Almost twenty years since the release of Meantime, the impact of Helmet’s major label debut still resonates in alt metal. Fond of stupid questions, Ruth Booth heads along to the anniversary tour to see if Page Hamilton’s still got it.
Six things we learned when Helmet and Fighting With Wire played in Manchester:
1) Being late to the party is rarely this fun. Fighting With Wire were already off to a good start with members of Clearshot and Jetplane Landing on board, though their live plaudits since neatly ring-fence their scuzz rock ones-to-watch status. On the eve of the releases of their second abum, even the band’s drummer, Craig McKean, slamming guitarist/vocalist Cahir O’Doherty’s hand in the van door wasn’t going to keep them from turning out a furiously tight set against Helmet. If if by the end we were left wondering why ‘Colonel Blood‘ was picked as their first single from it, with fare like ‘Waiting on a Way to Believe‘ on the new record.
2) Mastodon. Norma Jean. Deftones, and Tool, for crying out loud. Helmet’s stock may not be what it was, but they’re still the quintessential band’s band for anyone who loves what came out of that metal-hardcore fusion of the early nineties. Considering the number of return-to-classic-form plaudits 2010’s Seeing Eye Dog received, it’s the perfect time to revisit breakthrough record Meantime. You know, aside from that twenty-year-anniversary thing in June.
3) Page and co. pull a switcheroo on us, announcing their intention to play Meantime in reverse order, simply because they prefer doing it that way round. Fair play to them, the squalling lead up and crunchy stomp of the title track makes a triumphant closer to that part of the set. Meanwhile, the bookended tracks are a refined selection from Betty, Aftertaste, and Seeing Eye Dog, which is the sole representative of their post-reunion output. It’s a decision the more cynical could point out was as much about the lukewarm reception to some of those post-reunion records received, as it was about which albums “fitted” tonight.
4) Having said that – no ‘Milquetoast‘? Really?
5) Though not without enthusiasm, Hamilton is rather more workmanlike than flamboyant when it comes to stage presence. Still, combined with the solid noise from the speakers and the frenzied bounce, the crack between the floorboards that ran right under our feet was looking really rather frightening tonight.
6) Ultimately, it feels right for Helmet to be returning to venues like this for the Meantime tour. There’s something about this album, and about Helmet, that needs sticky beer-soaked floors that seep muddy liquid onto the bar below. No matter how far alt-metal has developed since, who’s adapted it and where they took it, for this sound, it feels like home. As ‘Wilma’s Rainbow’ descends into chaotic electric fuzz, what a certain band once intimated really feels right. Because nobody riffs quite like Page Hamilton.