Sunday, May 20th, 2018
'Seeing Eye Dog', HELMET's seventh album, is one of the band's most uncompromising and ambitious releases, embodying the classic and utterly unique HELMET sound and pushing it into regions the band has never before explored. One big reason for that spirit of musical adventure is the record is essentially self-released (through the Work Song label). «I just felt completely free to do whatever I wanted to do,» says frontman Page Hamilton. «It was really fun to make this record because I just felt this… freedom.»
Freedom can also arise from limitation, something Hamilton knows well-- as ever, he insisted on having few overdubs and edits on 'Seeing Eye Dog'. «This album is human and honest,» he declares.«People have always commented that we sound like our albums live, and our recording approach has a lot to do with that. Humans playing music will always be better than chop-shop rock.»
Besides Hamilton, the humans on 'Seeing Eye Dog' include drummer Kyle Stevenson, who joined HELMET in 2006, guitarist Dan Beeman, who's been on board since 2008, and long-time HELMET bassist Chris Traynor. (Dave Case is the band's touring bassist.) The album was produced by Hamilton, with additional production by Toshi Kasai (Melvins) and vocal production by Mark Renk.
Some history: In 1989, Page Hamilton co-founded the New York-based HELMET, fusing Zeppelinesque riffing with a vehement post-hardcore precision, augmented by dense chords and offbeat time signatures based in Hamilton's formal jazz training. The combination was that rarest of visionary creations — it was successful in its own time. After their 1990 debut album 'Strap It On' (on revered indie label Amphetamine Reptile), HELMET unleashed the major label 'Meantime' (1992), a widely acclaimed album that earned a Grammy nomination, went gold, and launched a thousand other bands. Betty followed in 1994, successfully branching out from the band's ferocious attack and into more varied musical waters. (In 2010, HELMET issued via their website HELMETmusic.com a digital-only deluxe version of 'Betty' that includes 14 original album tracks plus five bonus tracks.) Another acclaimed album 'Aftertaste' followed in 1997 and after nine years and thousands of shows, HELMET called it a day in 1998.
Hamilton went on to do soundtrack work for major Hollywood movies like Catwoman, S.W.A.T., Titus, and Saw, among others, formed the band Gandhi, and, following in the footsteps of greats like Adrian Belew and Stevie Ray Vaughan, played lead guitar in David Bowie's band in 1999. In 2004 Hamilton restarted HELMET, releasing two acclaimed albums — 'Size Matters' in 2004, 'Monochrome' in 2006 — and co-headlining the Warped Tour that year. HELMET did extensive US and European touring in 2009 in preparation for the new album.
Bands such as the Deftones, Rise Against, Pantera and Tool have all cited HELMET as an influence, and not just for HELMET's blistering, aggro approach but for the band's sheer musicality and brains. See, HELMET, among other things, is a work of art. Hamilton is a trained musician who happens to make heavy, brutal music, a guy who digs Bartok and Minor Threat. Which is why, as 'Seeing Eye Dog' proves, HELMET is a surprisingly flexible concept.
«The HELMET musical vocabulary is well established at this point, but I continue to work on a variety of musical projects that inevitably influence the HELMET songs,» says Hamilton. «I've been working on movies with Elliott Goldenthal and co. for 17 years now and had never really experimented with incorporating these soundscapes (or shit sculpting as I prefer to call it) into HELMET songs. We had a much better recording situation in which I felt much less time pressure and was working with an engineer who was patient and very creative (Toshi Kasai), so away we went. I started layering upper parts of the chords and was digging the sound so I went with it.»
'So Long' and the title track embrace the classic HELMET approach: raging slabs of guitars, drill-sergeant vocals, drums like an expert beating, and guitar solos that scrawl hectic graffiti across the band's monolithic attack. The lyrics, as Hamilton has said, spring from a combination of «comedy and disgust,» particularly in the scathing 'Welcome to Algiers' and 'In Person.'
