Helmet – Left (sludgy alt rock)
Revered, groove-metal pioneers Helmet haven't exactly aged as gracefully as many of their contemporaries. Although their legend has only grown, the band themselves have been largely MIA since reforming in 2004, with the only album they released within the last decade, 2016's new-age-infused Dead to the World, being possibly the worst album ever released by a notable '90s alt-rock band without a colour in their name.* There was absolutely no reason to be looking forward to Left in the lead-up to its release – and I wasn't – but I'm happy to discover that Helmet have undergone some serious course correction and produced an album that manages to incorporate elements from both ends of their career while also delivering their most enjoyable and consistent record in almost two decades (and maybe even longer).
Rather than trying to recapture the aggressively stomping alt-rock of the band's early years, or further developing the airy-fairy approach of its predecessor outing, Left strikes a balance that is more reminiscent of softer alt-rock acts like Filter, or even Failure at their most straightforward. Tracks like opener "Holiday" and the provocatively-titled "NYC Tough Guy" nod toward and even parody Helmet's hostile origins while keeping the focus on their more comfortable mid-paced register. Elements of Beatles-sque psychedelia are also carried over from Dead to the World. However, this time they're used to add extra texture to the otherwise fairly simple compositions, rather than serving as insubstantial centrepieces. Maybe it's just a case of low expectations, but I really am quite shocked by how well the albums hangs together as a whole, as well as how often I've found myself going back to it in the few days since its release. It's a far cry from the likes of Meantime (1992), Betty (1994) or even Aftertaste (1997). Nevertheless, with Left, Helmet seem to have finally found a way to adapt the volatile alt-rock style they helped pioneer to this more-settled stage in their history.
*I was going to say "not named The Red Hot Chili Peppers", but then I remembered Green Day exist. Some of the post-Weiland Stone Temple Pilots albums might get a shout as well, but even then...
Temple Balls – Avalanche (nunchacku dudes rock)
After a shockingly stuffed 2022, the "hair metal revival revival" hasn't raged on into 2023 quite as hard as I (and anyone else with impeccable taste) might like. The best we've head this year is a re-recorded Girish record and a deceptively decent Wig Wam album, which are both well within the rear-view mirror at this point. Enter Finland's oddly-monikered Temple Balls and their fantastic fourth album Avalanche. The Finnish five-piece pull from the more melodic end of the hair metal spectrum, delivering ten fist-pumping anthems that bring to mind contemporary Swedish titans Crazy Lixx and H.E.A.T. as often as American classics like Def Leppard and early Bon Jovi. Avalanche is cheesy as hell, which the band are well aware of and more than happy to lean into, but it's an album whose ridiculousnesss is only matched by the consistent quality of its hooks and a compellingly kinetic energy level that doesn't leave room for anything else but full-blown rocking out. Seriously: listen to the first ten seconds of "Strike Like a Cobra" (below) and try not to throw your fist in the air; then listen to the rest of it and try to stop yourself from shadowboxing around the house like you're the baddest reptile around. It can't be done!