HELMET — Strap It On

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HELMET - Strap It On cover
3.97 | 4 ratings | 3 reviews
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Album · 1990

Filed under Alternative Metal
By HELMET

Tracklist

1. Repetition (3:02)
2. Rude (4:15)
3. Bad Mood (2:17)
4. Sinatra (4:33)
5. FBLA (2:42)
6. Blacktop (3:23)
7. Distracted (3:14)
8. Make Room (3:30)
9. Murder (4:03)

Total Time: 31:02

Line-up/Musicians

- Page Hamilton / Guitar, Vocals
- Peter Mengede / Guitar
- Henry Bogdan / Bass
- John Stanier / Drums

About this release

One of the very first Alternative Metal albums.

Originally released on Amphetamine Reptile Records, and re-released on Interscope Records in 1991.

Thanks to The Angry Scotsman, Unitron for the updates

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HELMET STRAP IT ON reviews

Specialists/collaborators reviews

Necrotica
Imagine being crushed by a bunch of bricks. Imagine slamming headfirst into solid concrete. All while either of these events are happening, imagine you are also wading through a thick river of mud at the same time. Better yet, listen to Helmet's debut because it's the audio equivalent of having all that happen to you. It's a brutal, unpleasant experience; it's one that doesn't try to paint a pretty picture or have any polish from the production studio. But at the end of the day, that's exactly what makes Strap It On such a powerful gem of an album. It bridged alternative rock and metal, alternative metal with hardcore punk, and brought in some noise rock to tie it all together. It's still an uncompromising experience to this day and hasn't lost its punch over the years.

Helmet spawned from the NYC hardcore scene back in the early 1990, and instantly stood out from the rest of the metal bands of their day. They were often regarded as the "thinking person's heavy metal band" during their heyday due to their penchant for precise staccato riffing, unorthodox time signatures, and experimenting with jazz and noise rock. They also stood out from an image perspective, having a more earnest and "down-to-earth" look with t-shirts and jeans; there was no theatricality or grandiosity, nor were there any wankish or ridiculously flashy solos either. Now, I should mention that Helmet didn't hit their commercial stride until their second effort Meantime, which had their signature song "Unsung." But Strap It On definitely provided the building blocks of what would become the band's sound, while also being their rawest and most relentless piece of work. Much of what made Helmet so fresh came from frontman Page Hamilton, who still leads the charge today as the band's leader and figurehead. Also, if you're wondering where the jazz and blues influences come from, Hamilton actually studied jazz guitar in the Manhattan School of Music prior to forming Helmet. In any case, his guitar work is simply insane on Strap It On. His solos can range from showing off his technical skills ("FBLA") to becoming utterly incomprehensible nonsense at times to fit the song's mood ("Murder"), or be a mixture of both ("Bad Mood"), but his guitar skills allow him to bend a song to his will just by the way he plays and experiments with his instrument.

Strap It On may be a short affair (only thirty minutes), but just like Reign in Blood, it packs such a punch in that time that it warrants several replays. Right from the percussive bass/drum-centric intro of "Repetition," the album's production is instantly catches the ear with it mixes rawness and instrumental clarity. There's a thick wall of sound coming from the guitars during the more textural moments, such as the solo section of the slowly crawling "Sinatra" and the lengthy intro of the midtempo alt-metal number "Rude," but it's always punctuated by a punchy drum performance and tone courtesy of the legendary John Stanier. Then there are songs like "Bad Mood" or "Repetition," which are basically straight-up hardcore punk songs without any of the alternative metal elements the band is usually known for. But those are some of the best tracks on Strap it On as they're the best displays of a group who was young, pissed off, and (as I stated) uncompromising as hell. Perhaps the best thing about this album is that it mixes intelligence and strong talents with brutality in one fell swoop, something that would be lost in future records as Helmet would eventually get cleaner and more melodic. There are melodic flourishes here and there, as the guitar textures of "FBLA" and "Repetition" prove, but there's always something propulsive going on in the backing instrumentation so Helmet don't really linger on them for too long. But whenever the more emotive moments are on display, they're often incredibly gloomy or depressing; the bridge of "Sinatra" in particular is pretty hard to listen to for this reason, as the lead guitar work just makes it sound defeated... until the chorus kicks back in, that is.

