Review Summary: Meantime will remain as a hallmark for rock music to come, and for that, it will forever remain a success
In such a turbulent time as 1991 was for the music industry, seemingly it felt like a transition period for music in general. A variety of sounds were emerging during this time; shoegaze and grunge included. So it would be strange that a band hailing from the slummy and dark nether regions of the New York music scene would seemingly combine these two sounds with a subtlety, not taking steps into either genres or making it seem so on the surface. During those days, it seemed that the music industry was head on its heels to capture the angsty nature of Nirvana’s music and market it. Thus, in this story enters Helmet; an ideal candidate to market - or so it seemed. So when these major labels were 'head on their heels' to sign the act. In hindsight it almost seems like the labels got more than what they bargained for. Finally in 1991, Interscope crowned the new knights and so it goes. So from this success, the record biz was adamant for the real success and seemingly under the radar of industry stalwarts, Helmet was one step away from setting music on fire and changing it.
Unsurprisingly, as the story often goes, these starking expectations were never met. Meantime ultimately was the peak of Helmet’s success as a band, however; both musically and commercially. Meantime, even after 15 years remains as a marvel of precisely channeled aggression and a marvel for rock music; a showcase of a band who knew how to add just the right amount of artistic merit to their shellacking and pioneering agro-rock sound. Meantime could easily be the soundtrack to the mind of a maniacal patient bent on destruction and other happy things; a patient with the right amount of brains and intelligence. Hamilton maintains an uncontrollable vitriol and aggression before he steps up to the mike and while his voice might not transcend a bark or a simple yelp, it gels to the music almost seamlessly. Hamilton and Peter Mengede’s guitars pummel and bark with an irresistible stop-n-go rhythm (an approach they’d eventually pioneer) while bassist Henry Bogdan and drummer John Stanier do a convincing integration of the wall of noise unleashed by Hamilton. The masterfulness of Meantime is the band’s ability to control this unrelenting aggression; a calculated bombardment to the ears that is as unpredictable as it is cathartic. Helmet know exactly when to reserve the next raging riff so as to achieve the right amount of satisfaction and energy; to guide the listener on a wave of pummeling rhythms that are as calculated as they are vehement.
Helmet took the blueprint of noise legendaries Sonic Youth and Fugazi, and incorporated the vehemence of hardcore with the backbeat of metal; a result of both marginalized mediums congealing into a definitive sound. Title track “In the Meantime” is a case in point to the sound Helmet attempts to create here. Raging out of the gate like an epileptic race horse, it pummels through with repetitive rhythms, almost creating cacophony, and cools down for a silence until the main riff comes into the fold, making “In the Meantime” one of the best songs on here. “Ironhead” epitomizes the ideal Helmet stop-n-go rhythm, making it an ideal candidate for head banging. “Give it” is a sinister piece that features Hamilton’s amplified drone that sounds of the agony muddled by a bad day. With all of the noise and clutter Meantime makes, certain songs include silence into the framework. “Turned Out” exhibits this perfectly where the vehement swirl of the guitars parts for an instant to reveal a benign pause, and an identifiable and suspenseful silence; then the guitars roar out of the speakers, rising to a climactic peak until a row of syncopated rhythms follow.
For all its straight-forward execution, Meantime provides influences from other disparate genres including the left-field Industrial and Noise Rock. Exciting sonic textures and rhythms propel the music with melody being dumped out of the maniacal patient's trajectory and left to live another day. Contrary to this, however, “Unsung” is perhaps the most tuneful song on this otherwise anguished and melodically-shunned album. “Unsung” perhaps marked one of the best moments for a band that often was content with unleashing as much of a shellacking and to simply ignore the backbone of melody and song-writing. “Unsung” truly is the band at its most focused, alternating from memorable verse chorus melodies that almost hint at ‘catchiness’. However, it must be noted that Helmet isn't unleashing its destruction; the song chooses to emphasize the lyrical content and to keep the music as a tightly controlled reservation of noise. Blueprints and innovations as these didn't garner the right amount of admiration as it deserved - despite the overt innovation to guitar heavy rock. The outcome to Meantime’s success is ironic to what the prevalent mood suggests - the fear of loneliness and 'dying unsung'.
With this exceeded expectation, Meantime marked the height of Helmet’s popularity. The sad truth being that no one else caught on to this new sound, Helmet was left in the shadows of obscurity; a fate often met by great bands. Perhaps it was the band’s certain lack of ‘image’, looking the part of a high-SAT scoring bunch of kids rather than real rock stars. I’m sure Page Hamilton wouldn’t have anything to do with this, but it’s a sad fact. Certainly, Meantime will remain as a hallmark for rock music to come, and for that, it will forever remain a success.