By Dave Pehling
SAN FRANCISCO (CBS SF) — A leading light of the Northwestern underground for a solid decade, Seattle-based power trio Helms Alee has delivered an adventurous mix of fuzzed-out guitar sludge, off-kilter melodic hooks and high-harmony vocals over the course of the band’s four full-length albums. Formed in 2007 when guitarist Ben Verellen (formerly a member of dirgy prog-punk outfit Harkonen and post-hardcore crew These Arms Are Snakes) teamed with bassist Dana James and drummer Hozoji Margullis (also a member of the acclaimed duo Lozen), the group was quickly signed to Hydra Head Records for the release of their debut album Night Terror the following year.
Taking cues from iconic heavy-music mavericks Melvins (who would later become regular tour partners with Helms Alee), tuneful alt-rock greats the Breeders and the dreamy vocals of shoegaze favorites Mazzy Star and Cocteau Twins, the trio scored solid reviews with its creative take on riff-powered post punk. A second Hydra Head effort Weatherhead three years later further refined the band’s signature sound with Verellen’s howling balanced by the sweet counterpoint harmonies provided by James and Margullis.
After Hydra Head dissolved in 2012, the band would move to Sargeant House for two efforts in 2014: a split with like-minded act Young Widows and their third full-length Sleepwalking Sailors. By this point, the group’s stature had risen to where they were spoken of in the same breath as fellow purveyors of heaviness Torche and Big Business.
The band’s latest effort Stillicide from last year has been hailed as the trio’s most accessible yet while still not sacrificing any of it’s trademark sludge groove. For this return to San Francisco at the Hemlock Tavern Friday night, Helms Alee is joined by local post-metal stalwarts Kowloon Walled City. Crafting a compelling mix of minimalist ambient drone and ferocious intensity that recalls the kind of feral noise rock being released on Touch and Go and AmRep during the ’90s, the quartet is working on a follow-up to it’s celebrated third album Grievances for Neurot Recordings (the imprint run by SF experimental metal heroes Neurosis) that came out two years ago. Self-described San Francisco “power volume duo” Mini and the Bear opens the show.
Helms Alee with Kowloon Walled City
Friday, Nov. 17, 8:30 p.m. $12-$14
The Hemlock Tavern