photo & text by nacrowe
HELMET to me equals riffs. those precisely jagged, start-stop verse riffs that juxtaposed with ringing open chords create an aural sense of space not to dissimilar to a FRANK LLOYD WRIGHT structure. WRIGHT loved having tight, claustrophobic hallways that led to grand high-ceilinged parlors and family rooms. it was part of his artistic lexicon.
i feel that PAGE HAMILTON has a similar songwriting aesthetic when crafting his songs, especially those on MEANTIME (INTERSCOPE, 1992). his ability to mine contrast in his songs, through abrupt tempo and time-signature shifts is progressive without sacrificing aggression and intention. when i listen to songs like "UNSUNG," "BETTER," and "IN THE MEANTIME" there is a cathartic sense of push and pull, catch and release that is sonically very satisfying on a compositional level. in a sense his songs almost feel like JAZZ music or CLASSICAL MUSIC in that there is a definite form and structure that creates tension and then resolves itself, almost like a SONATA. in a SONATA you start in one key, go to another, maybe another, and then return to the original key. like a sunday drive through the countryside. HELMET's music is anything but an evening stroll, but it works on the same level in that no matter how exotic or unforeseen the sonic texture or tempo shifts are, they do ultimately resolve themselves in a thoroughly satisfying way. the other band for whom this is a trademark in my opinion is TOOL. but they are way further on the progressive rock side of the coin, HELMET is like a PROGRESSIVE ROCK version of HARDCORE.
ive been fascinated with the riffs of HAMILTON since childhood and he has been criminally underrated for years. i mean, if none other than DIMEBAG DARRELL of PANTERA steals your riff ("UNSUNG" riff on "RISE" from VULGAR DISPLAY OF POWER), you must be the real deal. MEANTIME is a classic record and should be celebrated and revisited often much like those of their contemporaries from the ALTERNATIVE ROCK explosion of the 1990s.