But 'Seeing Eye Dog' also finds HELMET pushing at its own boundaries — the grimly affecting 'White City,' for instance, is as close to a ballad as HELMET has ever dared. 'LA Water' sounds like a Beatlesque HELMET and later, 'And Your Bird Can Sing' is a HELMETesque Beatles, with the band wielding the Fab Four's standout 'Revolver' track like a molten sledgehammer. The mostly instrumental 'Morphing,' the luminous sound sculpture in the middle of the album, might seem unlike any other HELMET track, and yet it has the same monumental quality as the band's most brutal work. (And if you hunger for HELMET in all its live glory, 'Seeing Eye Dog' comes with a bonus disc, a blistering live set from the San Francisco stop on the 2006 Warped Tour.)
The freedom and adventurousness of 'Seeing Eye Dog' (title via Ezra Pound, by the way) didn't come out of nowhere. Hamilton encountered some record label interference in the past and vowed that it would never happen again. «After that, I said, I built this thing and this is the way it is,» Hamilton says. «Fortunately, those experiences ended up helping me maintain a singular attitude that's really conducive to writing rock songs.»
After a self-prescribed hiatus, 2012 saw PRONG blow the hinges off the door with the release of “Carved Into Stone”. Seemingly out of nowhere, Tommy Victor and company managed to combine all the previous elements of the band's formula: thrash, hardcore, industrial metal, etc. with a new urgency and angst that struck a deep nerve with the band’s
loyal fan-base and beyond.
The band marched onwards with 2014’s highly acclaimed “Ruining Lives” which spawned a number of instant classics. “Turnover”, «The Barriers» and the title track became staples in their live set when embarking on a bone breaking schedule of concerts around the world in support of the record. A video for «Remove, Separate Self» was released creating even more interest in this significant recording.
Recorded over the summer of 2014 and released in early 2015, PRONG’s cover album “Songs From The Black Hole” was loved by fans and critics alike. Always game to make the unexpected move, the album featured songs from artists as diverse as Hüsker Dü, The Bad Brains, Black Flag, The Sisters Of Mercy and Neil Young.
After yet another headline tour, it was straight back to the studio for another studio album. Just days after mixing was completed, PRONG went on the road with Danzig and SuperJoint Ritual in North America and released the first single “Ultimate Authority” on the day the tour
The album that followed, “X – No Absolutes”, was once again PRONG at their very best. The sheer intensity and ferocity of the albums opening triumvirate “Ultimate Authority”, “Sense Of Ease” and “Without Words” left the listener gasping for air. The album was once again followed by a massive world wide touring campaign, this time as special guest to Obituary and Exodus in Europe and to Testament and Sepultura in North America.
In between tours, Tommy Victor managed to write and record yet another album, his fourth album of all new works and his sixth recording project in as little as five years. Describing him as being at his most prolific is an understatement.
The new PRONG-Album “ZERO DAYS” is another monster of an album, another step towards refining the perfect PRONG-Sound and another album that lacks any filler or lacklustre moment.
Musically, it hits home from the first bars of the mighty opener “However It May End” to the last bars of the albums closing track “Wasting Of The Dawn”. Every track is it’s own emotional roller-coaster ride, chock-full of massive riffage, ironclad grooves and topped off by Victor’s ever-improving vocal delivery.
“ZERO DAYS” was once again produced by Tommy Victor, with trusted collaborator Chris Collier as co-producer and engineer.
Tommy Victor talks about “ZERO DAYS”:
“I must say a lot of effort was put into this new “Zero Days” recording. From the minute I would get off tour, I would consolidate ideas from the road and form new ones. Again the focus was on creating good songs. We wanted this record to be modern as well as holding justice to all the previous releases. Again and maybe even more than normally I went crazy meticulous with the lyrics. I had built up a lot to say and I wanted to articulate them in the most intelligent way possible. I firmly believe the mission was accomplished all around."
«We are really pleased with the performances on this record, as well. It's a solid outing. We have the anthems, the bangers, the thrashers, the grooves, everything that makes up a PRONG record. It's definitely a record to listen to start to finish!!”