Somewhere in the mid 1990’s something happened. Whenever someone would ask me to name my favorite bands, HELMET became a part of that list. First time I saw them live? September 22, 1992 at the Col Ballroom in Davenport, Iowa – opening for FAITH NO MORE on the same day my trial-by-fire in the music business took place. MEANTIME had just been released, and it was unlike anything I’d ever heard before. There was an energy and a rawness that was unmatched. It was “metal” without being metal, with a no-nonsense punk rock sensibility and a sound so powerful that it made me instantly hungry for more. The guitars were heavy, the bass rumbled, and the drumming was insane. I soon snagged a copy of STRAP IT ON, and a lifelong respect was born.
Their appearance on the legendary soundtrack to JUDGEMENT NIGHT was a collaboration with HOUSE OF PAIN that still sounds fresh nearly two decades later. Their 1994 album BETTY built upon MEANTIME with more experimentation, and a layered approach. 1997’s AFTERTASTE was different, but a grower that has become better with age. Then the band split, only to return in 2004 with SIZE MATTERS and again in 2006 with MONOCHROME. While the latter is my least favorite HELMET album by far, it’s still HELMET, and if all the lineup changes over the years teach you anything, it’s that PAGE HAMILTON is HELMET.
It’s been four years since the last HELMET record, and the musical landscape has continued to change, and so has HELMET. With their seventh studio album SEEING EYE DOG due out tomorrow via their own Work Song, will the HELMET Army emerge to support their leader once more?
With such deep ties to the legacy of the band, it would be easy to over-praise the album, to hear more than what is there, or worse – to hate the album as a hollow shell of a once-mighty musical force. There’s only one way for me to do this, and it’s track-by-track…
“So Long” – The guitars have a feel that’s a little loose, a la STRAP IT ON. The vocals strike me as in-tune with the past couple of HELMET releases. Page’s voice has gone up a view pitches, not quite as beefy as it was years ago, but that’s not a bad thing. It’s age and evolution.
“Seeing Eye Dog” – This is classic HELMET right here, BETTY-era. From the first note you feel it. Is that“The Silver Hawaiian” making an appearance around the 22-second mark? [Hear it, and you’ll know it] The title track has balls.
“Welcome to Algiers” – The tempo has risen, and the groove on the verses also captures some of that old-school vibe. The solo near the end atop the stop-and-go rhythm is MEANTIME-y.
“LA Water” – This is one of my favorite songs on the album. The mid-tempo groove gives everything room to breathe. The bass is really prevalent, and there’s a cool roto-vibe thing happening that reminds me of NIRVANA’s “Radio Friendly Unit Shifter.” Orchestration on a HELMET record? Believe it. It’s a great song, despite being about one of my least favorite American cities (sorry to my Los Angeles-dwelling friends). Cue the flute.
“In Person” – This is the anti-LA song, a perfect follow-up to the previous track. Angry HELMET has made it’s reentry, with this song about posers, fakes, and stuck-up fucks. Listening to the lyrics makes me think of these idiots you run into at parties that are so caught up in their own shit that they actually believe it. They might seem threatening, powerful, or intimidating on television and in their “public persona,” but get them cornered and see how long they last in the real world.
“Morphing” – There’s an ambiance here that likely stems from Hamilton’s film work.”Morphing” is an appropriate title for opening the album’s virtual “Side B”, as this sounds like nothing that’s preceded it on the record. It’s not a rock song. There are no lyrics. It’s just beautiful and haunting.
“White City” – Another mid-tempo track, the main groove is offset by a melodic chorus and some of that signature chaos on the leads.
“And Your Bird Can Sing” – THE JAM once covered this track from THE BEATLES’ REVOLVER, and now it gets the HELMET treatment. Don’t expect it to be rocked up and transformed, as it’s a pretty straight-forward cover and sounds like nothing else in the HELMET catalog.
“Miserable” – This one is brooding, and will likely become a live staple. The fury doesn’t arrive until a minute in, and the song goes in waves.
“She’s Lost” – I might be way off the mark here, but this reminds me of NAILBOMB right out of the gate – specifically “Sum of Your Achievements.” I’m not even sure there’s that many people out there that will know what I’m talking about. That said, it’s only the first minute that strikes me in that way. When the vocals kick in, it’s Page – and that means it’s HELMET.
You can’t wish for your favorite bands to stay the same. It’s unfair on many levels, not only stifling the band’s growth and creativity, but also killing the prospect of hearing new things as a listener. While SEEING EYE DOG may not fully capture the same vibe as the band’s earlier works, it’s easily the best album to bear the HELMET name since AFTERTASTE, and above all it offers something new mixed with the old. What it proves is that at age 50, Page Hamilton can run rings around youngsters who weren’t even born when MEANTIME was released.
Rating: 4 out of 5 Stars
Reviewed here from the 2-Disc Edition which also includes a 9-song collection of tracks recorded live in San Francisco during Warped Tour in 2006. Various digital and physical configurations of SEEING EYE DOG are available directly from the band at http://www.helmetmusic.com
P.S. – A big “Fuck You” to SPIN for publishing this review of SEEING EYE DOG back in August. Did this guy even listen to the album? Does two sentences even qualify as a review?