Audio Mixer: Kurt Ballou.
Recording information: GodCity.
The Seattle-based trio's much anticipated follow-up to 2014's acclaimed Sleepwalking Sailors, Stillicide delivers both might and magic via an 11-track blast of glacial post-rock/stoner metal grandeur. True to the sonic spirit of the band's Pacific Northwest stomping grounds, Helms Alee are just as comfortable laying down meaty, '90s alt-rock-inspired hooks as they are peddling concussion-inducing Melvins/Torche-worthy sludge metal. The vocal interplay between guitarist Ben Verellen and drummer Hozoji Matheson-Margullis -- think Black Francis and Kim Deal -- remains the band's most distinctive feature, but bassist Dana James' heavily distorted four-string impresses throughout, providing plenty of fireworks, and not just architectural necessity. Instrumental opener "More Weight" gets things off to a majestic start, but it's the propulsive "Untoxicated" that sets the tone for things to come. Droning, coiled, and utterly riveting, it's 180 seconds of expertly crafted tension and release that still manages to feel raw, and like all of the material on Stillicide, it's not afraid to veer off down some muddy seasonal road in search of a new thrill -- a crushing pick slide around the two-minute mark yields a soaring, David Gilmour-esque solo. Verellen's guitar work is consistently stellar and tasteful, and when paired with the full-throated end of his vocal abilities -- "Tit to Toe," "Galloping Mind Fuk" -- it can feel like Zeus hurling lightning bolts into your face. Less immediate though no less compelling offerings like the James-led "Andromenous" and the shoegazey "Dream Long" provide some much needed breathing room, but the remarkably self-assured Stillicide, with its frequent detours into prog, space, and post-rock, never relies on suffocation to get its point across. ~ James Christopher Monger