Review: Earth with Helms Alee at the 7th St. Entry
As I have gotten older, I have found myself with less patience for the hallmarks of a metal show. The best outcome is a nice evening with me, my ear plugs, and a group of people content to stand there without a lot of jostling around. Luckily, Earth with openers Helms Alee delivered to my comparatively boring hopes. I put a small amount of the credit on it being a Monday night, and a crowd where you could feel folks being mindful that they had work bright and early the next day; but both bands brought sets that were tight affairs that left me feeling like I had just been to a jazz show at the Dakota.
Earth’s music is not exactly mosh pit generating to begin with, but the tone was set right away. Lead member Dylan Carlson stepped up to microphone to inform us that there would be, “no rock moves as I fucked up my knee last night.” Each song was punctuated by long stretches of tuning, with Carlson pausing to thank us for coming, and to highlight the work done by long-standing drummer Adrienne Davies, and new second guitar player Tristan Jemsek. Drone bands not saying much to a crowd is something I generally expect, but the group carried themselves closer to a chamber orchestra trio. At various points, someone in the crowd would let loose an art gallery-esque, “hmmm, yes.” None of this bad, but it is a stark contrast to your usual Entry fare.
The songs were almost entirely from the recently released Full Upon Her Burning Lips. These new songs are a vast improvement over the disappointing Angels of Darkness, Demons of Light I and II, but still fail to capture the promise of the splendid The Bees Made Honey in the Lion’s Skull. Hearing these tracks live added a nice element of rattling my body, but I felt the same about them as I did going in: these are fine. All three members are exceptional musicians, but beautifully played forgettable riffs are still not very exciting. The opening Descending Belladonna was a high point, but nothing really stood out until the closer “Old Black,” from Angels of Darkness, Demons of Light I. This is a song that I cannot stand on the album, but the rescoring for this version of Earth changed it into something fantastic. The pleasant slightly more than an hour set of music was only really discolored by a pointless encore ritual. We performed the requisite clapping at an empty stage for a minute, and the band returned to play “A Wretched Country of Dusk” for another five minutes before releasing us to our homes. The song is one of the better songs from the new album, but the whole process felt like it was just done so we could all say there had been an encore.
Where Earth was satisfactory, Helms Alee was incredible. 2016’s Stillicide, and this year’s Noctiluca are both riff-filled blasts of heavy delight. Live versions dump more energy into songs that are already bursting at the seams with intensity, and depth. The vocal interplay between all three members is one of the band’s strengths on the record, and seeing them perform live left an indelible feeling of pure joy. Helms Alee’s nautical aesthetic always plays nicely with the genre’s swung tempos and reverb effect usage. With the intensity of their performance, I was left with the distinct feeling of being underwater. Without question, the highlight was seeing Hozoji Matheson-Margullis playing drums in person. The percussion stands out even amidst the excellent guitars, and watching the flurry of motion was breath taking. A drummer that can change sounds and tempos without slowing their movements is a drummer to watch. The fact that she was able to do all of this brilliant drum work, and still sing is almost unfair to everyone else.
— Thomas Kwong