Album Review: Helmet - Left
Reviewed by Patrick O'Reilly
Helmet have always blazed their own trail through the alternative metal scene. Despite flirting with major label success they consistently make music to suit themselves, sometimes it’s harsh and angular and other times it is hook laden and more accessible. How will latest album ‘Left’ stack up in comparison to bona fide legendary albums such as ‘Meantime’ and ‘Betty’?
On first listen things sound different yet familiar. The riffs are there in abundance, those mechanical staccato beefy riffs that have enthralled me over the years, yet this album seems to add a great deal of melody and harmony into the mix, dare I say some of the songs sound almost "poppy"? Huge choruses abound and have you nodding your head as well as banging it!
There is still a hard edge to this album, don’t get me wrong, and it wouldn’t be Helmet without this, I always think of them as a Jock band for Nerds in this sesnse, heavy and mean yet cerebral and eccentric.
Production is amazing, really smooth and with every instrument audible in the mix. Page Hamilton’s vocals vary on this album probably more than any previously, going from his trademark angry shout to some more soulful crooning, which keeps the dynamic interesting and changeable.
Running through the tracks we have opener ‘Holiday’ which starts out very melodic until it switches to a heavy, pummeling section where Page unleashes a vitriolic tirade of insults and bile.
‘Gun Fluf’ is up next and delivers a faster paced, lighter jaunt then onto ‘NYC Tough guy’ which is an altogether harsher beast of a track that lurches from riff to riff before closing with one of Page’s trademark jazz influenced solos.
‘Make Up’ is perhaps my favourite track on the album, sounding like its just walked off one of Helmet’s earlier albums and into your ears. Slow and methodical with a memorable vocal performance leading to an absolute belter of a riff half way through.
‘Big Shot’ ramps up the heaviness with a vibe similar to Betty’s ‘Tic’, all in your face aggression and seething malevolence.
Things get a bit weirder on next track ‘Bombastic’, a schizophrenic dash through all eras of helmet, with a nod towards the likes of Ministry and Primus, a welcome diversion from the built up tension of previous tracks.
The band then make another u-turn with the track ‘Reprise’ which is mainly instruemental, if you don’t count the weirdly ethereal voices in the background, and an atmospheric post rock feel akin to somebody like Mogwai
Huge drums roll in to herald the arrival of ‘Dislocated’ which carries on the traditional Helmet vibe with power and verve, before the strange sound of steel guitar rings out on next track ‘Tell Me Again’ a country rock number dripping in grungy atmosphere due in no small part to a luscious string backing.
‘Powder Puff’ is the penultimate track, all stop/start guitars and big chorus, an indie feel to this track gives it a unique identity even on such a diverse album, then it’s onto closing track ‘Resolution’ which is literally an almost improvised jazz noodling with weird time signatures and self-indulgent guitars, if it wasn’t Page Hamilton it would be unforgivable to end an album like this but as mentioned at the start of the review Helmet make music primarily for themselves and this is never more evident than on this closing track.
To summarise, this album is everything you want from a beloved band, familiar yet different, old and new combine to treat the listener to another masterclass.