|All Artists: Helmet|
Title: Size Matters
Members Wishing: 1
Total Copies: 0
Label: Interscope Records
Release Date: 10/5/2004
Genres: Pop, Rock, Metal
Style: Alternative Metal
Number of Discs: 1
SwapaCD Credits: 1
UPCs: 602498629840, 0602498629840
Genres: Pop, Rock, Metal
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Worthy of the Helmet trademark
Christopher Nieman | Los Angeles, CA United States | 10/05/2004
(4 out of 5 stars)
"In the early nineties, hard rock and metal was almost exclusively a longhaired domain -- a place of words like thrash, death, and speed. It also meant pouty image bands, guitar solos at a million miles an hour, lion-maned lead singers and acres of tattoos. Then came Nirvana and the advent of grunge.
At around the same time, Helmet was a different animal. Led by jazz-trained guitarist-singer Page Hamilton, their image was quite straight-edge -- plain shirts and jeans, close-cropped haircuts, and the occasional baseball cap; tattoos and piercings were irrelevant. Their music came in volcanic blasts of sound, everyone blowing the same note out of the speakers at once. They could have been mistaken for a much heavier version of Fugazi. Their timekeeping was militarily precise, and solo breaks were often dissonant waves of noise. Guitars sounded closer to Malcolm Young than Angus Young. Hamilton's concept was economical -- their rehearsals were more athletic than musical, emphasizing a machine-like approach to making music -- and the band rarely wavered from the formula. Helmet carved their own special niche in the rock world, and many have credited (or perhaps blamed) them for inspiring the so-called "nu metal" movement almost immediately afterward.
And that is perhaps why Hamilton decided to revive Helmet after a layoff of almost seven years, with the release of SIZE MATTERS. Helmet was far more influential than anyone had realized in the mid nineties, when the band's formula had seemed to run its course. The bludgeoning attack of their second official release, MEANTIME, sounds as fresh and relevant today as it did when it first stormed onto the scene twelve years ago. Indeed, it compares favorably to practically any of the current bands who wear the unfortunate label of "nu metal." A steadily growing number of young listeners are going back to discover what Helmet was all about, and SIZE MATTERS is here to continue the band's tradition.
John Stanier and Henry Bogdan, Helmet's great rhythm section, have been replaced for this album. White Zombie veteran John Tempesta takes over drums for Stanier, while AFTERTASTE-era guitarist Chris Traynor is back, filling in on bass temporarily while Hamilton handles all the guitars on this release (Frank Bello of Anthrax is touring on bass, but the full time bass slot may be an open question). Tempesta's drumming is more expansive, and a little closer to traditional metal than Stanier's more efficient, military style. The guitars are vintage Helmet, and Traynor's bass rarely explores space outside Hamilton's rhythm guitar. Hamilton's vocals probably have more of a growl than ever, and yet when he sings melodically, he sounds just like Lenny Kravitz, especially when double-tracked with a higher pitch on top. Overall, the Helmet sound is a bit looser, but not much; I still miss the relentless precision of Stanier and Bogdan a little.
The album rarely strays into the experimental nature of BETTY. Here we get a dose of the classic Helmet sound, with few exceptions. "Smart" is a typical example, straight ahead with a bellowing vocal, followed by the frenetic pace and venomous verses of "Crashing Foreign Cars." A nice opening salvo propels album highlight "See You Dead" with percussive bursts of sound and sneering lyrics. Later on, "Unwound" sounds exactly like a Smashing Pumpkins song (no insult intended), and I can even imagine Billy Corgan's voice in every line. Near the close, "Throwing Punches" has a down-and-dirty groove and a nastily sung verse, and then there's "Last Breath," another album highlight, with all of the familiar Helmet attributes.
I think SIZE MATTERS is worth three and a half stars, but it kind of assumes you already know what Helmet is all about. While it's an adequate introduction to the Helmet sound, MEANTIME is still their archetypal record. This album will probably not attract many new fans all by itself, but you never know. If you're trying the band for the first time, devour MEANTIME first and then come back and enjoy this one. If you're already familiar, you can think of this as worthy of the Helmet trademark."
