Back in the days of grunge, Helmet was considered the East Coast’s answer to Soundgarden, but they were beyond that. Whereas Soundgarden mixed hardcore with Led Zeppelin and Deep Purple, Helmet mixed hardcore with Slayer and a little Judas Priest. Helmet didn’t so much answer to Seattle as it reinvented hard rock in a surgical and mechanical mold of its own.
“Unsung” remains one of the greatest songs that came out of the age of grunge, and it’s cleanly brutal riff has inspired countless bands from Godsmack to Korn (but let’s not hold that against them). Started by college boy Page Hamilton in the late ’80s, Helmet has kept a continually revolving cast of supporting players around him, churning out two absolute masterpieces right out of the gate with Strap It On and Meantime. Helmet spent the rest of the decade trying to recapture the magic of those first two albums, before calling it quits in 1999.
Although they faltered a bit on their comeback album, Size Matters, in 2004, that didn’t stop a whole new generation from turning onto the reformed band, of which Hamilton remains the only original member. Two years later, the band released Monochrome, an album that backed away from the nü-metal sound Helmet flirted with on Size Matters. The title track is one of the best songs Hamilton has ever written, while “Gone” is as crushing as anything Helmet’s ever done.
Live, the band was — and is —brutal. The last time Indianapolis saw Helmet was at last year’s Vans Warped Tour. It was a good set, but the Vogue is where you really want to see them, as the only way to appreciate this band’s power is to be in a room with their music viciously attacking your internal organs. Isn’t that what rock is supposed to be about?