Words by Jordan Martich
As Seattle-based band Helms Alee tours in support of their newest album Stillicide, experiences are becoming unbelievable for drummer Hozoji Matheson-Margullis.
This is their longest tour to date, and they’ve been juxtaposed with sludge-riff legends The Melvins for almost two months, meeting up with longtime comrades Russian Circles afterward. Awestruck at performing on the same bill as a band she’s admired for so long, Matheson-Margullis was floored when all of Helms Alee was asked to close out the show by playing along supergroup style to “Night Goat,” reworking the classic song into a loud, magnificent event.
“It is real big deal to me. They have been my favorite band since I was 13,” said Matheson-Margullis. “That’s 22 years of my life that they’ve consistently been my favorite, through many different changes and phases of my personality.”
Ease and success have not always been the case, however. In 2012 legendary label Hydra Head Records announced that its financial problems had exacted a permanent toll — it could no longer pursue new artists or afford to organize new releases. Fans of the label were devastated. Artists like Oxbow, Jesu, Boris, Converge, Neurosis, and more had been redefining heavy music in artistically innovative ways for 17 years under Hydra Head’s banner, crafting quality releases that invigorated part of the vinyl revival.
For Helms Alee — which includes Matheson-Margullis, guitarist Ben Verellen, and bassist Dana James — this meant losing the home where they’d released Night Terror (2008) and Weatherhead (2011). With the future of their releases cast into uncertainty, they began to work on self-releasing by starting their own record label, an arduous venture that took up much of their energy. Matheson-Margullis remembers feeling frustrated with the time taken away from the writing process. Drained, the band was relieved when they found a deal with Sargent House to release 2014’s Sleepwalking Sailors.
“When Sleepwalking Sailors was made it was all-encompassing and a really intense time because we knew that we didn’t want to give up,” Matheson-Margullis. “We were proud of the songs and we wanted them to be released in a proper way.”
Sailors propelled Helms Alee to a new level of attention, earning favor with headbanging metal fans and brainy post-rock devotees alike. With this year’s Stillicide, they conjure the same headlong riffage as they stretch further into zones of experimentation. Matheson-Margullis admits that finding Sargent House gave them ample space to dive into the music this time.
“Making Stillicide, there was a similar amount of personally applied pressure, but it all got to go toward writing a record that we were really proud of,” she said. “There’s a lot less on our plate when we have