There is an effervescent, eerie and erudite nature to this album which is perfectly reflected in its title. Noctiluca scintillans are marine algae which are bioluminescent when disturbed – i.e. piss them off and they glow. Helms Alee concoct a sound which acts like a beacon of light in the murky world they create for themselves. Their music is a perfect cocktail of anger and illumination, of rage and irradiation.

Drummer and vocalist Hozoji Matheson-Margullis is the centre of the band. Her nasal, Stevie Nicks style vocal delivery is perfectly balanced with the sweet siren harmonies of bassist Dana James and the guttural roar of guitarist Ben Verellen who yells and yowls his heart out. The drumming, however, often usurps all other instrumentation on the album as Matheson-Margullis is able to conjure the kind of thunderous drum patterns that have been the staple of Melvins live shows since they have used two tub-thumpers. There is a fascination in focusing on an instrument which is often seen to serve merely as the time-keeper, as the intricacies and nuanced stylings of the playing on Noctiluca is, at times, quite mesmeric. Complex time patterns are used on a number of tracks which separates Helms Alee from many in the sludge sub-genre, instead placing them at an intersection between groups such as Melvins and Big Business with more math-rock outfits such as Don Caballero and Hella. The primal drumming on Noctiluca is highlighted on tracks such as ‘Lay Waste, Child’ and ‘Beat Up’, which are imbued with a sense of immediacy and disquiet due to the propulsive tom-heavy percussion. The former of these two tracks is the album’s standout moment – the insistent drumming, heavy distorted bass, screamed vocals and high-pitched picked guitar combine to produce a tense, beguiling track which builds and builds on the same repetitive patterns, each time adding something small to great effect.

‘Beat Up’ is followed by another album highlight in ‘Play Dead’, which shifts the tempo up several gears whilst still having space to breathe. The introduction of the song – all flailing limbs and harsh vocals – makes way for a musical breakdown which adds a sense of reflection, a respite to the cathartic vitriol which has preceded it. At this point, the band are playing in clear unison with one another as the vocals are harmonised rather than as counterpoints, the drums and bass and guitar patterns are closely aligned, showing a unity and uniformity of the three players in the band, a rare moment of singularity and seeming commonality on an album which heavily centres on the stretched possibilities of a three piece where each musician is trying to grab the attention by outdoing their comrades with ever increasingly subtle inflections of their skill and purpose. This theme is evident throughout the album, and highlights the musical capabilities of each band member but also illustrates one of Helms Alee’s key strengths, which is the ability to accommodate such intense playing within the same song without there being any sense of disruption or discord. There are (thankfully) no opportunities here for solos where each band member steps into the spotlight, yet the ferocity of the playing on the album makes the listener conscious that rather than some sort of power struggle for recognition going on, there is the harmonious nature of a band at the height of their song writing powers.

‘Pandemic’ adds a shoegaze element to Helms Alee’s sound which has previously not be overly evident in their earlier output, and the song sounds like Ufomammut covering Ride before it segues into the colossal riffage of album closer ‘Word Problem’. After the relatively slow, almost ponderous dreampop of ‘Pandemic’, the last track feels more ferocious than any of the other nine tracks that make up Noctiluca and it is a stunning way to end proceedings. The vocals switch between roars and coos, highlighting the riveting duality at the core of the band which makes the album as a whole a thrilling listen.

Helms Alee have been around a long time and have never managed to reach the audience their wilful sludge-grunge deserves, and this is a shame. Yet for the uninitiated there is a significant back catalogue of gems to uncover, with Noctiluca being the best of their output to date.