In Your Head, Where Fashion Lives: My Evening With Helmet – 03/15/15

I sadly never got a chance to see Helmet live in their first or second incarnations, as I was always broke back then (high school/early college days, y’know) and/or they would play at bars before I was old enough to get into them. As such, I have no reference point for what I witnessed this past Sunday night, other than the first time I saw the band, back in 2004, when they were touring for the comeback album Size Matters, which is not as good as any of the albums that came before it, but which is definitely worth a listen or several. That show was great (Frank Bello was in the band then!), but the circumstances of my attendance were less than ideal, and I was sad that I didn’t get to hear so many of the classic songs, because they were understandably playing several songs from the new album.

I have never seen (and very likely will never see) Helmet live with the original rhythm section of Henry Bogdan and John Stanier in place, and that’s a bummer, because those dudes are absolute motherfucking beasts on their respective instruments. However, as the sole original member, guitarist/vocalist Page Hamilton has assembled a damn fine team of musicians to help him carry on the Helmet name, and while I’d rather be able to see Henry Bogdan staring at my soul from under the bill of his cap while his bass tone turns my internal organs into so much goo, the alternative to Helmet circa 2015 is no Helmet at all, and that is just not a world I want to live in. But enough prattling on, I’ve got a show to review!

The Vogue Theater in Broad Ripple (Indianapolis), Indiana is a pretty good place to see a band; good sound, spacious floor area, plenty of tables along the sides, and a balcony that gets opened up for bigger shows. The stage is pretty low, and there’s no barricade, so you can get very close, if that’s the way you like to do it. Like any bar venue, the drinks are quite overpriced, but there are plenty of other bars located in the surrounding area at which you can whet your whistle before entering.

Helmet marquee

Something about the phrase “An Evening With Helmet” made me giggle.


Mrs. Stay Heavy and I had a good meal and a couple of beers at Hop Cat, which is located across the street from The Vogue, while we waited for the doors to open at 7:00. We got in around 7:15, and chilled out at a table to do some people-watching until I could no longer handle not being in front of the stage. I took a leak and bought a sweet shirt, then around 7:30, I walked down and planted myself directly in front of Page’s monitor, where I immediately noticed the setlists for each set. I already knew that the glorious 1994 album, Betty, would comprise the first set, but as I perused the list for the second set, I found myself pretty excited that it included four songs from 1997’s super-underrated Aftertaste, though pretty bummed that it only included two songs from 1992’s Meantime, and only one song from the 1990 debut, Strap It On. The double row of asterisks gave me hope, however, and my faith was rewarded; the encore consisted of another song from Strap It On and three more songs from Meantime, which, if you’re keeping track at home, means they played half the album!

Not a great picture, but it did the trick.

Not a great picture, but it did the trick.

Two brothers soon came up and stood next to me, and one of them asked me if I like Clutch, and the three of us began to chat about music. They were super-nice, but I failed to get their names, because that’s the way I do things. I did learn that they drove in from Champaign, Illinois for the show, and that they were in attendance at the last Clutch show I saw at The Vogue, probably 2-3 years ago. One of them told me that “that guy over there (I think he was talking about the bartender) said that they’ll probably start later than they’re supposed to, since there aren’t a lot of people here yet.”

A shitty picture of Page's pedal setup.

A shitty picture of Page’s pedal and effects setup.

That guy over there was correct, and the 8:00 start time promised on the tickets came and went with nary a peep. 8:30 then came and went, and I was starting to get antsy, and a little bit annoyed, but a few minutes later, the lights went out, a roar went up from the crowd, the band came on and, without a word, began the opening strains of “Wilma’s Rainbow”. The place went apeshit, and I started to bang my head like I’ve never banged my head before. They plowed through the album with very little in the way of pausing, and no one in the band spoke until after the last notes of “Sam Hell” faded away into the ether. I was relieved to finally get a break, because I literally could not stop banging my head, but the band had other plans.

I did get a small break during the quiet part of "Beautiful Love".

I did get a small break during the quiet part of “Beautiful Love”.

Page thanked everyone for coming out on a Sunday night, mentioned that they haven’t played Indianapolis “in a really long time” (he estimated 3-4 years, while a guy in the crowd estimated closer to 7; I have no idea who’s right, but either way, they were overdue), told us they had a “kind of special” setlist planned for us, with a few songs they haven’t played in a while, then they rolled into “Like I Care”, “Birth Defect”, and “Unsung”, the last of which sent the crowd into an absolute frenzy. I paused for a few seconds during “Unsung” to rest my rapidly deteriorating neck and looked behind me to see a row of probably 5 or 6 dudes with their arms around each other doing what appeared to be a can-can style dance.

