Helmet: Dead To The World

Starting point: Life or Death or Bad News
Personal Highlight: Look Alive

Like any Australian who watched Rage after coming home from a night out or waking up early on a weekend – I’m aware of Helmet.

They are the band pink guitar, shorts wearing band with a video that kept popping up every time a heavier act got to program the songs for the show.

Armed with lots of stock footage of industrial machines, their classic 1990’s video for the track Unsung has become etched into my mind as a 3 am Saturday or Sunday morning nostalgia trip.
The fact that this song aired so regularly obviously meant that they were an influential band to many, yet I never really had exposure to them beyond the Unsung video.

The years pass from my late teens, the 3 am Rage viewing sessions become less frequent. Adulthood sneaks in and so do responsibilities.

Playing in bands comes and goes and every now and then you jam with a musician who plays two bars of a Helmet song and is clearly distraught that you hadn’t picked it up.
“Maybe he didn’t hear properly” they think to themselves, I’ll play it again and maybe sing a few words”.
My blank stare continues.
The cycle repeats, they play it again and this time throw in a bit of chorus.
“Surely he must know the chorus”
Nothing. I am clearly an idiot, clearly, the four year age gap between myself and those who seem to be the Helmet crowd is enough.
“Dude, it’s Helmet!” they exclaim.
“Oh, yeah pink guitar, Unsung…. From Rage!”
“How can you not know Helmet” they say with a thinly veiled look of disgust like I’ve kicked their cat.
Clearly, I am not true metal. Funnily enough, the other bands where this situation happens to me all the time are Nirvana and the Deftones.
If I were to play them a Black Sabbath riff that isn’t Iron Man, Paranoid or War Pigs I’d probably get the same blank stares and pull my best cat kicker face right back at them. It’s part of an attitude that I hope I’m weaning myself off, the close minded aspects that come with playing in a genre of music rather than making music that you like, no matter the genre.
Back on track.
Last year, mid-Reuben binge I found myself drawn to the line in Return of the Jedi (The Reuben song, not Star Wars movie), a brutally honest narrative on the prospect of being an independent musician in the Internet age.

‘Guitarist and Songwriter’,
That’s what I thought I was,
I never had no dreams of being a waiter,
But these here Helmet rip-offs,
They don’t but my lunch,
So I will get a real job in the office.

OK, so there they are again. Helmet keeps popping up.

Another band who I respect and adore mentioning Helmet, this time immortalised in their lyrics, not just in an interview.

I shall have to investigate Helmet and see what all the fuss is about. Thankfully for me, Helmet has a new album coming out, so here goes.

It turns out the reason I’ve not heard much from Helmet lately is that they’ve not released an album in six years. Dead to the World is the 8th full-length release from Helmet and their second in the last 10 years.

From the first 30 seconds of Dead to the World all of the elements are there. There is no extended instrumental opening or theatrics, the first verse has started in the first five seconds.

The vocals are double tracked and dirty, the bass and drums are driving the song forward relentlessly. From the get go the attitude is there, this is rock music full of the counter-culture staples that think of when you think of the genre. The rebellious, angry at everything and everyone rock music.

“Catch phrases, punchlines, guns, bluster, ammo, incivility, impatience, murder. You, me, us, them, life, liberty and the pursuit of property.” – Page Hamilton

It reads like a George Carlin monologue. The intent is clearly there, the attitude is there. Do the songs match up to the intent?

Bad News features some harmonies that I can’t help but subconsciously link to the Beatles. There is songwriting talent on display here.

Does it sound like a new album? Not necessarily, it could have easily been released in the 1990’s aside from the mastering differences.

For me, it becomes a great what if game, I think that I would like this album more if it had more of a modern production sound, but would that make it not sound like Helmet?

The songs are near as makes no difference four minutes or shorter, so nothing overstays the welcome. Look Alive near the end of the album provides a beautiful slow contrast compared to the rest of the album, its inclusion makes the album feel more whole.

People new to Helmet might find some songs on the album that please, particularly fans of  90’s rock (think Jon Bush era-Anthrax). Using the people I know who love the band, Helmet fans will buy this album either way.’