Sound — 7
4 years since the release of "Monochrome", Helmet are back with "Seeing Eye Dog", their 7th studio album and their first for the Work Song record label. While it doesn't differ too much from their previous 2 albums (the afore-mentioned "Monochrome" and 2004's "Size Matters"), Page Hamilton is still capable of throwing the odd curve-ball into the tried and true Helmet sound.
A perfect example of this would be the cover of "And Your Bird Can Sing". Yes, THAT one. While not a bad cover as such (bearing in mind Hamilton's limited vocal ability), it does feel somewhat out of place on a record dominated by drop-tuned riffs and often snarled vocals. Another surprise was the instrumental track "Morphing" which again, while not a bad song, does cause a bit of a mid-album lull. The song "LA Water" is also something of an oddity, albeit a very melodic and enjoyable one with Hamilton's clean singing, jazz chords and layered guitar work. The sound of this one harkens back to Hamilton's Ghandi project (formed after the original line-up of Helmet called it quits in 1998).
However, the rockers that Helmet are known for so well still punch their way through most of the album's course. Songs like "Miserable" and the title track have the staple Helmet grind to them, while others like "Welcome To Algiers" and "In Person" sound like they could've been on 1997's "Aftertaste" album. A special mention goes to the closing track, "She's Lost". 6 and a half minutes is quite long for a Helmet song but it was a definite highlight for me, a slow pulsing guitar intro giving way to trademark riffing and Hamilton's extended jazz/noise freakout soloing.
One that that did disappoint me however was the way the album was recorded. The drums sound somewhat flat in the mix and the guitars are more of a buzz than a buzzsaw, thus preventing the heavy moments on here from really attacking the listener like they should.
Lyrics — 7
Page Hamilton is a man with a never-ending supply of lyrical axes to grind, and more than a few people get taken to task here. A key example from the title track: "Nobody was paying attention, man you had the world on the run, everybody jump, everybody swoon, everyone was whistling your tune". Perhaps it's the same person that he takes on 3 songs later with "In Person": "You ain't as large in person, you're not threatening, did you forget you're only acting?". He also directs anger at a goldigger in "So Long" ("Take off, take all my money, get lost, so long now honey")
Elsewhere on the album, Page tackles love in "Miserable" (a harsh reality check to anyone who's lost someone to somebody else), the beautiful Californian weather in "LA Water", and the feeling of not belonging where you are in "White City".
Hamilton is an intelligent lyricist, even when he's trying to insult someone, and on the songs where he lets his famed drill sergeant snarl take the lead, he shines. His clean vocals however have never been particularly impressive, but they work well enough for Helmet.
Overall Impression — 7
From the sound of the albums Helmet have made since Hamilton re-started the band in 2004, it's quite clear that the long-time fans of the band weren't going to get another "Strap it On" or "Meantime". However, this album proves that Helmet 2.0 is still a formidable outfit with the fire of old, even if the sound of old isn't quite there anymore.