums, Stillicide finds the band as heavy as they’ve ever sounded.
“Untoxicated” is the first proper showcase of the trio’s muscular approach, a three-minute roar of rhythmic brawn and piercing fuzz. It has a spiritual kin in the rumbling psych-sludge of Kylesa, albeit with greater nuance between the towering riffs. When Helms Alee’s melodies roam free, like on the post-punk-inspired triumph, “Tit to Toe,” in which a more darkly hypnotic approach takes over, pushing aside the chunky guitar riffs in favor of an ethereality that’s simultaneously catchier and more sinister. Yet Helms Alee grow wilder still on the title track, a punishing freakout that juxtaposes their heavier instincts with their weirdest, Verellen’s shrieking guitars in the verse nodding to The Birthday Party’s Rowland S. Howard with their high-on-the-neck art-punk abrasion. It’s twisted, disorienting fun.
Much of Stillicide feels like a natural step forward from 2014’s Sleepwalking Sailors; the stylistic elements are all essentially intact as they were, but they’re more refined. The songwriting, for that matter, is that much stronger—on moments like “Bullygoat,” Helms Alee’s knack for hooks feeling a bit sharper while their punishing back end remains as burly as it’s ever been. As purveyors of heavy music, Helms Alee have never fit in comfortably with any one group or style, which has always made them a band worth seeking out, even as it’s made them difficult to market. With Stillicide they prove as difficult to pigeonhole as ever, while their songwriting is stronger than it’s ever been. Genre is dead; long live Helms Alee.
Jeff Terich is the founder and editor of Treble. He's been writing about music for 20 years and has been published at American Songwriter, Bandcamp Daily, Reverb, Spin, Stereogum, uDiscoverMusic, VinylMePlease and some others that he's forgetting right now. He's still not tired of it.