Helms Alee Takes Its Big Label Switch in Stride, Releases a Masterpiece with ‘Sleepwalking Sailors’

Helms Alee, Sleepwalking Sailors (Feb. 11, Sargent House sargenthouse.com)

In September of 2012, Helms Alee’s label at the time, HydraHead Records, announced that as of the following December it would cease to put out any new records. While still maintaining the label’s 20 years worth of back catalogue would be the label’s focus, many bands were left without a home. Local outfit Helms Alee was one of them. Though without a label, new material continued to stack up. So after two records released on HydraHead (2008’s Night Terror and 2011’s Weatherhead) the band chose to crowdfund its third release, Sleepwalking Sailors, and initially planned on a self-release. But after demos were recorded, the songs attracted the folks over at Sargent House.

With the help of engineer Chris Common (These Arms Are Snakes, Pelican, Chelsea Wolfe) Sleepwalking Sailors was recorded on tape, the band choosing to embrace the limitations of analog rather than refining every detail in a modern Pro Tools set-ups. It was a wise decision. The song arrangements are tighter, and colossal sounding. The album is more aggressive than previous records, but retains the band’s ability to shift dynamics from beautiful to brutal. One minute you’re being pummeled by riffs, the next minute you’re hit with a three part vocal harmony by bassist Dana James, drummer Hozoji Matheson-Margullis and guitarist Ben Verellen. While all three members shine here, it’s Matheson-Margullis’ drumming that really stands out. Tracks like “Dangling Modifiers” showcase her ability to play fast and heavy when needed, and restrained when it’s called for. Essentially, the essence of the band is perfected on Sleepwalking Sailors. It’s a masterpiece.

Record release show Saturday, Feb. 1. With Sandrider, Bali Girls, Survival Knife. Neumos 925 East Pike St. 709-9442 neumos.com. 8 p.m. $10 Adv. 21 and over.

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