Album review: Helmet – Left

Underwhelming return from NYC noise rock legends Helmet on lacklustre ninth album…

Album review: Helmet – Left
Olly Thomas

Of the varied outfits who came to define noise rock in the early ’90s, Helmet were arguably the most commercially successful, and certainly one of the most influential on the wider landscape. Dissonant and direct, their staccato riffage and driving drumbeats inspired countless post-hardcore bands and, via mega-fans Deftones, inadvertently laid the foundations for nu-metal. Thirty-odd years since their classic albums Meantime and Betty, can these veterans still channel such seminal sonics?

Sadly, the answer is no. Any time something on ninth album Left threatens to quicken the pulse – the odd decent riff on Bombastic or Dislocated, for example – it’s swiftly subsumed by the sense of a band trudging through the motions. Where once Helmet seemed to move to their own unique internal rhythms, songs like Make-Up sound like listless attempts at the sort of alt-metal they once perfected. And while frontman and founder Page Hamilton still knows his way around a chunky guitar tone, his vocals nowadays grate whenever he attempts to sound caustic.

Lyrically, Left often espouses sentiments that are hard to disagree with, such as Gun Fluf’s suggestion that anger and weaponry might not be such a great mix, but all too often ends up sounding on-the-nose. Back in the day, part of Helmet’s appeal was that they emerged from New York hardcore with an approach that entirely stripped away that scene’s off-putting machismo; we don’t really need to hear a song called NYC Tough Guy from them in 2023.

It's unrealistic to expect bands to emulate the excitement and thrill of their breakthrough records decades later, but Helmet’s contemporaries like Melvins, Unsane and Shellac have all continued to release records far superior to this overwhelmingly underwhelming effort.

Verdict: 2/5

For fans of: Deftones, Quicksand, Hum

Left is released on November 10 via earMUSIC

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