Helms Alee - Noctiluca - Albums - Reviews - Soundblab

Helms Alee - Noctiluca

by Mark Wallace Jr Rating:6 Release Date:2019-04-26
Helms Alee - Noctiluca
Helms Alee - Noctiluca

Since inception, Helms Alee have been a band that with each album attempt to further foster their incredibly unique brand of melodic and polyrhythmic metal, combining seemingly opposing musical ideas with one another in an attempt to push their sound into territory that they, and only they, may call their own. On their fifth album, Noctiluca, the band comes as close to self-realization as they have so far in their musical career, though to mixed result. While I have always considered authenticity to be paramount to an artist, once an artist has created something entirely their own, it can become quite easy to rotate directionless within one’s own created world. While Helms Alee are rewarded for their inescapable authentic approach to songwriting, sadly, the band has fallen victim to their own pattern-- and the album feels lesser as a result. Although first-time listeners may find this a compelling listen initially, longtime fans of the band are left with little to grasp in terms of compositional growth, continuing our hope of the masterpiece the band have seemingly always kept back pocket.

Lead single “Interachnid” begins the album with drummer Hozoji Matheson-Margullis’ trademark percussive fireworks alongside guitarist Ben Verellen who rides the rhythmic wave with a nicely placed, delay-driven guitar riff. What follows the intro is less orchestrated, sounding quite rushed and overplayed. Unfortunately, nothing the band offers beyond the intro redeems the momentum lost and the song quickly dissolves into part-after-part, lifeless songwriting. We are given monotonous vocal melodies atop scattered drumming, dragging along the guitar and bass kicking and screaming all the while. Certainly, this is not one I would’ve picked to lead the album or release as a single. It simply remains mediocre throughout.

 The album picks up slightly with “Beat Up,” feeling much more a singular, less disorderly idea, giving the listener a few definitively interesting moments to grab hold of. Verellen’s Karp-like yell is on full display as the song opens and it is remarkably powerful, albeit becoming one-note almost immediately. The track’s vocal-less chorus is a like coming up for a breath of air, complete with a sublimely repeating, oddly timed and sparkling guitar part over a busy, but useful drum idea that compliment one another extremely well, a much needed sigh of relief from the built up aggression of the palm-muted sludge coming just before. All things coalesce into a nearly perfect track ending that brings both vocalists together to create something wonderfully powerful.

 Album standout “Pleasure Torture” comes toward the end of the record, but it is easily the most interesting track we are given. The bass-driven track is what I have been hoping for Helms Alee to push toward since first listening to Sleepwalking Sailors years ago. Here the vocal harmonies of both bassist Dana James and drummer Matheson-Margullis edge toward catchy, revealing their yet untapped ability to create hook worthy earworms to counter their usual, monk-like chanting approach, something the band could use to offset the unchanging vocal delivery of Verellen in the future. The song crescendos to a loud and crushing end wherein Verellen’s vocals are all of a sudden felt new again despite the song coming in the latter half of the album. The juxtaposition used here of the softer, hook driven presentation of James and Matheson-Margullis earlier in the track opposed to the emotional, gritty yell Verellen pulls off really sets the track apart from the previous seven tracks.

 While Helms Alee is easily one of the better live bands I have ever come across, on record the band still searches for their breakthrough. Though the songwriting at times feels slightly lazy on Noctiluca, the parts individually are interesting and without question trademark Helms Alee. The band have built themselves a brand, but it is patterned, oddly predictable within their catalog, and feels stagnant despite the obvious creativity behind the albums. Now that they have built their house so to speak, it might do the band well to change smaller, decor-oriented things while maintaining the foundation they’ve painstakingly created over these years. Otherwise, we will continue to get good albums rather than great albums, forever holding on to potential never fully realized.

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