Being unfamiliar with the band’s two most recent albums, I planned to utilize the time during “Welcome to Algiers” to rest as much as possible, but it sounded so good that I couldn’t, and then before I knew it, “You Borrowed” was starting. I tried again during “On Your Way Down”, but again, no luck. “Murder” was performed with such vim and vigor, the vocals nearly hemorrhoid-inducing, that I wondered how Page could possibly perform it on even a semi-regular basis, but then when it ended, he said that it was the first time they’d played it live in 10 years! He then told the story behind the song, a tale of living in New York City’s East Village, back when it was only desirable for the cheap rents. Seems a person was murdered in the apartment next to Page’s and the body was left there for several days before it was discovered (he said he assumed a rat had died in the walls).

I tried to rest again during “Miserable”, but was denied by the groove once more. “Exactly What You Wanted” and “Crisis King” almost killed me, but then they left the stage, Page leaning his guitar against his amp, filling the room with 1-2 minutes of the most hellacious feedback I’ve ever heard. The band (mercifully) came back out, but Page didn’t just pick up his guitar and move it away from the amp, no, that wouldn’t have been fucked up enough. Instead he strapped it back on (ha!) and continued to hold the head against the amp while the opening drumbeat from “Rude” pounded through my nearly decimated skull, and they followed that song with “Ironhead”, “Give It”, and “In the Meantime”, and I honestly didn’t care if I lived another moment after that, as it seemed unlikely that anything else could ever be so fucking fantastic.

The band left the stage, but Page stuck around for at least 10 minutes, signing autographs, shaking hands, telling stories, and posing for pictures with a lot of sweaty, stank-ass dudes. He was extremely nice, gracious, and funny, and he said that he loves playing Indianapolis because the energy from the crowd is always so amazing, and that even though they play to crowds 3-4 times larger in bigger cities, those crowds usually don’t seem to appreciate the shows as much. I will say that I personally unleashed at least 3 hearty “FUCK YEAH!‘s” during the course of the 2+ hours, and all the people around me seemed equally stoked, except for the girl directly next to me, who got shitty with a guy for bumping into her. Front row. At a Helmet show. She was an asshole, as was her li’l male companion, who apparently suffers from a severe case of Little-Man Syndrome.


Not pictured:  approximately 35 lbs of sweat in my Testament shirt.

All in all, it was one of the best live shows I’ve ever seen…top 10, easily. Do not hesitate to catch them live on this tour if you get a chance. They’re playing in Louisville in two days, and I would definitely go to that one, too, if I wasn’t legitimately afraid I would end up in the hospital.

Highlights: The entire show was a highlight unto itself, although I wouldn’t have been angry if they’d played “Renovation” and at least one song from Size Matters. Also, meeting Page was rad (high school me would be jealous as fuck), those two brothers seemed pretty cool, and I finally got a badass new Helmet shirt, to replace the one I’ve had since I was 16.



“Wilma’s Rainbow”

“I Know”

“Biscuits for Smut”




“Street Crab”



“Beautiful Love”


“The Silver Hawaiian”


“Sam Hell”


“Like I Care” (Aftertaste)

“Birth Defect” (Aftertaste)

“Unsung” (Meantime)

“Welcome to Algiers” (Seeing Eye Dog)

“You Borrowed” (Meantime)

“On Your Way Down” (Monochrome)

“Murder” (Strap It On)

“Miserable” (Seeing Eye Dog)

“Exactly What You Wanted” (Aftertaste)

“Crisis King” (Aftertaste)



“Rude” (Strap It On)

“Ironhead” (Meantime)

“Give It” (Meantime)

“In the Meantime” (Meantime)

How could you not want to go to one of these shows? That’s a rhetorical question; you couldn’t not want to go.

That’s all for now. Stay heavy, y’all.

Earth Tone Suits You, So Give It a Smile: Another Thing About Helmet

The countdown has officially begun. In approximately 143 hours, Helmet will begin performing their 1994 masterpiece Betty live on stage, in front of me and my shit-eating grin, at The Vogue in Broad Ripple (Indianapolis), Indiana. Then, somewhere between 45-60 minutes after that, they’ll begin a second full set of songs from the rest of their catalog. I’m fucking giddy with anticipation, friends.  As mentioned previously in these pages, I saw Helmet live once before, at Emo’s in Austin, Texas, on the tour for Size Matters, their 2004 comeback album. Guitarist/vocalist Page Hamilton was the only original member in the band at the time (he remains so today), John Tempesta was on drums (which isn’t so amazing on its own, as John Tempesta has played drums in every single metal band that has ever existed, but he’s really fucking good, so that was pretty sweet), Chris Traynor (who previously toured with Helmet on the tour for 1997’s underrated gem Aftertaste) was on second guitar, and the incomparable Frank Bello (who left Anthrax for the first time since joining that band in 1984, only to leave Helmet before the conclusion of the Size Matters tour to rejoin Anthrax) was on bass.

