Review Summary: Helmet… that’s the band that plays “In the Meantime” right?
Having come to Helmet long after their heyday in the first half of the ‘90s, the above statement is typical of many people’s early impressions (including my own) of this important band.
The first Helmet album I heard was unsurprisingly Meantime, and it made a big impression on my young ears. The thunderous backbeats and driving dropped D riffs led me to convulsively stomp my feet and bang my head around, and how could you not? The raw power of this band captivated me and I immediately needed more. I dutifully bought Betty, Strap It On, Monochrome and eventually got my hands on Aftertaste, and I’m glad I did.
Aftertaste is in my opinion the last of a streak of four great albums by Helmet that also included Strap It On, Meantime and Betty. These four albums established their huge sound and progressed the sound slightly each time, developing the initially simple Helmet formula of heavy backbeat + driving riff + big bass line + aggressive vocal = song. Strap It On and Meantime were monstrous, dirty and powerful records and Betty added just a touch of production value and clarity to the dark and heavy Helmet mix. This very slight change on Betty was refreshing and actually complimented their heavy sections by giving them a bit of context.
Aftertaste is essentially a culmination of these development stages for Helmet. The songs on Aftertaste are typically heavy, though without the relentless, surging power of Meantime and with yet more production value than Betty. Whilst “production value” has immediately negative connotations, it was a positive step for Helmet because instead of simply making Meantime 2, they took all those endearing Helmet traits of heavy backbeats and big riffs and developed and added to them to make a new reincarnation of their sound.
Aftertaste has much cleaner vocals that often form a large part of songs’ overall melody, and along with more frequent clean guitar solos and interludes, we have a more evolved being than the fearsome, dirty Neanderthal that was Meantime.
But fear not Helmet fans, Aftertaste is still a beast of a record. Despite the changes, it stays true to the brutal and ferocious aesthetic that has defined Helmet’s long career. This ferocity is what made Helmet successful in the first place, and by incorporating more melody and cleaner sounds into their music, Aftertaste sees Helmet pushing themselves forward and not wallowing in mediocrity following their early success. Helmet will probably always be remembered best as the band that plays “In The Meantime” but the quality of their later records, particularly Aftertaste and Betty, prove they had much more to offer to the rock world than one album or one song.