Helmet – Seeing Eye Dog
Release Date: 2010Sep07 (US)
Label: Work Song
When I was fourteen, I had some kind of existential crisis following Kurt Cobain’s suicide and ostracized myself from Nirvana. I decided it was time for a CD swap, and headed to an awesome, now-defunct store called Relax Music in Manchester, NH. There, you could exchange three of your discs for either one new, or two used CDs; you could also bring in two of your discs for one used. So I gathered up Nevermind, Incesticide, and Unplugged in New York—as well as Nine Inch Nails‘ Broken and The Downward Spiral, for some reason—and prepared to swap. I brought home three things I had not heard before (or at least scarcely so): Dire Straits‘ Money for Nothing compilation, plus the crown jewels in Helmet‘s discography: Meantime and Betty. The latter pair both became albums integral to the remainder of my ‘teens (though Betty actually got about twice the spins). A few years later, I was left with the bittersweet Aftertaste, considering both its accessibility, and the band’s dissolution following the supporting tour.
Helmet has always been Page Hamilton’s baby. He gave the band life and brains, but their beating heart came by way of Henry Bogdan’s bass and John Stanier’s drums. The consistency of this trio was essential to Helmet‘s strength, and while Hamilton wrote nearly all the material, the interpretive twists of one of Rock’s most powerful rhythm sections kept blood pumping through the grooves. Recruiting Anthrax‘s Frank Bello and John Tempesta for Size Matters was a mistake; so was mixing Page too much in the forefront on Monochrome… and, you know, failing to be really memorable.
Helmet v2.0 especially bothered me because I always considered them so anomalous; few nailed the crux of metal-punk-hardcore-noise with such vehemence. I had low hopes for Seeing Eye Dog, especially since the promising return to Strap It On and Meantime producer Wharton Tiers for Monochrome was marginally successful at best. But they got new blood behind the knobs in Toshi Kasai (Big Business, Melvins), whose tenacious patience paid off. Opener “So Long” is a bit jangly for my taste, but we get one of those good old freak-out solos to tide us over. “Seeing Eye Dog” really taps into the old vitriol, so they balance with “Welcome to Algiers”—reminiscent of the more melodic Helmet v1.0 in their later days.
“LA Water” is just too poppy, like it should have been a Foo Fighters single, except there are many layers of not only standard instruments, but also guest cello and viola by Phillip Peterson (yes, all arranged by Page). Hamilton does yet another Dave Grohl impression during “In Person”, again forgivable because of a sweet solo, but ends too abruptly. Then “Morphing” generates odd sunn 0)))-like atmospheres, which seem quite out of place. However, clever experimentation is what made Betty so good, and it’s relieving to see the band again test their boundaries.
The best parts of the second half follow. “White City” is a standout that works strong two-part harmonies and one of their catchiest choruses in years. But their explosive interpretation of The Beatles‘ “And Your Bird Can Sing” really surprises me; it was an early favorite of mine from Seeing Eye Dog, yet has been critically disclaimed by at least five different people at the time of this review. Helmet always seem to do right by their covers (check out their versions of “Army of Me” by Bjork and “Symptom of the Universe” by Black Sabbath for further proof), and this is no exception.
“Miserable” is the most vicious of the seemingly-biographical concluding trio of tracks. You may want to end here instead of “She’s Lost”, a plodding monster of a song that cannot jell together. It also doesn’t help that the bridge riff is dangerously close to that of “My Own Summer (Shove It)” by Deftones—ironically, a band they influenced. Regardless, Helmet feels more ‘back’ than ever before, though I do not support the sdrawkcab printing of lyrics, guys. That’s just a pain in the ass. I mean, was Page Hamilton born annoying or something? Oh, wait….
Try: 2, 3, 5, 7, 8
01. So Long
02. Seeing Eye Dog
03. Welcome To Algiers
04. LA Water
05. In Person
07. White City
08. And Your Bird Can Sing
10. She’s Lost
The title of the live disc says it all—just stick to tracks from 90s albums.
Disc II – Live at SF Warped Tour 2006
Try: 1, 3, 5, 7, 8, 9
02. See You Dead
04. Swallowing Everything
05. Birth Defect
06. On Your Way Down
I reviewed the 2CD, but is also available in the following formats:
- Digital only (new album plus one live album)
- Two-disc CD (new album plus one live album) + digital
- Limited-edition double 180g vinyl (new album plus one live album) + digital
- Limited-edition deluxe: New album and one live album on two-disc CD, new album and one live album on double 180g vinyl, custom HELMET USB key with four more live albums, signed package + digital of new album + one live album
- Super deluxe: Same as deluxe but includes gold laminate/tour access component