Review Summary: Helm has arrived and in sheer classic style. This is Helm's finest hour. This, is highly recommended brilliance.
Helm. The name first crossed my path after a mate filled me in on his night out at a Dead Letter Circus gig, mentioning in passing that "the support band Helm were pretty good". Sometime later I find myself at a Karnivool gig at The HiFi in Brisbane, and who wound up supporting? Helm.
By the end of their set I was converted. I picked up both albums 'Vol 1... 'Keelhaul' & 'Vol 2... 'The Winter March' which proceeded to gain severe rotation on any musical playing device I possessed. I won't delve into the bands history, influences, comparisons, subsequent singles, line up changes, tours or even my own salivating anticipation leading up to the release of this, their brand new opus, 'Vol 3... 'Panthalassa', I will just get down to business.
The word epic is often inappropriately used, however there is simply no other word to define the sheer aural bliss and destruction that awaits you, the listener, and your soon to be rewarded senses. The epic beast that is 'Panthalassa ' commences with the title track, a short but effective instrumental. Soothing, lightly strummed acoustic guitars fade their way into the room, accompanied by gentle crew chanted vocals of "woah-ooohh, woah-ooohh", filling your ears with wonder of what exactly lies ahead...
And then it comes, 'Iron Wall', crashing down with crushing riffs and a pounding rhythm section, Helm has arrived and in sheer classic style for the next 8 minutes. Featuring some of the most if not THE most brutal and guttural vocals courtesy of lead vocalist/guitarist and chief song writer Lucas Stone, you're left a dishevelled mess on the floor wondering who or what just bludgeoned you in only 1 minute and 25 seconds before the song quietens down in typical Helm fashion. We're now treated to a fantastic rumbling bass line from Rory 'Ror' Swane combined with Fabio Lagana's percussion, layered on top with our first taste of Lucas' luscious clean croons that you simply can't help but sing along to. Repeating the opening crushing heaviness again, followed by a beautiful melodic passage musically and vocally then back to devastation again, reprising the crew chant from the title track on the end and finishing up with a bellowing roar of "Iron Wall', this is one killer song and a highlight of the album.
Changing up the pace and length comes 'Bermuda'. Kicking off with a high register vocal from the already impressive, and obviously much more broadened and diverse range from Lucas which he continues to display throughout the record, this has a heavy, groovy riff, catchy chorus and an all-round cracking tune. 'Albatross' tones things down a little bit, this and 'Bermuda' have single/video potential (one is expected to be unleashed any day now), not in any commercial sense, simply great songs to catch your ears, get the head nodding, foot tapping and the pipes singing, especially with the crew chant "I think today is my day" and the infectious chorus. Lucas throws in just the right amount of harsh vocal lines at the right time in these two tracks, adding spices like some musical chef cooking up a storm...
An 'Endless Storm' in fact, an almost 12 minute epic, yes epic. This is Helm at their most ambitious as it builds and builds. With an almost atmospheric, necessary lull in the later half, allowing you to breathe while the few piano key notes soften you up before you're dragged down and out on some of the heaviest, crushing music these Gold Coast champions have put to tape. Containing some of the most amazing lyrics I've ever read and heard, sung in such an emotive, moving and effective manner care of Lucas with guitarist/vocalist Dario Lagana (Fabio's brother) in close proximity, "as my chest explodes, as the beauty takes hold, 1,000 colours collide, right in front of my eyes". As Lucas recently said to me at yet another Karnivool gig, "the lyrics don't always come from a positive place" to which I responded "if someone can take a negative and turn it into a positive, you're getting a message across".
Probably a more "classic" sounding Helm track, 'Drag the Anchor' starts off with a nice percussive beat from Fabio whom I must mention is an exceptional addition to the bands ranks adding a new and complete dimension to their sound with his much more creative style, double kick included. Clean vocals taking front with yet again some fantastic lyrics as "temperance is questioning, violence is answering” and "like a moth with a broken wing, on a crash-course into everything". At the 2 minutes 38 seconds mark, the song erupts with an explosive riff and a vicious vocal attack before back to the passionate cleans to round things out.
'The Taxidermist' is quite easily the centrepiece of this record, for me at least. This song encompasses everything that is old, new and fan-god-damn-tastic about this band, there is even a tasty little blues like solo in there at 4 minutes 43 seconds before the pressure starts to build and your pummelled for the remainder of this almost 9 minute masterpiece. The band, rounded out by guitarist Ryan 'Ruckas' Lucas (and his beard), are simply on fire right here. If you're ever questioned "what do Helm sound like?", this is the answer.
'Cull' deserves a mention for the great clean lead vocals at the beginning by not only Lucas but (I believe) Dario taking centre stage who is without a doubt an extremely competent singer all his own, and is testament to Helm's live performances, both performing like a Staley/Cantrell duo of the 21st Century. 'To The Wolves' is another almost 9 minute composition, favouring melody throughout the majority of it's duration, a simply beautiful track followed up by 'The Great Escape' that builds and smashes, blending into the acoustic outro of 'After The War', all sum up the cohesive flowing peaks and valleys of this brilliant record.
Nautical artwork designed by drummer Fabio, photography by Warren Keelan, self produced and fantastically engineered by Tyse Lee at Loose Stones Studios on the Gold Coast and mastered by Tom Coyne of Sterling Sound, New York. With a running time of 66 minutes, this is Helm's finest hour. This, is highly recommended brilliance.