Strap It On

    Big Boom in Industrial Metal

Helmet signs million-dollar deal with Interscope
by Michael Azerrad




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"There's no question that you listen to this music and get more than just a sledgehammer in the face," says Helmet mastermind Page Hamilton. Helmet certainly has its sledgehammer side—the band's ferocious music, nearly devoid of melody, thrives on metal-machine guitar textures, Hamilton's apoplectic vocal style and a pit-bull rhythm attack. On Meantime, the group's major-label debut, industrial, hardcore and metal get smelted down into one gnarly slab.

"If you're in the same room with us, your're going to have to listen," says Hamilton of the band's aggro-riff rock. "Or else you're going to have to leave." But beneath the brutality is the band's secret weapon: an arsenal of odd tunings, arty dissonances and deft musical choreography, courtesy of Hamilton, who holds a Master's degree in jazz guitar from the Manhattan School of Music, in New York.

Hamilton is far from the hellion one would expect after listening to his hectoring bark. A personable thirty-two year-old vegetarian from Eugene, Oregon, he will expound at length on his beloved John Coltrane, whose squalling style surfaces in Hamilton's solos, and Bela Bartok, whose meticulously violent string quartets are a model for Hamilton's set pieces for Helmet.

Hamilton's cryptic lyrics counter-point his violent delivery. "In this day and age, the safest thing for me to do is to get up and scream and yell about chopping up babies," he says. "When I see somebody up there singing, 'I want to punch your face in,' I think: ''re a white, middle class guy who grew up in Iowa. I don't think you're being honest.'"

After earning his degree, Hamilton plunged into New York's mid-Eighties noise-rock scene, playing in Glenn Branca's sublimely cacophonous guitar orchestra and the Branca-influenced Band of Susans before deciding to form his own group. "I wanted to do something that had the density of Sonic Youth," he says, "but with more rhythmic intensity and more intricate ensemble playing."

After mobilizing Australian guitarist Peter Mengede, 30, drummer John Stanier, 24, and bassist Henry Bogdan, 31, in the summer of '89, Hamilton considered band names such as Tuna Lorenzo and Froth Albumen before someone mercifully suggested Helmut, which was soon modified to Helmet.

Good word of mouth, lots of alternative press and raves from other bands generated a buzz for Helmet despite the minimal sales of its 1990 debut album Strap It On. Still, Hamilton professes to be baffled by the tidal wave of major-label interest. "We never set out to sign with a major," he says. "Maybe that's why we ended up getting a fair deal and not getting screwed over—because we weren't hungry or begging for a major-label deal, they all came to us."

For Hamilton, a man who does not necessarily want his MTV, the biggest compromise was making a video. Still, the band's defection to a major label attracted the scorn of some indie purists, even though Meantime sounds a lot like Strap It On, just better recorded.

To get psyched to go into the studio, Hamilton blasts a well-worn copy of AC/DC's "Back in Black," but even that won't do it alone. All four Helmets are out-of-towners who now reside in New York, he says, adding that the hard-edge realities of city life further fuel the band's urgency. "There's no doubt that I'm going to walk to the studio," says Hamilton, "and be confronted by something in the city that gets me up for going in and singing."

Still, he claims that Helmet's music is stoked by passion and not anger. "Whatever anyone's doing, they should do it with incredible passion," says Hamilton. "It's the process itself, it's trying to assert yourself with some discipline and reach something higher. That, to me, is critical."


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