Helmet’s Meantime was an odd bird when it was released in 1992. Straddling the line between heavy metal and the alternative rock explosion that Nirvana had ushered in a year earlier, Helmet was probably the only band capable of getting airtime on both Headbanger’s Ball and 120 Minutes. That’s how I discovered Helmet; I was thirteen years old and just beginning my headlong dive into the world of heavy music. I remember seeing the video for “Unsung” and being struck by several things: 1) the riffage was absolutely crushing 2) no one in the band had long hair 3) was that a fucking pink ESP?! Helmet looked and most importantly sounded like no other band I had encountered up to that point.
“Unsung” was so unbelievably tight and rhythmic. It was too heavy to be alternative rock, but it didn’t conform to what I thought at the time were the standards of heavy metal either. I was completely floored, running down to the local shop and blowing my allowance on a copy of Meantime as soon as the opportunity to do so presented itself. If I remember correctly it came in one of those sweet cardboard long-boxes, which I subsequently cut up and taped to the inside of my locker at school. To my surprise, the other songs on Meantime, such as “Ironhead” and “Better,” were even more abrasive than “Unsung.” Guitarist/vocalist Page Hamilton’s chunk-tastic riffage, dissonant anti-leads, and gruff bark combined with the ultra-dense production job for one seriously skull-battering listen.
But Hamilton’s playing style wasn’t just something I admired from afar. I had started playing guitar right around the time, and as soon as I started reading in guitar magazines about his extensive use of the infamous drop-D and drop-C tunings, I began to incorporate them into my own playing, and Guitar World‘s transcription of “Unsung” was nothing short of a revelation. I wrote more Hamilton rip-off riffs than I can count in my youth, and on the increasingly rare occasions that I do pick up the ol’ six-string, I still enjoy tuning down and busting out riffs from Meantime.
It wasn’t just the guitar-work that made me fall in love with Meantime though. The album’s machine-like precision, the way the whole band locks into a groove and milks it for all it’s worth time and again, is absolutely mesmerizing. The music is meticulously assembled and played, yet it doesn’t forsake emotion in order to achieve its metronomic bludgeon. Meantime is the sound of angst being harnessed and drilled down to a fine point; a razor-sharp, laser-focused blast of nihilism.
Unfortunately, Helmet would never again reach the heights of pummeling perfection they achieved with Meantime. However, the album would go on to influence bands from Napalm Death (see 1996’s Diatribes) to the Deftones and has certainly withstood the test of time, sounding as fresh and unique today as it did in the early nineties. Beyond all of that, its influence on me personally was utterly profound and continues to inform my musical outlook to this day. One can’t ask much more of a classic album than that.
THKD’s Top 100 Metal Albums
1. Celestial Season – Solar Lovers + an introduction to THKD’s Top 100 Metal Albums
2. Type O Negative – October Rust
3. Grand Belial’s Key – Judeobeast Assassination
4. Mayhem – Live in Leipzig
5. Helmet – Meantime