Land of the loud
Pacific Northwest trio Helms Alee assembles a rock monster
The eternally gray Pacific Northwest has always been hospitable to the heavy rock varietal, a place where miscreants and weirdos hole themselves up in damp basements and literally bash out the jams. It’s a tradition that spans decades. The Wipers, Melvins, Bratmobile—all are bands that have created their own sound with one common denominator: loud.
Tacoma/Seattle three-piece Helms Alee keep with that history; it’s a band that is unmistakably PNW and at the same time has made something completely new. The trio fearlessly plows through the piles of rawk, kicking up dust in metal circles as well as tiptoeing through shoegaze. You may not find another band more difficult to categorize. Guitarist/amp-maker Ben Verellen credits the band’s spastic nature to the interplay between him and drummer Hozoji Matheson-Margullis.
“Hoz is always throwing these really flowery accents into her patterns, and I think that rubs off on me,” Verellen explains. “A lot of the twinkly, noodly stuff is pretty Hoz influenced.”
Helms Alee’s 2011 release Weatherhead is full of twists and turns, and it turns out even the band was a bit startled with the end result.
“It’s a weird one,” says Margullis, who also makes up one-half of Tacoma rock band Lozen. “When we first heard it we were like, ‘What the hell?’ The three personalities coming together, you’re inevitably going to get some weird shit.”
The band—rounded out by bassist Dana James—spent about three years writing and recording Weatherhead in Seattle with Matt Bayles, who’s worked with heavy metalists Isis and Mastodon. It’s a compelling collection of songs that turns metal on its head. “8/16” is five songs in one. And “Pretty as Pie” and “Epic Adventure through the Wood (Sucker Punch)” are stunning and evil all at once, opening with chiming guitars and James’ and Margullis’ ghostly harmonies before freefalling into a sludgy abyss.
Verellen knows his way around a riff or two, having spent his early teens hanging with his older brother, Dave, who fronted Northwest hardcore gods Botch. The younger Verellen went on to form Tacoma noise rockers Harkonen in the late ’90s, a band that informs his playing to this day.
“My roots are more in pissed-off, hardcore stuff,” he says. “There’s plenty of other more mellow melodic stuff that happens, too, and it’s cool that Helms Alee doesn’t wear just one hat, but we just feel like playing loud and screaming sometimes. I’d probably be a lot weirder if I didn’t get to do that.”
Helms Alee’s Frankenstein musical approach has landed the band on some peculiar bills, including with Torche, Big Business and the prim-by-comparison Minus the Bear. The band is currently on the road with Thrones for a relatively quick jaunt before they come home to revisit the skeletons of the dozen or so songs that will appear on their next record.
Verellen and Margullis say the band is on somewhat of a creative bender, and that things are coming together much quicker than on Weatherhead. There’s no magic formula. And the band’s philosophy is far simpler than its music. As Verellen puts it: “I want to make the best music I can, have adventures and surround myself with people that are trying to do the same thing. Helms Alee is all about that.”