By: Andy Price
Wrong | facebook | bandcamp |
Released on April 29, 2016 via Relapse Records
Over the course of this review I’m likely to use the word ‘Helmet’ a lot. This is not a bad thing – that band are innovators and have created some great music, and frankly Wrong is the best album that Helmet never released. This presents a question – do Wrong do anything else other than ape 90’s alterna-metal innovators? The answer is ‘yes, well, kind of’ – there are some nods to hardcore and post-punk that deviates from the template, but to be honest most of this pales behind the Helmet-worship (which is a phrase that sounded much better in my head than it looks on the page). That said, I really, really don’t care if this is just a nostalgia trip, because this album is really, really great.
The songs are simply fantastic; harking back to the groove, plate-thick riffage and gruff melody of Meantime, but also bringing touches of other 90’s alterna-icons like The Jesus Lizard and Unsane to the fore. This all sounds a little reductive, but given the pretty poor version of Helmet that is currently doing the rounds and putting out mediocre material, it is so good to hear juddery dynamics and clever riffage on a record that I can get excited about and want to listen to again when it finishes.
The signs were good when the band surfaced last year, with a fantastic pedigree including former members of Torche, Kylesa and Capsule, and a fantastic debut EP to push in Stop Giving. This full length album fully delivers on the promise and excitement that release generated. It really is like a time machine back to the early 90’s; a true love letter to all that made the alternative metal scene so awesome at that time. It’s a short, sharp and noisy shock of a record, with 11 songs coming in at about the 30 minute mark, but providing more riffs and memorable hooks than the majority of albums twice that length.
Trying to review this album objectively and separate it from the shadow of Helmets’ back catalogue is going to be nigh-on impossible; the guitar tone and playing feels similar to Page Hamilton, as does the vocal phrasing and gruff monotone delivery. The percussion has a looser, more punk-y feel to it, see the fury displayed on ‘Turn In’ for an able demonstration of this. The use of solos, even the production value feels very much along the lines of that band. It just doesn’t matter though, this album is as beast in very much the same way that Meantime and Strap It On were. ‘More Like’ is a wonderful opener, falling into a grinding groove very quickly, but subverting it at every step. ‘Turn In’ ups the pace and brings in a punky rage which is continued by the short and nasty ‘Read’, which wears its hardcore influence on its sleeve proudly. ‘Entourage’ brings the pace down, feeling more like an outtake from Betty in its more relaxed dynamic, but still hits the groove and brings in a lovely tremolo picked lead. ‘Mucilage’ ushers in a massive riff that encourages involuntary head bobbing, and ‘Boil’ is just huge. Really, trying to pull out a single great track is impossible – the quality level is so high throughout.
Special shout out to the production too – the drums are present and clear, the bass grinding and full, and the guitars sound massive, and yes, a lot like Page Hamilton. The vocal production is perfectly pitched as well. The whole thing sounds full and exactly as I’d want it to – every instrument is audible and clear, but it sounds real, raw, authentic and occasionally angry. Precisely imprecise, is probably the best way to describe it.
What I like about this record is that, yes, it sounds like Helmet. But it stands next to those classic early albums, shoulder to shoulder, as (at least) an equal, and in some ways their superior. And let’s face it; this record eclipses the post-reunion Helmet material with no effort whatsoever. More importantly makes me remember what I liked about Helmet in the first place, that blend of dissonance and groove, atonality and melody and above all, bloody great songs. This is a brilliant record, so go and buy it. The 16 year old version of me is fully in love with this album, and the 37 year old version of me is equally smitten.