Helmet | Seeing Eye Dog
Most Likely To: do nothing to either tarnish or enhance past glories.
That Helmet is still a going concern in the year 2010 seems to be as big a surprise to Paige Hamilton as it is to anyone. He apparently tried to retire the name in the early 21st century, long after the band’s ‘90s heyday, but was talked out of it by label head Jimmy Iovine. Hamilton is no longer signed to Iovine’s label but he keeps releasing albums under the Helmet moniker, seemingly out of inertia as much as anything else.
So Helmet is still around. The question is, do they really need to be? They defined alt-metal in the ‘90s, reducing riffage to diamond hard chunks that pummeled the listener and appealed to punks as much as metalheads. As time progressed though, they seemed to lose their laser-like focus on punishing precision and became more or less just one more hard rock band. The alt-rockers who’d liked them for their almost art-rock approach to metal lost interest, while the metalheads decided to cast their lot with the insufferable miserablists of nu-metal, and Helmet faded into obscurity.
So does Helmet need to exist in 2010? Eh, not really, but it definitely doesn’t hurt to have them around, either. Seeing Eye Dog won’t make anyone forget the brute force of Meantime, but it has its own charms – not least being a surprising melodicism. This version of Helmet actually has songs you can hum along to.
They still roar, of course – they haven’t turned into a power-pop band or anything. But songs like the title track, “Welcome to Algiers,” “In Person,” and “Miserable” have solid hooks built into the onslaught, while “L.A. Water” and “White City” mark a return to the kind of precise, tightly focused riffage that the band built its name on. Hamilton has been exploring jazz lately in his spare time, which shows in the opening “So Long,” which actually swings.
They also toss in a cover of The Beatles’ “And Your Bird Can Sing.” While I can applaud the impulse to cover the moptops’ most underrated classic, Helmet’s version stays stubbornly earthbound in comparison to the original’s joyous soaring. Still, it’s more unnecessary than bad and is clearly just some filler Hamilton tossed in to nudge the rather short Seeing Eye Dog to something near album length.
So even though Hamilton was ready to pull the plug on Helmet a few years back, it’s not a bad thing that he didn’t. Their days on the cutting edge may be a decade and a half in the past, but they’re still capable of producing a decent disc of thinking-man’s metal.
Listen to “Seeing Eye Dog” from Helmet: