Helms Alee, Sleepwalking Sailors (Feb. 11, Sargent House sargenthouse.com) In September 2012, Helms Alee’s label at the time, HydraHead Records, announced that as of the following December it would cease to release any new records. While maintaining its 20-year back catalog would be HydraHead’s focus, many bands were left without a home. Without a label, Helms Alee’s new material continued to stack up. So after two records on HydraHead (2008’s Night Terror and 2011’s Weatherhead), the band chose to crowd-fund its third, Sleepwalking Sailors, initially planning 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 through a modern Pro Tools setup. It was a wise decision. The song arrangements are tighter, and sound colossal. Sailors is more aggressive than Helms Alee’s previous records, but the band has retained the ability to shift dynamics from beautiful to brutal; one minute you’re being pummeled by riffs, the next you’re hit with three-part vocal harmony from 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 or restrained as needed.
Essentially, the essence of Helms Alee is perfected on Sleepwalking Sailors. It’s a masterpiece.