Tuesday, July 23, 2013

Helm - Vol 3 – Panthalassa

Helm
Vol 3 – Panthalassa
Helm Music/Summerland Records

Having already been an avid follower of vocalist/guitarist/songwriter Lucas Stone when he was involved in Tension, I was keen to see which direction he was going with his music when he announced his intentions to form a new outfit under the name of Helm, following the demise of Tension. And when the Gold Coast (Queensland, Australia) based act launched themselves onto the scene in 2008 with their debut full-length effort ‘Vol 1... Keelhaul’, Helm proved to be every bit as impressive as promised.
Clearly not wanting to waste any time, Helm released their sophomore effort ‘Vol 2… The Winter March’ a year later, which not only saw the band further push their unique take on progressive rock to new levels, but also earn the attention and critical acclaim they so richly deserved. Despite releasing a few singles over the last four years (2010’s cover of Icehouse’s ‘Great Southern Land’, 2011’s ‘Home’ and ‘Bullets’), and hitting the road in support of the said releases, Helm clearly were in no rush to get their long awaited third full-length album out to fans until they were clearly ready to. But after what seemed an endless wait, the five piece act (Who comprise of Stone, guitarist/vocalist Dario Lagana, guitarist Ryan Lucas, bassist Rory Swane and drummer Fabio Lagana) has finally re-emerged from their self imposed studio hiatus with their long awaited third effort ‘Vol 3 – Panthalassa’.
The album is opened up with the title track ‘Panthalassa’, which is essentially a short acoustic based/backing vocalised introduction to proceedings, which eventually bleeds into the album’s first real track ‘Iron Wall’. Clocking in at just a touch over the eight minute mark, ‘Iron Wall’ is everything you’ve come to expect from Helm – only in epic form. Despite its heavy start, the song showcases Lucas’ penchant for melodic quieter passages where the voice is the guiding instrument, which are counteracted perfectly against some of the heaviest guitar driven walls of noise the band have ever delivered. Despite its length, the band more than manages to keep things interesting throughout, and provide the album with a truly stunning beginning.
‘Bermuda’ is an interesting track as Stone pushes his vocals to the higher end of his range to give the song a very different direction to anything the band have ever attempted before, while the occasional screamed backing vocal helps inject a bit of aggression where necessary to give the song that much more bite.
The angular riffing in ‘Albatross’ is again another example of the band attempting to take their sound into completely new directions, and something the band manages to pull off exceedingly well. Of course, Stone’s melodic phrasing and hook laden choruses help in no part in giving the song its real character, but the off kilter guitar riffs and the gang backing vocals (Provided by Nik Carpenter and Steve Gibb) open up a whole new dimension to Helm’s sound.
Clocking in at more than eleven minutes, ‘Endless Storm’ is another lengthy epic around the middle of the album. Initially, I thought the song was fairly traditional Helm fare with its laid back tempo and gentle harmonies, but around the five minute mark, the song takes on a completely different direction, and starts to really take on a heavier tone, which alters the course of the song here on out. There’s a brief piano/guitar interlude which breaks things up a little, and the song ends out on a heavy note. But while there’s plenty of changes going on throughout the song, I couldn’t help but feel that the song was a little too long and bloated for its own good. ‘Endless Storm’ has its share of good ideas, but not enough to justify its rather long running time.
As good as ‘Drag The Anchor’ is, the song is probably the most traditional sounding of Helm tracks with the song sounding like it could have come from either of the band’s two former releases. To some extent, the same could be said for ‘The Taxidermist’ as well, except for the guitar solo and the heavier second half of the track, which again is delivered in a way Helm haven’t attempted before in the past.
‘Cull’ is a favourite with its lush melodies and greater progressive metal musical backdrop, as to does ‘To The Wolves’ and ‘The Great Escape’, both of which are further daring ventures into uncharted territory on the musical front from the progressive metal side of the musical equation. But despite their somewhat experimental music framework, Stone maintains a sense of balance within the songs with his trademark infectious choruses and beautifully emotive vocals.
Finishing up the album is the short instrumental piece ‘After the War’, which ties in perfectly with the opener, albeit with acoustic guitars instead of electrics, and the absence of vocals.
While Helm aren’t a band to change too much from one release to the next (As evident on their first two releases), ‘Vol 3 – Panthalassa’ does show a lot of progression from the band, without straying too far from the sound they created for themselves in the first place. And while the album does have a couple of tracks that overstay their welcome, for the most part, this third full-length effort from the Gold Coast crew lives up to my expectations.

For more information on Helm, check out - http://www.helmofficial.com/

© Justin Donnelly