Helmet are one of those bands where people who don’t like them generally share the common criticism that every song sounds the same. Helmet are also one of those bands where I assume their biggest fans love them because every song kind of sounds the same, it just so happens to be a sound they love. I bought a copy of their album Betty sometime in the mid to late 90s. I’ve listened to it countless times in the years since. I still listen to it regularly today, but I probably couldn’t differentiate many of the songs by title alone. They all kind of sound the same. It just so happens to be a sound I love. A sound I’m finally gonna get a little more of it, with Betty’s predecessor, Meantime.
Being the only permanent member in the band’s quarter of a century lifespan, I think it’s safe to assume that singer, guitarist Page Hamilton is Helmet. And listening to opening pair Meantime and Iron Head, I also think it’s safe to assume the Helmet song writing process follows a strict path. Hamilton writes four or five blistering guitar riffs based on power chords or dropped D tuning. He figures out which order they sound best in. He flips a coin between using his screamed vocals, or talk-singing stoner vocals, compete with some slight flanging effects. Then he tells the rest of the band what their jobs are in that song. And the result may be very similar each time, but bugger me if the results don’t always hit me just right.
And while I am positive Hamilton may be the clear creative force behind Helmet, for me, the one aspect of this band that has stuck with me most over the years is drummer, John Stanier. In the late 90s and early 2000s, I got to see Stanier on the drum stool for Adelaide rock monsters, The Mark of Cain. These days I get to hear Stanier’s clockwork brutality on Battles records. And in between, he belted out the beats for Mike Patton’s Tomahawk.
Helmet might not give Stanier the opportunity to show off his mathematical perfection on weird time signatures like he can playing in The Mark of Cain or Battles, but he’s still the very obvious backbone of Helmet and Meantime. Songs like Unsung, Turned Out and Better might be simple and straightforward in their rhythms and time signatures, but when simplicity is pushed this hard, it still needs a solid as a rock foundation. A foundation Stanier supplies with so much brute force, his relentless drumming often over shadows the guitar work.
Helmet songs all kind of sound the same. It just so happens to be a sound I love. A sound I’m stoked I finally got a little more of, with Meantime.