Helmet made a number of brilliant records during their 90s heyday, but Strap It On is the one that just sticks with me the most. This just seems like the most impressive document of their sound, creating a perfect balance of alternative metal, hardcore punk, and noise rock in one complete package. It's short, but to the point. It's brutal, but coherent and melodic enough that it never seems too abrasive. Plus, it's still one of the most headbangable (is that even a word?) albums I've ever heard to this day. And on top of all that, there's not a bad song to be found here. If you're into punk, metal, alternative rock/metal, noise rock, or just 90s rock/metal in general, this (along with Meantime and Betty) is simply essential.
The Angry Scotsman
This is one of those classic albums that is largely unknown yet highly influential. "Strap it On" may have been the first alt metal album, or at least one of the very first.

Released at a time when most metal bands were thrashing and shredding away, this album must've been a shock to those who heard it. This albums moves at a perpetually moderate pace, built on drop tuned, staccato riffs, heavy syncopation, and lots of noise.

The guitars are played in drop D and heavily distorted. The guitar work is much simpler than metal at the time, but may be powerful. Much of the riffing is done in a stop/go fashion. Bursts of riffs that give it a very explosive feel. While this would become THE alt metal standard, it was very new at this time. The staccato bursts of riffs are sometimes juggled with continuous "spidery" segments, (they feel like they are crawling around the fretboard!) and the occasional outright groove.

There are solos, but they are pretty unorthodox usually being more noodly than shred. This would become another heavy music staple of the 90's, the elevated non shred solo. Sometimes the solos on "Strap it On" are simply feedback, or replaced entirely with a wall of noise.

In order to distort the typical song structure there are often segments of feedback and wildly chaotic noise. The drumming is simple and brutal, the bass, (when you can hear it) is low and distorted fuzz and Hamilton's vocals are nails on a chalkboard. Almost purposely dissonant and amelodic yells punctuate the walls of noise.

From start to finish there is little variation on this album. Every song is a sonic pummeling, except for "Sinatra" which gives us a bit of a break. The album also has a VERY low fi production.

"Strap it On" may sound like noise, and it may not sound very groundbreaking, but at the time it was. This album is the definition of alternative metal: Heavy, angular riffs, lots of groove, unusual song writing, a lot of off tempo and the classic "explosive" sound of alt metal.

This album may have also been an influence on post-metal with its heavy use of feedback, repetitive and unorthodox song structures, and eschewing of most metal norms while being savagely heavy and aggressive.

A very challenging album and one not meant for all. But a historical one, and a pretty good if you can stomach it, though certainly it's very nature makes it a bit limiting.

Three Stars

Members reviews

alice-in-chains4lyfe
"Strap it on" is the debut album from the legendary alternative metal band Helmet. Helmet are one of those bands who simply don't ever get enough credit. Many often credit band's like Faith no More and Rage Against the Machine for starting the so called nu metal genre, however Helmet are definitely a band who had a large impact on the genre, with their use of drop d tuning influencing everyone from Korn, to Tool, to Marilyn Manson.

This album is their most hardcore punk influenced, and sounds very different from the band's later albums which were more straightforward alternative metal/hard rock affairs. The sound of this album is a very unique mix of post-punk, noise rock and metal. The albums production is very raw (like most underground 80s hardcore albums) however this is a good thing as it adds to the whole rough and dirty feel of the album.

All the songs have the same raw anger, but my favourite has got to be "Sinatra" a song with some incredibly heavy riffs, later covered by fellow alternative metal Deftones. "Make Room" is an interesting heavy blues type of song, and features a monster riff/drum outro. Page Hamilton has never been known for his singing ability, and it shows on some songs on this album. Songs like "Rude" could have been much better with a different singer. This problem was especially prevalent on the band's post-90s albums.

Overall a fine album, and a great addition to any hardcore or alternative metal fans collection.

Ratings only

  • Unitron

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