The nihilist music market is a hot market and every despondent soul has a favourite hot property at the minute. The worlds of sludge, doom and core have bore witness to a smattering of acts capable of sapping the complete energy of a room; using just the atmosphere they create with their instruments, implements and voices. As mentioned, there’s enough history with this area of music that there’s always someone threatening to unsettle and threaten with their music. Helpless definitely aim to create a misery of their very own with Debt, a brief but bloody record showcasing the serrated edge of sludge bass and hellish vocals. The music does impose, but the band occasionally take second stage to the wall of noise.
Debt is stuffed full of barreling hardcore, just the kind that’s melted into scalding, toxic sludge. The bass takes centre stage for a majority of the twenty plus (barely) run time and, along side a bone splitting kick drum hit, the bass is the catalyst for some of the major shifts in the best tracks. “Out of Commission” makes a case for having the most oppressive rhythm groove that rings out so definitively, it lingers in the air in the brief moments before an inevitable meltdown into the kind of careening (blackened) metalcore that Gaza and Cult Leader fans have been waiting for a reference to. The sound is quite distinct, but not representative of just one act. Helpless have a version of this weaponised sound. They just detonate the air with the simple tools in front of them. “Moral Bankruptcy” rumbles with mechanical weight behind the bass, brought to life by wretched, despairing vocals from a human; vocals that drop out of life with a gut churning descent into depraved noise.
Helpless do play with the string sections of their systematic march towards oblivion, messing around with a Mastodon style riff into the almost comically appropriate Brann Dailor drum fill opening to “Grief Vultures”. That particular comparison ends there and Debt lingers into a sort of Behemoth and beatdown blend across the board. Initial intentions must have been to create hardcore that summons the worst feelings a human can possible have, utilising the harsh guitar sounds of Primitive Man but pulled together closer to the fretboard. It is however this intention that constricts the performances on this record.
The low end dampens the ferocity of some of the busier passages of music on Debt. Opener “Worth” is safe from the criticism in that it is punchy and oppressive in equal spades, whereas the albums middle tracks falter when swamped and overran by drone notes and the always rumbling bass strings. The restrained performance behind the drums never quite gets going; failing to syncopate and create movement through the grinding gears of Helpless’ aural assault. Barrages and blasts are all fine and well but when the depth and actual instrumentation is washed out by an already dominant low end, music stutters. Stutters isn’t quite fair, stumbles somewhat.
A stumble is just that. Most definitions mention it being momentarily. Just moments missed on a full debut of bruising, bleak music. The UK definitely lingers behind the States and the Continent in terms of artists using metal and sludge to spatter dark tapestries with darker yet materials; Helpless make a case for being the most prominent representative of the nation, without quite overtaking from overseas counterparts both modern and cult favourite. However, there’s a minute number of stable emotions left to experience after a run through of this, the band make sure of that. Debt will surely leave many physically drained, mentally exhausted and emotionally stunted. And that’s just what the doctor ordered.
Dr. Doom. Duh.
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Debt is out September 8 via Holy Roar Records. You can pre-order the album on Helpless’s Bandcamp here. Prepare your eardrums accordingly, scum.