If Weatherhead, the new album from Helms Alee, proves anything, it’s that the co-ed Pacific Northwest trio are sometimes plagued by their own ambition. All three members of the band take turns as lead vocalist, and often combine their voices in sky-reaching harmonic turns. The longer songs twist and turn through several sections before reaching their conclusions, while the shorter jams latch on to specific ideas and execute them with firm commitment. Unfortunately, when taken as a whole, it results in an album that is kind of all over the place, depriving the admittedly very talented group of their own unique voice, and at worst, sounding like a grab-bag of other Hydra Head bands. Each of the following elements make an appearance during Weatherhead’s 50 minute running time: Torche’s majestic plod and yelled-from-on-high vocal style (“Elbow Grease”), the lost-in-space wandering of Cave In’s Jupiter (“Music Box”), and the mind-puzzle riff mazes of label boss Aaron Turner’s Isis (“Mad Mouth). While 2008’s Night Terror delivered several moments of unabashed triumph, peppered with spots of pure pop brilliance, Weatherhead seems more concerned with answering the question of how many different sounds a three-piece band is capable of producing in the course of one album.
When Helms Alee manage to lock into the sound that they did so well on Night Terror, the results are just as compelling. The aforementioned “Elbow Grease” breaks away from its swaggering intro to deliver alternately woozy and prickling riffs from guitarist Ben Verellen while drummer Hozoji Margullis goes completely mental on her kit, offering a tantalizing chunk of on-the-edge-of-insanity instrumental work that segues nicely into the supremely scuzzy ascending pattern of “8/16.” “Pretty As Pie” starts with almost two minutes of Verellen’s twinkling guitar before abruptly snapping into a chugging part that makes excellent use of negative space and undistorted guitar lines. “Epic Adventure Through The Wood (Sucker Punch)” does the best job of making something coherent of Helms Alee’s new direction, presenting sections of quiet, female-vocal adorned space before erupting into crushing chords topped with Verellen’s strained howl. Meanwhile, penultimate track “Born In Fiberglass” represents everything that Weatherhead could have been. Making expert use of each vocalist during the verses, the chorus absolutely soars on a series of bendy guitar figures from Verellen, resulting in a bona fide bizarro-world alternative rock hit.
Yet, for all of the moments where Helms Alee lock into something truly great, the number of tracks that follow a spot the influence pattern remain in the majority. The trio’s kitchen sink approach sacrifices too much memorability, with few tracks managing to leave a lasting impression. Helms Alee have achieved greatness in the past– and their members have produced great work in bands like Harkonen and Your Enemies Friends– so it’s frankly a little frustrating to hear them failing to convince listeners that they’re capable of increased returns.