Review Summary: Light through a murky prism.
The first thing that struck me about Noctiluca
was its impressive creative chops. Helms Alee are not a band that holds back, with their abrasive blend of noise rock and post-hardcore – along with traces of sludge – concocting an experience that feels limitless. At various times this album reminds me of the latest Daughters record, relying on heavy, percussion-driven tempos which yield discordant and often flat-out messy atmospheres. Other times, it recalls Alice in Chains or even Soundgarden, launching into these gorgeous, sprawling choruses that sound like light beaming through a murky prism. It’s an interesting blend of aesthetics, but Noctiluca
seems to have achieved a very listenable equilibrium. It feels like one of those rock albums with its own unique energy; the kind that is perhaps initially overlooked, but then revered when listeners realize just how special of a dynamic it possesses.
Drummer and lead vocalist Hozoji Margullis undoubtedly rules the roost on Noctiluca
, her tattered, nasal vocals accenting the thunderous drumming patterns that she lays out as a foundation song after song. Bassist Dana James provides the ideal counterbalance, singing in a sweeter and more melodic pitch that gives the choruses some direction. Guitarist Ben Verellen occasionally growls and screams, lining the record with a fiercer edge that acts as a blade to cut through anything in the music’s path. Between these three talents, Helms Alee features a wide range of potential – and Noctiluca
seems to capitalize on all of their skillsets at the same time without ever sounding crowded.
On an album as consistently varied as this, the experience never seems to lull or get its wheels stuck. It does, however, peak in grand fashion on a few occasions – particularly with the jaw-dropping melody on ‘Spider Jar’, where Verellen’s clean vocals absolutely shine. From a guitarist’s perspective, ‘Pleasure Torture’ steals the show with its set-afire-by-riffs second half, where Verellen showcases his shredding ability in impressive fashion. Opener ‘Interachnid’ is a whirling vortex of mind-blowing drumming, with Margullis basically coming unhinged and going crazy on her set for three minutes while varying tempos and time signatures on a whim. While these signify but a handful of bright spots, smaller variations of these types of moments are scattered about Noctiluca
like a star-studded night sky, leaving no moment without a worthwhile vocal or instrumental contribution.
It’s frankly amazing how much the band fits within the confines of this record. Noctiluca
demands attention on multiple fronts, and once it has you, it refuses to let go. It’s the kind of release that can hook you with a drum pattern or guitar riff alone, without even needing a melody to go along with it – although with Helms Alee you often get both or all three. With Noctiluca
, you can really feel the band flexing its creative muscles, and the result is a delectable forty minutes of experimental heavy rock.