HELMET — Strap It On (review)

HELMET — Strap It On album cover Album · 1990 · Alternative Metal Buy this album from MMA partners
3/5 ·
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
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