With the corporate rock cognoscenti frothing at the mouth to sign the next Nirvana, in 1991, a seemingly nerdy band from New York by the name of Helmet were about to set the world on fire -- at least on paper. Seemingly overnight, the Amphetamine Reptile faves had a fat check in their pockets and an astounding major-label debut by the name of Meantime. Eschewing Cobain's neo-punk power pop instincts, Helmet opted instead for a more a minimalist approach, whereby rhythmic tension over 4/4 melodies reigned supreme. Now poised to step into their role as future darlings of a sound that can only be described as bludgeoning agro-punk atonal rock, the band was propelled by a massive hype campaign and heralded as East Coast tastemakers du jour. But for all its accolades (mostly well deserved), Meantime's commercial success sadly fell short of expectation, and, by '94, Helmet was giving it another try with Betty -- its second effort for Interscope. Label pressure notwithstanding, the album had a lot more riding on it than even perhaps Hamilton was willing to admit. Lacking some of the tightly focused ferocity of their previous release, Betty appears to be an almost too well thought out affair, and, ultimately, its songs miss out on some of the discreet melodic accents which had served to underpin even the most bludgeoning noise-fests on Meantime. Songs like "Wilma's Rainbow," "Biscuits for Smut," and especially "Milquetoast" have their moments, but don't quite live up to expectations. And although Helmet's tuned down, stop-go-stop dynamic (originally pioneered by New Yorkers Prong) would go on to influence hundreds of up-and-coming acts, their complete lack of image or star quality (a key ingredient to Cobain's magnetism, as much as he himself despised it) would play a major role in eventually doing them in. Betty initiated a commercial spiral for the quartet that not even the return-to-form and progress displayed by 1997's massive sounding Aftertaste could reverse.
by John Franck