For well over two decades, Helmet‘s music has gone through several stages of evolution, however subtle they may be. The band’s unrivaled abrasiveness paved the way for noise rock with the albums Strap It On and In the Meantime, while the band opted for more groove and hooks with Betty and Aftertaste, inadvertently helping bring alternative metal into light. Post-breakup albums Size Matters and Monochrome showcased crisper production and more hard-hitting, mechanical riffage than heard previously.
2010’s Seeing Eye Dog showed the band taking bigger risks than ever before. In addition to the band’s trademark muscular, albeit robotic rhythmic attack , which is tweaked ever so slightly as it is on every Helmet release, the band toyed with string arrangements, ambient soundscapes and post-rock flair. Other than a couple of meandering numbers and a charming, but out of place Beatles cover, the record was a positive step forward for the band and pointed toward more experimentation and playfulness in the future. Well, the future is here, and what does that mean for the band’s eighth studio effort, Dead to the World?
Unfortunately Helmet play it rather safe on Dead to the World. Those expecting the band to continue along the path they started with Seeing Eye Dog might be disappointed. Conversely, those expecting a return to the nitty gritty will definitely be disappointed. Other than an oddball, albeit lifeless Elvis Costello cover, Helmet continue to trudge along the same path they have for the past three records on Dead to the World. The record has a bit of Size Matters, Monochrome and Seeing Eye Dog in it, but without any of the character that made those records unique works. Each of those records, while similar to each other, had a certain feel or approach that made them standout. Dead to the World, however, retreads old ground without any new ideas or surprises.
But the good news is that it is still Helmet being Helmet, which is really all that Helmet fans good ask for. It may be a bit of a step back for the band, but Dead to the World still throws down some memorable rock hits. Tracks like “Life or Death” and “I ♥ My Guru” storm out of the gate with crisp yet aggressive alternative chord progressions that seamlessly bleed into the band’s infamous brand of bludgeoning groove and Page Hamilton’s penchant for atonal, blistering solos. The band walk a thin line between pop rock and metallic harshness on “Bad News”, while “Look Alive” is the band’s dreary, sprawling version of a rock ballad. Then you have tracks like “Red Scare” and “Drunk in the Afternoon”, which capitalizes on the band’s ever potent stop-and-start, growling groove attack. These are elements of Helmet that listeners have heard before, no doubt, but these are still elements that will always work in this band’s favor.
Dead to the World is not a bad record, but it is arguably one of Helmet‘s weaker efforts. It is a shame to see the band gradually push forward throughout the years, only to take a step back. The band still know how to write a fairly enjoyable album, but it is nothing to write home about. Dead to the World is simply Helmet being Helmet, and that will be enough for longtime fans of the band. But, when compared to some of their more revered works, they can do better.
Release Date: October 28, 2016
Favorite Tracks: “I ♥ My Guru”, “Red Scare”, “Drunk in the Afternoon” and “Die Alone”