Challenging and well worth every minute of it
For all intents and purposes, 2006 was a year full of promise for Gold Coast (Queensland) based act Tension. Having been inactive for three years, Tension decided to resurface and finally released their debut full-length effort The Blind Leading The Deaf Following The Dumb. But for all the rave reviews the album received, it wasn't enough to hold the band together, with the four members pursuing other musical interests outside Tension. It's been a long two years since then, but former vocalist/guitarist/songwriter Lucas Stone has finally put together something new, and along with guitarist Scott Ireland, bassist Ryan Swierczewski and drummer Mat Wilton, has re-emerged with Helm.
The opening instrumental title track (Keelhaul) is little more than a bit of guitar work that bleeds into the first official track This, where the band really reveal the varying influences and depths to their multi-dimensional sound. At times, Helm can be melodic and atmospheric with their gentle push of notes and rhythms, but soon turn toward the other end of the spectrum with an aggressive full on attack of heavy riffing and course vocals from Stone. In amongst all that, there's a progressive feel that reminds me of latter day Anathema that manages to rise to the surface, making the opening track sound like a mixture of every genre known under the sun, without sounding forced and too all over the place.
Salt is a definite stand out with Lucas providing plenty of huge hooks in amongst the ebb and flow of cascading riffs and changes of direction, while the beautiful Release The Eagles again brings to the surface Anathema influences, and yet still manages to sound quite unique in the heavier moments from the half way mark onwards. Your Shadow is a crushing effort that carefully balances out the truly heavy with the melodic, while the driving Soldier is perhaps in places as close as Lucas gets to steering Helm towards the sound of his former outfit Tension.
The largely instrumental nine and a half minute epic One Small Step From Grace is for the most part rooted in the post-hardcore sound with its mix of quieter and louder passages before producing a truly stunning melodic tail end, while the closer Death Valley almost drifts into stoner rock with its huge chunky riffs, simplified structures and straight out bludgeoning heaviness.
Not unlike Stone's previous band Tension, Helm is not the sort of band whose sound is easy to describe in simple words. Quite simply, their debut effort Vol 1... 'Keelhaul' can't be pigeonholed into one particular genre, and is anything but an album that is easy to digest after a single listen. But the beauty of such albums is that they slowly grow on you, and the subtle melodies really start to stand out over repeated listens. In summary, Helm is one of those rare acts that really does offer up something different and special for those with an open mind.