It was a pretty brilliant show, even though I was married to an asshole who didn’t much like to have fun, and who wouldn’t come with me to stand near the stage, but who also got mad at me for leaving her to stand near the stage. This time, though, I’m married to an awesome human being who enjoys having fun at least as much as I do, and I’m confident that she will either stand with me or, if she doesn’t feel like standing, let me stand wherever I want, so long as I promise to not leave without her. Also, as mentioned previously, Helmet will be performing two full sets, one of which will be my favorite Helmet album from beginning to end, with no opening act. Folks, I’ve seen some footage of shows on this tour, and the shows run somewhere in the neighborhood of 2 hours and 15 minutes. That’s 25-to-30 songs per show. If this doesn’t get you fucking amped up, I don’t know how you can be happy in this life.

She really is quite a Betty.

She really is quite a Betty.

And I am fully aware that at this point, what we call Helmet is merely Page Hamilton plus three hired guns. I am also fully aware that I do not give a fuck, because the songs rule. It would obviously be better and more exciting if original bassist Henry Bogdan and original drummer John Stanier were along for the tour, because they surely constituted one of the finest rhythm sections ever in heavy music, but since the odds of winning the lottery while getting struck by lightning while being eaten by a shark are better than the odds of Bogdan and Stanier ever rejoining Hamilton on stage, I’ll settle for the current package.  At least we’ll always have this footage of their 1994 performance on 120 Minutes

Here’s a full show from last year’s European run of this tour, filmed and uploaded by one of the greatest heroes in history. They played 35 songs at this show. I can’t stop watching it.

Also, while researching for this piece, I learned that the band played at least one show last year, in Glasgow, that consisted of the Betty set followed by 1992’s Meantime in its entirety. That’s literally the only way I could possibly be more excited about this show. Goddamn, y’all, I am STOKED!

Here’s one of my favorite songs from their noisy, angry bastard of a debut, 1990’s Strap It On.

Here’s one of my favorite songs from their noisy, angry bastard of a follow-up, 1992’s breakout Meantime. I can still remember sitting on my sister’s couch watching MTV when this video came on. My mouth was agape for days after that.

Here’s one of my favorite songs from Betty, which I did not like very much upon its initial release, but which grew on me like fungi on a dead tree, eventually becoming one of my favorite albums of all time.

Here’s one of my favorite songs from Aftertaste, which kicks so much more ass than that windbag over at AllMusic would have you believe.

“I get a ‘D’ for disappointment
Now there’s nothing to regret
Everybody’s good for something
At least you know what you won’t get”

Now those are some song lyrics, folks.

And finally, here’s one of my favorite songs from Size Matters (which was written after Hamilton’s breakup with Winona Ryder).

I have not really listened to either 2006’s Monochrome or 2010’s Seeing Eye Dog, so I cannot comment on them, but I’ll get around to it eventually, and I’ll be sure to report my findings here posthaste.

That’s all the time I have today. Daylight saving time is a motherfucker. I’ll definitely be reviewing the show here at some point in the near future, so be on the lookout for that, if you give a shit.

Until next time, please do stay heavy.




Cosmic Conspiracy: A Voivod Primer, Part 3

What follows is Part Three of a five part series about the groundbreaking and visionary French-Canadian progressive metal band Voivod.  Part One can be found here, and Part Two can be found here.

Following the tour cycle for The Outer Limits, Snake left Voivod for personal reasons, and remaining members Away and Piggy took the opportunity to reinvent the band, resulting in a drastically different sound through the remainder of the 1990s.  With both vocal and bass duties needing to be filled, they opted in early 1994 to bring in Toronto native Eric Forrest (Voivod alias: E-Force – they can’t all be home runs) to handle both.  Forrest’s debut with Voivod, 1995’s Negatron, is probably the least Voivod-sounding album in the band’s catalog, and is probably my least favorite Voivod album, although that would be akin to discussing my least favorite bowl of Count Chocula, or perhaps my least favorite baseball game. In other words, I’d still rather have that bowl of Count Chocula (it was stale), that baseball game (Yankees vs. Red Sox), and this Voivod album than none at all.

The overall sound – a stripped-down industrial groove – definitely roots the album firmly in its release year (it would not be out of place on the shelf alongside Fear Factory and Pantera), and both Away’s drumming and Piggy’s guitar work are much more straightforward and simple than ever before, or since, but it’s important to remember that the simplest Voivod song is still too weird for the average person’s taste.  E-Force’s vocals are much more aggressive and shouty than Snake’s, and the album artwork is just as stripped-down and industrial as the sounds contained within. Ultimately, Negatron‘s biggest downfall is the relative same-ness of the songs.  A video was made for “Insect”, and there’s a good chance you’ve never seen it before.

