Helmet – Strap It On
It would be hard to talk about Helmet without talking about the hardcore scene that they often flirted with. Hardcore punk music was in an interesting, if not contradictory community moment in the late 1980′s. As an apparatus, it was probably in the middle of its highest state of efficiency, with a vast international network of labels, distributors, venues and fanzines to be utilized by young and seasoned bands alike, which was no small feat before the Internet. The movement itself, in this regard, was probably the obvious precursor to the business side of indie rock. Culturally, however, despite the house it grew up in, it was nearly anti punk rock. The deconstructed fashion and art world conceit of the early scene had given way to the minimal fashion of the inner suburbs.
These kids looked like they worked in gas stations. They had short hair, they played fast and direct with an almost tragic lack of nuance. They rejected the groove and rock related anthems of early punk, for choppy breaks and gang up choruses. It was mostly a boys club at hardcore shows, but they still hated the wave of egotistical metal guitar heroes that dominated the radio waves. The scene was almost a-stylistic in this regard, a bunch of screaming kids with ball peen hammers who broke their toys to pieces. It wasn’t a method for the sake of art as their snotty and safety pin wearing musical fathers had employed, but rather a simplified perspective that tuned down, blunt force and angular chords could provide some hope of a musical alternative as well.
There are plenty of moments of social contradictions, such as these, to be observed when discussing underground music. Interestingly, these moments of inconsistency are often illuminated by the proverbial third man in, the last guy to the fight or a band like Helmet. A band that attracts and organizes the disparate elements of sub and dominate culture in a manner that feels methodical, yet new if not original, while maintaining some level of the familiar. 1989 and 1990, were the years that broke NWA, Nirvana and Sonic Youth. Amidst this, what the fuck is this and what happens next? wave of music, Helmet’s debut album, Strap It On, with its competent musicianship, staccato riffs, verse then chorus structure and explosive if not deafening power, makes all the sense it possibly can in a changing world.