Another one of those BBQ’s has happened. The kind where a band long past their last notable album gets together in someone’s back yard to drink a few cold ones and talk about how their kids are doing at school lately. They seem to wind up discussing how cool it would be to go another round and reclaim the musical reverence they once knew, and the next thing you know they’re hooking up with a label for a giant comeback tour. And no band knew the alternative music reverence more than Helmet, cited as an influence by bands as legendary as Tool, Pantera and the Deftones.

One of the earliest bands to bring a smart musicality and angry melodic hooks to otherwise simplistic, aggressive and riff-heavy rock, Helmet have released their first album in 8 years. Dead to the World is no Meantime, and it’s certainly no Betty. In fact, everything after 1997’s Aftertaste is a far better predictor of the mixed bag of music you’re getting on this album, but it’s nevertheless a powerful piece of work.

The first sign that things have changed is on “Green Shirt,” which is delivered like a skippy little pop song with a 4/4 bass drum. Page Hamilton’s unmistakable rasp vocals are not only missing but they seem to have been taken over by his alternate personality, a high school-aged bully hissing into your ear, “Somebody’s gonna get it!” It’s a little close to the ear and contrived enough to cause an unintended reaction — nobody’s getting anything on this number other than an awkward chill. But that’s ok — great records are allowed a low point.

“Expect the World” is redemptive. Here we finally get to see some semblance of the Helmet we remember. The heavy riffs, growling into a cacophony of feedback notes and a wall of sound while Page demonstrates that he’s still got all the angry sincerity and ability to vocally intimidate that he did on “In the Meantime.”

The winding, fast cut riffs really come out on “Drunk in the Afternoon”. Page’s vocals all through the record have unquestionably changed. While he still has the ability to growl out rage-filled diatribe, he experiments on this record more than a few times with more traditional singing voices and even more metal-stye drama. “Look Alive” even flies dangerously close to the power-ballad sun but manages to come out unburned. This track wanders briefly into Filter territory but manages to plod along into a retro guitar-noise style that harkens back to the best of the ’90s. This one’s a shout-out to the earliest fans.

The signature bendy tunings, which were later borrowed to great effect by bands like Failure, are all present here, and although Page’s approach on this record sounds most often like he could be a different vocalist, it’s still a solid alternative rock record in a time when “alternative” has long since been meaningless. There isn’t really a word for this now — heavy guitar music which displays an obvious relationship with metal but is somehow more sophisticated, more self-aware and deliberate. It’s easy to see how other bands would see them as influences, and you have to respect that, when they left the BBQ, they didn’t just follow up with a “were you, um, actually serious?” phone call. They got together and nailed it in a way that suggests they’d never lost touch with whatever angst fueled them back in the day.

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