Monday, January 21, 2008

Lord Helmet

While I do love me some Spaceballs, I'm referring to guitar legend Page Hamilton. Helmet has been one of the most influential bands in my life, as both a drummer and as a songwriter. Page has this amazing was of making something sound so easy, but you actually couldn't play it worth a shit. Now in their 19th year (well Page is anyway), Helmet is still kicking much ass, albeit touring less and selling less records these days. 
I remember 1993's "Unsung" and its video on Headbanger's Ball AND 120 Minutes and thinking how awesome it was that this dude was playing so powerfully and singing so passionately, without a great voice and in a rockin' army haircut. Oh, how metal! It wasn't until I bought me their CD (Meantime, in it's wonderful longbox) that I realized how heavy and groovy this band was. "In The Meantime" is still the heaviest shit I own. Heavier that one thousand death metal bands. Just fucking fierce. 

A lot of people disliked 1994's Betty, claiming it was too jazzy, but I love that record. Still listen to it all the time. Although not my favorite Helmet LP, it's definitely the most-listened to. Tracks such as "Clean", "Speechless" and "Tic" were downtuned bliss, but so crisp in both production and skill. Bogdan and Stanier are still the closest thing to Jones and Bonham, period. I'm convinced that John Bonham's right foot has been stitched up to John Stanier's right leg. He's that fucking good.
My personal favorite Helmet LP is 1997's criminally underrated Aftertaste. Recorded as a trio and full of aggression (add in Orange 9mm's Chris Traynor as a live second guitarist), this record is sick. Just sick. "Pure" is "In The Meantime Pt.2". One note brutality. Other standouts  are "Crisis King", "Like I Care" and the minor hit, "Exactly What You Wanted", which I bought for $1.99 on The Box and recorded it on one of  my trusty VHS tapes. Yeah!

Unfortunately, Helmet split in 1998 (just like Faith No More and just mere months after Soundgarden)...Yeah, not a good year for me or anyone who had to deal with me. Henry Bogdan went to Hawaii to jam out slide guitar awesomeness, John Stanier mixed it up (and still does) with Mike Patton and Duane Denison in the amazing Tomahawk and Page did some score work, play with David Bowie (the Hours record, tour  and SNL performance) and start a new band called Gandhi. I was lucky enough to see them at the anus that is The Saint in Asbury Park, NJ in 2003. Page has assembled a killer band and the new tracks were slightly different but still undeniably Helmet-like. In fact, almost all the songs from those shows/sessions morphed into future Helmet songs on their most recent two releases.

In 2003, a new track surfaced on the Underworld Soundtrack called "Throwing Punches", an unbelievably heavy cut that was billed as played by Page Hamilton. After an Interscope-released Best Of soon after, it was revealed that this track was actually by a new version of Helmet: Page, Chris Traynor, John Tempesta (on drums: White Zombie, Rob Zombie, Testament, etc) and Frank Bello (Anthrax). After Interscope would only release Page's new music if he called it Helmet, the band released Size Matters in 2004. It really picks up right where Aftertaste left off. It was as if 7 years was actually 7 months. "Crashing Foreign Cars" "See You Dead", "Smart" and many more solidified the band, as did tons of touring. 

Unfortunately, yet again, this lineup didn't stick around too long. Traynor went over to Institute with Gavin Rossdale (with Page co-writing and producing), Tempesta went back to Testament briefly I think...Who knows, and Bello went back to Anthrax so they could do so money-grubbing 1987 reunion lineup. Fuck them. 

So Page parted with Interscope and signed with indie Warcon. Big fish, little pond. Smart move. He assembled a killer band yest again (now featuring Jeremy from old rivals Handsome...One of the best records EVER) and a killer drummer named Mike Jost. Monochrome was released in 2006 and was recorded, produced and mixed in Analog, with the same dude that produced Meantime 13 years prior. While the album caught a lot of slack, I love it. Love it. "Swallowing Everything" is probably the best Helmet song of all time. Other tracks like "On The Way Down" and "Bury Me" came at you with the aggression and energy of Strap It On & Meantime, but flaunt some incredible time signature changes and incredibly mature song structure. Page openly said that he'd never be able to write something as good as "Swallowing Everything" a few years ago. 

And as I go on and on, the bottom line is that Helmet were and are originators and the landscape of hard rock (for good or bad) wouldn't be nearly the same without them. 
A live performance of "Swallowing Everything" from 2007. Damn kids didn't even know what the fuck hit them. 

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