(18 March 1997, Interscope)
Helmet are one of those deceptively brilliant bands. A cursory listen will leave one thinking this is a simple, caveman rock band with no depth and a modicum of talent. And the caveman description would be somewhat appropriate. They called their third album Betty and opened it with the track “Wilma’s Rainbow.” I can only assume these were references to the most well-known cave women in pre-history.
Most of the songs on Aftertaste are pretty formulaic. Simple, syncopated riff+angry vocals=Helmet. The strange thing is Page Hamilton’s ability to sing in a tone so close to yelling, but still so melodic. It’s the perfect balance of rage and tunefulness. I haven’t heard anyone else combine these elements and produce such a satisfying product.
Opener “Pure” relies on one chugged chord for the main riff and a strummed octave chorus, but it creates a beautiful wall of sound. This is a band that uses negative space better than any other band in existence. The brilliance is not just in the notes they play or don’t play, but in the spaces between those notes.
It’s easy to let an album like this fade into the background. To be honest, most of the songs sound so similar it’s difficult to tell them apart. But every now and again you hear something like the guitar solo of “Driving Nowhere” or the superb noise of “Broadcast Emotion” and it’s like catching a glimpse some mythical beast rising from the murky depths. The bass heavy intro of “Renovation” is hard to ignore as it hearkens back to “Milktoast” from Betty.
After a few listens light finds its way through the cracks in the stone to illuminate cave drawings I missed on the first pass. I’ve been jamming to Betty in my car for the past few days thinking it’s a superior product to this one, but then I hear “Like I Care” for the second time and I’m amazed that I listened to it with anything other than… amazement.
I could go on and on about this album, but mostly I just want to- wait, what the hell? Did you catch that? There’s a string of like four songs that clock in at about 2.5 minutes and sound like they’re cut off in the middle. Is that a problem with my Spotify account? Or is is supposed to be like that?
I’m not even sure how to classify Helmet. Hard rock seems most appropriate. They’re a bit too heavy to call alternative, but not quite heavy enough for metal. And even though Hamilton is an accomplished Jazz player with chops to spare I don’t think prog or fusion fits. Wikipedia calls them post-metal, but I’m strongly opposed to defining any type of music by saying it came after some other type.
I imagine if Goldilocks were to find this in the three bears’ record collection she would describe Aftertaste as just right.
According to my Cuddly Kittens calendar, today marks the Chinese New Year. I don’t really have a good song to commemorate China and/or their new year, but I did find a song that has something to do with Indochina and has to do with this years animal.
(17 Sept 2013, Century Media)
Masks is a strange pairing of things I love about modern metal and things I hate about modern metal. And it’s all rolled into one nice package like a burrito made of Barbecue Pulled Pork and mushrooms. It mixes the delicious with the disgusting, but thankfully it’s heavy on the delicious.
As I wrote the first time I saw them with Wednesday 13, the thing that interested me was that they were described as a female fronted screamo band. I’ve never been a fan of screamo, metal-core, post hardcore or most other -core genres of music; but I’ve also never seen one fronted by a female. When I saw them, they didn’t seem like a screamo band, but that was after vocalist Cisko Miranda left the band. Miranda was credited with ‘unclean vocals’ on the album, and the thing I dislike most about screamo is the screaming. It’s not that I’m against screaming. I just really don’t care for the monotonous, arrhythmical way of belting out (supposedly) deep and emotional lyrics that metal-core singers have. If you’re going to sing something worth hearing, sing it in a way I can understand.
Thankfully, most of the songs are sung by guitarist/keyboardist Alexia Rodriguez. She’s credited with ‘clean vocals,’ but her delivery is a little bit forced. By that I mean that she’s screaming just enough to make her voice a little scratchy and not the usual female pretty that you hear from most chicks.
I love the songs she sings like “Where I Want To Be” and “Infected.” “Little Liar” is the song they played at that show where I decided I would buy the album.
I’m hoping that they focus more on the Alexia songs going forward. I look at their past records and see that they’ve always had a male voice doing unclean vocals so I’m not really that interested to check out their back catalog, but I am looking forward to their next release.
Another thing I don’t particularly care for with this band is how every picture focuses on the Rodriguez sisters (Anissa plays bass) without including longtime drummer Caleb Clifton. I’m wondering if the departure of Miranda was less about musical differences than a marketing ploy to feature the eye candy in Eyes Set To Kill. As a father I’m always on the lookout for positive female role models who target talent over good looks. Sure, they’re beautiful girls, but what got me to buy the album was their awesome hard rock songs, not their legs (although those are nice too).
Evenhanded insight on political, cultural and scientific affairs
George Lakoff has retired as Distinguished Professor of Cognitive Science and Linguistics at the University of California at Berkeley. He is now Director of the Center for the Neural Mind & Society (cnms.berkeley.edu).
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