Innovators of the 90′s alternative metal scene; New York’s Helmet are widely revered by many bands that followed for their combination of staccato riffing, stop and go pace of post-hardcore, and an overall experimental playing style of heavy metal. Guitarist/vocalist Page Hamilton is at the helm of the band that was just finding its way with their 1990 debut Strap It On as they displayed traits of what would later be considered nu-metal, albeit much more in the vein of hardcore. So we can now take a look at what made this album a great stepping stone for even greater albums in the near future; let’s travel back 23 years and see why.
The album opens with the powerful “Repetition” complete with pounding riffs and the unmistakable staccato riffing pounding its way into your eardrums. Hamilton’s dual combination of singing and guitar work is masterful as he clearly demonstrates with excellent solos that are accompanied by the great bass playing of Henry Bogdan. Track 2 has the great hardcore riffs from the past, which may be more akin to the NYHC scene of the late 80′s and now given a slower pace and a clearer place in metal. The main riff is a cause for headbanging and the repetitious nature of Helmet’s riffs makes sure that you are able to keep up with the music; the drums are more musically complex and the fills can sometimes catch the listener by surprise giving great depth to this overall package.
True to it’s title “Bad Mood” blares at you with post-hardcore soundscapes and a hardcore attitude. The drums pound behind Hamilton’s wall of sound guitar playing and the riffs border on tremolo picking as it becomes an insurmountable wall of noise that enhances the band’s repertoire. “Sinatra” is an odd song that comes in towards the middle of the album and it critiques Frank Sinatra‘s life as nothing more than unsuccessfully fighting his inner demons and his attitudes towards women.
“FBLA” (Future Business Leaders of America) is their take on the empowerment of youth and features the stop and go sounds of what Fugazi was then developing. The lyrical suggestion of “Self-obsessed, time to kill yourself” is particularly poignant and the up and down tempo is something that many bands in the 10 years following this album would ultimately borrow and try to use themselves. With a chugging main riff you are hit hard by “Blacktop” with more of Hamilton’s great vocals combined with an effect that seems to make him sound as if he is much farther away from the mic than he actually is. The uptempo causes for a great riffing time and the slowed down portions are those that made your head more in ways that you normally would not expect them to.
“Distracted” offers more a social commentary on what is really important to you: “Bet distraction whips it out of you pay to see it suck you down there too.” sucking you into the abyss that can be today’s social media and not what you are meant to waste all of your waking hours doing. The riffs are also of the breakneck variety and more wall of sound soloing to really get you focused on the great music at hand here. “Make Room” is slower paced and led more so by the heavy handed drumming of John Stanier (later to be a part of both Battles and Tomahawk); the rest of the band also add their own unique flavour to the song as both guitarists, the bassist, and their powerful drummer are all weaving their sounds in throughout the song. “Murder” ends the album with more of the combinations of sound that the album had been building to during its just over a half an hour of playing time.
Helemet would go on to critical acclaim with their next album Meantime and their hit single “Unsung” in 1992 and also put out the excellent Betty in 1994. The band would go through many line-up changes and eventually it was Hamilton who was left as the sole original member and still serves as the main vehicle for his career. I would recommend any of the original 3 albums for the band as the earliest part of their career was easily their strongest period of all. Feel free to drop me a comment about a band you’d like to see covered, or just leave one as a sign of good faith. For what I’m currently listening to you can always check out my Last.fm page. Let’s check out some more alternative metal for the next week!