There are sophomore slumps, and there are sophomore stumbles. Helms Alees Weatherhead is not a terrible album, but its a definite step back from their 2008 debut. Here, we find a band experimenting with so many new styles that the winning combination of melodic metal riffs and male/female vocal harmonies that made their first release so promising are often absent here.
Thats not to say that theres nothing to love on Weatherhead. On Pretty As Pie, guitarist Ben Verellen channels his inner Slash with an arpeggiated guitar riff that quickly breaks down into heavy-gear, post-metal riffage. The female two-thirds of Helms Alee meet in beautiful shoegazy vocal harmony in Epic Adventure Through The Wood (Sucker Punch), parts of which are prettier than most metal albums have any business being. Speed Sk8r continues those harmonies, and throws in a soaring, extended fuzz solo.
Unfortunately, Helms Alee falter as often as they succeed when treading new ground here. Why jump around so much? What are they trying to prove? Trying new things is part of most bands’ growth, but there are many points when it clearly doesnt work on this disc, such as the inexcusably half-baked rap-metal section of 8/16, which wouldnt have sounded cool to a middle-schooler in 1999.
While theres certainly no shortage of variety in Weatherheads 14 tracks, its the lack of focus and small number of truly standout songs that hurts the album the most. Theres a lot to digest here, but theres nothing you haven’t heard before (and better) somewhere else in the Hydra Head, Relapse, or Southern Lord catalogs – or even on Helms Alees first record, Night Terror.