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Album Review: Noctiluca by Helms Alee

Versatile sludge riff maestros Hels Alee release their new album Noctiluca on 26th April via Sargent House. At no point during their 12-year career has Helms Alee ever been the band of the moment, though the world would arguably be a better place for it. Instead, the Puget Sound trio has adhered to the tried-and-true traditions of the Pacific Northwest’s underground rock community—hole up in the practice space on rainy days, dime your amps, find some way of wrangling beauty out of the chronic gray skies, and pour everything you’ve got into your live shows. They’ve thrived not off any sort of niche tribalism, theatrics, or image cultivation, but by simply being a really fucking good band. And while their music may have eluded mainstream audiences, they’ve earned a reputation for being a band’s band. Whether being handpicked tourmates for artists as disparate as Melvins and Minus the Bear or included in carefully curated festivals like the metal summits at Roadburn and Psycho Las Vegas or the math-rock and post-everything bonanza ArcTanGent, Helms Alee’s balance of burly riffage, majestic melodies, and three-part vocal interplay continues to beguile heady rock fans.

Noctiluca is an album that solidifies the trio’s prowess in marrying the sludge riff heaviness of their sound with an expansive almost indie rock sound. Just take the difference between ‘Beat Up’ which pummels you towards submission and the sprawling and experimental ‘Be Rad Tomorrow’. It’s an exhilarating listen only strengthened with ‘Lay Waste, Child’ blending both sounds, then ‘’Illegal Guardian’ throwing up a wall of shrill guitars and deafening sludge riffs all with dual vocals.

With regards to the album’s title, Noctiluca is a bioluminescent marine alga that glows when excited. For years, Helms Alee drummer/vocalist Hozoji Matheson-Margullis kept a beaker of it by her bedside and would tap on it at night to light up her room. This marine reference is perhaps the closest approximation to their sound: mysterious, magical, and providing light in the darkness.

AD Rating 7/10

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