The story of New York City’s Helmet, and their place in the metal scene, is a deeply fascinating one. Picked up by a major label in the early 90s thanks to the post-Nevermind gold rush, they never really fit into the alternative rock box at all.
And yet their downtuned, mechanical, piston-like groove riffing style was arguably a catalyst for what would become nu metal a couple of years later. They’ve never truly received the credit for that, in the same way that, say, Rage Against The Machine, Faith No More or even Godflesh have, and nine albums in, their profile is far from what their legacy deserves.
It’s great to report, then, that, coming back after 2016’s messy Dead To The World, Helmet are still capable of harnessing all the elements that made them such a brilliantly idiosyncratic band three decades ago. Left contains some of the year’s most instantaneous, memorable, propulsive yet deceptively complex riffs that serve as a base for everything from wild noise freakouts to some truly unexpected vocal hooks.
Frontman and guitarist Page Hamilton is the last remaining member of Helmet’s glory days, and the jazz-trained prodigy remains their USP. He brings bounce and discordance to Bombastic, staccato stabs of feedback and pure pop to Make-Up, avant-garde shoegaze to Reprise and twisted blues to Dislocated.
After three albums that were decent in parts but lacked the quality of Helmet at the top of their game, it’s something of a relief that Left is, at the very least, the equal of 2004’s excellent comeback album, Size Matters and, at its best, worthy of the classic material the band gave us on 1992’s Meantime and 1994’s Betty.
It’s unlikely to put Helmet back into the zeitgeist position they occupied for a brief spell in the early 90s, but who cares; if you know, you know, and Left is as close Helmet have been to their best in a very long time.
Left is out November 10 via EarMusic