August 24, 2006

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Helmet, Monochrome
Warcon, 2006

Man, this record takes me back to middle school.

Back in those carefree days my musical diet consisted of Soundgarden, Alice in Chains and of course, Helmet, whose early records I spent many long hours head-banging and playing air-guitar to. Having remained largely inactive since 1997's Aftertaste, Helmet resurfaced unexpectedly in 2004 with the solid but unremarkable Size Matters. Follow-up album Monochrome proves a slight improvement over that record, though not by much.

Helmet frontman, Page Hamilton still writes churning, droning metal blazers that drop like a forty-ton pile of bricks, laced with high-gain, mid-free distortion, and Monochrome holds tightly to his time-honored formula. Super-charger opener "Swallowing Everything" smacks the listener square in the face with a crowbar, while "Bury Me" and "Money Shot" are equally mosh-worthy. Songs like "Almost Out of Sight" and the title track allow just a hint of melody to creep in to the proceedings, while showcasing Hamilton's trademarked space-jam solos and bendy riffs.

Alas, this is not the Helmet of my youth. Whereas that band pioneered a raw and invigorating style of thinking-man's metal, this newly reincarnated Helmet feels tired and sadly uninspired. Hamilton's vocals are where the record loses major points as his drill sergeant bark ("Lord! I need! Somebody! Just like you! Somebody! I can talk to!"), which once revealed a wry sense of tongue-in-cheek campy-ness, now simply bludgeons you to death like a Michael Bay movie. The fact that, lyrically, Hamilton has little of substance to say doesn't exactly help things either.

Yet I'd be lying if I said I didn't somewhat enjoy Monochrome. The lack of any new musical development aside, Hamilton remains good at what he does and his feedback-laden, mathematical riffs never fail to impress. "Howl" unleashes a Sonic Youth-inspired spew of amp-decimating overdrive that almost makes up for the fact that it constitutes the entirety of the song. "Brand New" meanwhile, features pulverizing riffs sure to earn Beavis and Butthead's approval were it written in the mid '90s.

However, Monochrome's true appeal is its reminder of just how great a metal juggernaut Helmet used to be. While the album itself may not be stellar, it's sure to have you reaching for your worn-out copies of Strap It On and Meantime, rediscovering how Helmet helped you make it through middle school in the first place. B-

— Adam Marletta


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