If you think long and hard about it, is there any other place in the U.S. with a more prestigious history of alternative rock than the state of Washington? In the ‘90s, the revered Grunge genre sprang forth and gave the world some its most unforgettable acts. The state produced Nirvana, Stone Temple Pilots, Mudhoney, and a seemingly endless list of other bands.
At the present time, Washington continues to deliver great music. Some of the more successful contemporary groups include Demon Hunter and The Fall of Troy.
Another act worth mentioning is Blue Helix from Puyallup, a small town southeast of Tacoma. This band is a group of four guys from different backgrounds that have come together to make music, inspired by the Grunge-era bands which dominated their home turf years earlier.
Several of the bands that influence the group have a brooding, angst-ridden sound (Alice in Chains, Soundgarden). This was the sound I was expecting from Blue Helix’s first album, A Tale of Two Halves. However, this album is not quite as dark as much of the music from those bands.
The opener, Bullets will not leave you with the feelings of gloom and despair often displayed by many of the tortured ‘90s Grunge rockers. This is an almost danceable pop tune. The song begins with the sound of pops and cracks like the ones heard in the early days of analogue tape recording. A catchy bass line provides a foundation for the track and a megaphone effect is used on the vocals in the intro. Bullets is an upbeat and groovy two and a half minutes of the listener’s life.
Track No. 2, titled Escape, is much heavier and shows off a more typical Grunge sound. The guitar tone is deep and uncompromising. The lyrics are grim in nature. “I must be insane to love all this pain,” sings vocalist/guitarist Sami Chohfi.
Carry Me is a soothing acoustic ballad of unrelenting optimism. It definitely conveys a positive outlook on life. The song is obviously written to Chohfi’s significant other and talks of that person being his reason to live.
The band puts its own spin on Bob Dylan’s Masters of War. As you may expect, this version is more modern. It features a full band rather than just a solo acoustic guitar. This allows for more musical variation as a distorted guitar transforms the song from Folk to hard rock.
Six 8 is a hard and heavy instrumental which features an ominous sounding acoustic intro but this soon fades out and some fancy electric lead riffs that dominate the rest of the piece.
The album takes it down a bit for the next couple of songs. Gemini is a depressing love ballad while Wolves is uplifting and spiritually revealing. Whispered prayers can be heard at a few different points in the recording.
On a final note, I won’t go as far as saying this isn’t a Grunge record. However, this album forced me to drop any preconceived notions I had about the genre. Instrumentally, these songs have a lot of technicality to them; they’re not filled with simple power chord progressions like the noisy favorites of generation x.
As I mentioned earlier, this style of Grunge also carries more positive themes. The intense personal conflict heard on those early Grunge albums is for the most part missing from A Tale of Two Halves. I’ve read that this is common among present-day Seattle area bands. The focus of the music from that area seems to have since shifted towards something brighter.