“Insect” – This is the opening track, and if you were going to listen to only one song from Negatron, I would recommend that this be the one.

“Nanoman” – Ivan Doroschuck of Men Without Hats (a.k.a. the band that taught the world “The Safety Dance”) co-wrote the lyrics to this one.

“Cosmic Conspiracy” – Piggy’s guitar work in this one is more like classic Voivod than probably anything else on the album.

When the band returned to the studio to record the follow-up to Negatron, Away was ready to bring the original Voivod story line back into play, and he and Piggy made it clear to E-Force that they were expecting more vocal dynamics from him this time around. The resulting work, 1997’s Phobos, is easily the band’s most underrated album, as well as the darkest album the band has recorded to date. Negatron makes so much more sense when you hear Phobos and realize what it was leading to.

From the very beginning of the “Catalepsy I” intro, the album elicits feelings of isolation and desperation, and, like its Greek mythological namesake, it conveys a sense of cold, oppressive, absolute fear. One time when I played it at work, a co-worker described it as “burly as fuck”, and that is definitely an apt way to describe the sound.  Forrest’s vocals are indeed more dynamic throughout, mixing the harsh screams of Negatron with something much more Snake-like (“Bacteria” provides a good example of the latter), and his bass is much more prominent than the previous album.  Away’s drums are up to their old familiar off-kilter, herky jerky tricks, and Piggy’s guitars are overflowing with reverb, and are downright devastating here, from the opening notes of “Rise” through the jarring, unsettling staccato buzz of outro “Catalepsy II”.

As mentioned above, the album revives the story of Away’s childhood nightmare creation, the Voivod, marking his (its?) first appearance since 1990’s progressive masterpiece Nothingface.  The storyline is more straightforward than any of the other related albums, save perhaps 1988’s thrasy-prog masterpiece (and my personal favorite Voivod album) Dimension Hatröss.  The album begins with the Voivod (who apparently found his way out of his own mind, where we left him in Nothingface closer “Sub-Effect”)  “sleeping in death” until a mysterious and diabolical character named Demok sends signals from space, resurrecting him as Anark, wherein he makes his way back to Earth to “restart [his] fear program”, lays waste to the planet (“pure decay, dead planet, virus unknown, plague and curse fall on the globe”), and holes up in “The Tower” to rule the world, where “no one can reach him” and “none shall defeat him”. If we’ve learned anything from the Voivod’s adventures, though, it’s that nothing ever ends well for him, and the tale of Phobos is no exception, as we leave our protagonist “lost in this world, feeling forlorn…Anark my given name, close my eyes, fade away”.  Getting lost in this album, especially through headphones, is an absolutely breathtaking experience.

“Rise” – This song makes me wanna break everything around me.

“Phobos” – Undoubtedly my favorite song from Voivod Mark II (or Mark III, depending on who’s asking). Everything about this song makes me want to live inside it. Utter perfection.

“The Tower” – Like the title track to this album’s predecessor, Ivan Doroschuck co-wrote the lyrics to this one, as well.

“Forlorn – The current version of Voivod has been known to play this song live from time to time, which is a very exciting thing. In fact, I could only be more excited if they were playing “Phobos” live.

Phobos also contains two bonus tracks – a cover of King Crimson’s “21st Century Schizoid Man” and an original tune called “M-Body”, written by friend and superfan Jason Newsted (formerly of Flotsam and Jetsam), who also played bass on said tune. Both songs are good enough (the KC cover is especially tight), but frankly they add nothing to the Phobos experience, so that’s all the press they’ll get here. You would not be wrong to look them up yourself.

In 1998, Forrest was seriously injured in a car crash, so to fill the impending space between studio albums, the band released Kronik, a collection of live songs, remixes, and previously unreleased songs, including “Ion”, which was featured in the film Heavy Metal 2000, but was not included on the soundtrack album. It is very much of a kind with Negatron.

2000 saw the release of Voivod’s first official live album, Lives, which includes songs dating back to the 1984 eponymous debut, as well as a cover of Venom’s “In League With Satan”.  I am especially fond of Forrest’s take on “The Prow”, which originally appeared on 1991’s Angel Rat.

The story goes that the band recorded demos for a proper follow-up to Phobos, which would have been the final chapter of the Voivod saga, but after Forrest’s accident, the tapes were shelved, and have thus far not seen the light of day. I, for one, would give nearly anything to hear them. At any rate, Voivod lost their momentum and disbanded in 2001, only to re-form the following year with a couple of familiar faces on board – one old and one (mostly) new. That chapter will have to wait for another day.

Until then, friends, I encourage you to stay heavy, always.

P.S.: Jeff Wagner also has some real proper things to say about Phobos over at the Deciblog.