Picture if you will an explorer, breathless and haunted, trudging through suffocating jungle, the water in his body doing its best to escape, his mind clawing at the unrelenting slope of defeat – by the elements, by the limitations of his own body, by thirst and heat personified. It is a classic tale of bravery smote by hybris and circumstance – cut off from his camp, from his team, from his bearings, he gnaws his way through the thicket with tooth and nail, blindly following some errant, atrophied migratory instinct towards safety. “Helms Alee”, he mutters, an exercise in infusing a jibberish mantra with meaning. This is his soundtrack.
Can you feel now the chitinous, heaving crust of insects feasting on every exposed surface of his skin? Can you feel the delirium of dehydration and heat stroke seeping through the barriers in his consciousness? The lush abyss of exhaustion tempting him to surrender with every step? The drowning air. The incessant, calamitous tide of noise crashing against his ears from all around. The white hot panic in his nerves as leaves turn to glaring eyes, as vines rustle menacingly, as his awareness reduces him to prey.
Music is a portal to vicarious, virtual experience, it weaves flesh on the boney nuclei of imagery, it breathes movement into static frames of thought. And so it is with “Weatherhead” – an oddity forcing the listener’s mind to construct great glittering support beams and scaffolding in order to integrate it into experience, in order to decode, chew and digest the utterance being put forth by Helms Alee. They seem to yell from a distant, cluttered space with which I’ve had no contact so far. The challenge is making sense of the musical language, as always, but this time it feels even more alien than usual. The superimposition of harmony and brutality is a staple of post-rock and post-metal, but we’re dealing with another type of “post-” altogether here, one twice removed from my experience. It is, technically, post-hardcore – so for one unfamiliar with hardcore itself, the contact with its raw offspring is all the more disconcerting. And yet, through the daze come searing rays of excitement and pleasure!
The brutified human finds respite in sudden clearings in the thicket, shocking in their sudden appearance. His senses are stressed even more fiercely by the confusion of having to choose between momentary increases in physical comfort and staggering spikes in instinctual panic at exposure from all sides in a dangerous environment. Time is not on his side. His mind is now a separate entity, whom he cannot know whether to trust or to battle. And yet the clearings are centers he gravitates towards, their regularity almost a way to tell time in the maelstrom of green and black which is the jungle. His savaged senses fail to notice the same cluster of meaty flowers in the dampness near a fallen, contorted trunk. The same plant, the same trunk, the same clearing, tick-tock, tick-tock.
With infinite complexity, the jungle offers little variation to the overwhelmed eye. Helms Alee’s music seems to incite the same overload, the same reduction of possible detachment. It seems relentless. And yet, with one deep breath, the noise clears and the pattern emerges, jagged and pristine. This is demanding music, to be sure, but rewarding nonetheless. Slint and Far are the only two bands I can liken it to. Make the effort, take the plunge, for in the second before release, the experience will unveil itself as completely worthwhile. Find a way to enjoy!