Rob Walsh | Putney, Vermont | 10/17/2004
(2 out of 5 stars)
"It did seem too good to be true. One of my favorite bands and arguably one of the most important heavy bands of the past 15 years has tried to rise mightily from the ashes...only to falter. Things like these always sound surefire at first. Not to insult Page in any way, but this comeback sort of reminded me of the "resurrected" Guns n' Roses. Both are hotly anticipated, and both only contain one original member, the frontman. Both are made up of talented musicians, replacing the originals, which sounds like a good idea. But sadly, no it doesn't work.
Page has always been Helmet's mastermind, but another thing integral about the band was the rhythm section of Henry Bogdan and John Stanier. Since Chris Traynor played bass on this record, I can't really compare ex-Anthrax bass player Frank Bello to Bogdan. I'm sure he's competent enough. But John Tempesta, himself an excellent drummer from the White Zombie days, doesn't fit the Stanier shoes very well. Tempesta's drumming is very traditional metal, but Stanier's mechanical single kick grooves really meshed well with Page's oddtimed guitar. It's just not the same. The songs themselves don't veer closely to nu metal, they're just dull. That's the only way I can explain it. The songwriting just lacks any real inspiration.
There are a plethora of good albums this fall. Sadly, Size Matters is not one of them. I can only hope Page can reclaim his former glory in some way that doesn't bastardize his band's legacy."
Better and Better with Each Listen
D. R. Jeanclerc | Brunswick, OH USA | 11/10/2004
(3 out of 5 stars)
"How ironic that is it that one of the most influential bands of the past decade only came close to commercial success once with a track named "Unsung"? How bitterly was their decision to give their recent career retrospective the same name now that so-called alternative rock radio is awash with clones cashing in on much less talent? Luckily for any longtime Helmet fan, frontman Page Hamilton has resurrected the group after almost calling it quits several times over the past couple of years, and the results are very satisfying.
"Size Matters" doesn't immediately demand your complete attention like earlier Helmet masterworks such as "Meantime" and "Betty" did. However, you'll find that with each listen, you can hear more and more touches of their influence in many of the tracks. In fact, the album plays a bit as if the material was written at various stages of their development and then saved for recording at a later date. "Smart" and "Crashing Foreign Cars" sound a lot like the thrash that defined their early works. "Everybody Loves You", "Throwing Punches" and "Last Breath" have that "Meantime" heavy, driving aggression. "Unwound" adds some alternative elements like the "Betty" material did. The first single, "See You Dead" is an absolutely great track that alternates a pounding metallic verse with a bluesy, melodic chorus.
I agree with the other reviews here that noted how Page's voice is immediately distinguishable from all of the other Helmet recordings. I read an interview recently where he indicated that he wanted his voice to be more of an instrument this time around. It's still the Helmet trademark, alternating between melodic chorus Page and growling screaming verse Page. "Smart" also uses some two-part harmonies with himself that are very interesting and effective - if you've ever heard Machines of Loving Grace's later work (recommended listening - "Gilt"), it's very reminiscent.
The lyrics are also classic, focusing on feelings of being jilted and wronged in personal relationships. "Enemies" is so tongue-in-cheek, you'll have to fight not to laugh. He sings "We'll Be Enemies / So Disatisfied" over a sing-songy rock riff that includes background oooh-ooohs similar to the end of the Beatles' "Hey Jude".
The recording itself is so tight and so well-done, you'll feel like you're in the studio. Turn it up and enjoy punishing your equipment.
"Size Matters" is a must-have for Helmet fans. It elevates itself above being "Aftertaste" part two within the first couple of listens. If Amazon would allow fractions, it's a solid 3.75. For anyone just finding out about this seminal act, I recommend their recent best-of "Unsung" first."