Posts Tagged ‘Helmet’

Ipecac Recordings – 26th March 2021

Christopher Nosnibor

It’s been seven years since the last Tomahawk album, but the noise-rock supergroup are marking their twentieth anniversary in style with the crash-landing of album number five in the form of Tonic Immobility.

For those who needs reminding, the lineup – guitarist Duane Denison [the Jesus Lizard, Unsemble, etc.], vocalist Mike Patton [Faith No More, Mr. Bungle, Fantômas, etc.], drummer John Stanier [Helmet, Battles, etc.], and bassist Trevor “field mouse” Dunn [Mr. Bungle, Fantômas, etc.] really is a who’s who of that US 90s / 00s melting pot of alternative that was truly alternative.

Of course, Mike Patton is the biggest name, because, well, Faith No More reached a level of being truly massive. But even at their peak, Patton was always dabbling in weird shit, with the far-out oddball whacky rock of Mr Bungle, and myriad other projects that were as non-commercial as you could get.

That commitment to music of interest rather than mass appeal has driven Ipecac since its foundation, and Patton is, for many, a true hero as not only a champion of all things weird and wonderful – and often harsh and noisy – but also as one of the most eclectic and wide-ranging artists in contemporary rock, and alongside JG Thirlwell, perhaps one of the few living artists worthy of the term ‘genius’.

And so, being Tomahawk, it’s a weird and varied album that’s visceral and noisy, but also so heavily dynamic as to leave you dazed. Opener ‘SHHH’ is exemplary: it begins quietly, gently, before erupting into a blast of mayhem… and going quiet again. It’s like if Björk had done ‘It’s Oh So Quiet’ while… I dunno, working with Tomahawk. Because while The Jesus Lizard and helmet were integral to defining the underground sound of the 90s, there really is no other act that sounds quite like this, and it’s all about the collaboration and cross-contamination, of course.

There’s an intense, gritty heft to the album as a whole, but there’s variety: ‘Valentine Shine’ is a full-on grunge-riff rager, while ‘Predators and Scavengers’ pursues a more math-rock line of attack. ‘Doomsday Fatigue’ meanwhile, is a slow, slinky, twisted blues drawl that’s more Jesus Lizard until it goes all smooth soulful pop, and the FNM influence is perhaps more apparent. The thing is, you never know what you’re going to get next:

If ‘Business Casual’ feels a shade dated, it still hits the mark both sonically and in terms of lyrical relevance, showing that there’s always something to be had here. ‘I’ve never looked as cool as you’, Patton croons on the low-slung ‘Tattoo Zero’, another song that’s divided dynamically between verse and chorus.

Tonic Immobility has everything going on, and even the brief rap-rock passages work because they’re all part of a huge hybrid cocktail of whatever: ‘Howlie’ goes post/math rock melodic and marks yet another departure before it goes all-out heavy, and ‘Eureka’ is a droney ambient interlude, and ‘Recoil’ actually goes a shade dub reggae for a while and at times it does feel a shade bewildering, and even a bit ‘wtf’, but you can’t criticise Tomahawk for a lack of focus or identity – because that’s their identity right there. ‘Sidewinder’ is a genuinely touching piano-led tune – until the noodling math-rock and distorted vocal howl kick in, and there are also some absolutely brutal riffs on offer here, and make no mistake, Tonic Immobility packs a punch.

It’s a crazy album for crazy times, and a complex, mathy, loud album for a time where the best escape is down a rabbit hole of musical weirdness. Tonic Immobility is that rabbit hole. Dig it deep.

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Christopher Nosnibor

Riff after riff after riff.

Riff after riff after riff.

Riff after riff after riff.

Celebrating their thirtieth anniversary, Helmet are playing thirty-song sets in thirty cities. It feels like an immense privilege that Leeds is one of them, and the fact it’s the 150-capacity Key Club even more so. With only ten tickets remaining for sale on the door, for a cult band who’ve only released two albums in the last decade, they’ve retained a hardcore following, not all of who, are old buggers.

With no support act, they take the stage at eight sharp, and immediately start with the riffs. Not a word at the start, nor between songs for the first half dozen at least. Instead, it’s all about the riffs.

Riff after riff after riff.

Riff after riff after riff.

The extended freeform solos drift into the background while the rhythm section thunder on relentlessly: the floor-shaking, gut-churning bass, the rhythm guitar that blasts out concrete slabs of noise.

Riff after riff after riff.

Riff after riff after riff.

The blunt, bludgeoning weight of thick, stop/start chunks of noise that became the defining feature of Nu-Metal are Helmet’s staple, but they did it first and did it best. Helmet were also one of the first off-the-street jeans ‘n’ T-shirt bands, and Beavis and Butthead were on the money when they observed that “That drummer looks like a regular guy,” and “If you, like, saw these guys on the street, you wouldn’t even know they were cool.” And yes, they are cool. Seriously cool. Their influence clearly extends far, far beyond their fanbase and commercial reach, which peaked in the early ‘90s. But being cool is also about pushing on, and Helmet’s achieving radio play and MTV exposure around this time was a matter of coincidental timing rather than strategized mass appeal.

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There’s no messing, no posturing: Page regales us with an amusing anecdote about being rehearsing in a space next to Buck Cherry, who commented on the fact the band load their own gear, and who they heard rehearsing their between-song banter. But I never mentioned that. It’s one of only a few moments of chat we get but what’s keenly apparent is that these are nice guys, with no pretence or rock-star delusions, and with their major-label years long behind them, no industry bullshit surrounding them.

They play songs in small venues.

They play hard.

Riff after riff after riff.

Riff after riff after riff.

Song number thirty is ‘In The Meantime’. It’s blistering. But then, so were the preceding twenty-nine songs.

And long may they continue to knock out the riffs.