HELMET
"Monochrome"

(Warcon)

01. Swallowing Everything
02. Brand New
03. Bury Me
04. Monochrome
05. On Your Way Down
06. Money Shot
07. Gone
08. Almost Out Of Sight
09. Howl
10. 410
11. Goodbye

RATING: 6/10

Like 2004's comeback album, "Size Matters", the new HELMET offering rises or falls squarely on the shoulders of singer, guitarist and creative wellspring Page Hamilton, who has reshuffled the band lineup once again for this sixth studio outing. But the parade of members through this alt-metal quartet doesn't seem to matter much, as it's Hamilton's voice and riffs that dominate the proceedings. The only problem is that "Monochrome" is about as one-dimensional as its title.

The "supergroup" rhythm section of ANTHRAX bassist Frank Bello and ROB ZOMBIE drummer John Tempesta has been jettisoned in favor of Jeremy Chatelain and Mike Jost respectively, with guitarist Chris Traynor still on board. The new band plays solidly enough, and producer Wharton Tiers — who helmed the group's seminal "Strap It On" and "Meantime" albums — is back to give the proceedings the proper raw, distorted edge lacking from "Size Matters" and even 1997's "Aftertaste". But these factors in the band's favor can't disguise the fact that Hamilton is back to treading the same ground he's covered extensively on the band's early records, without adding anything to the mix to make it seem like anything else but an attempt to recapture lost glories (a song called "Gone" even sounds a lot like a rewrite of the band's biggest hit, "Unsung").

Some portions of the album rock pretty heavily, but a large chunk of it begins to run together in generic fashion. Hamilton's vocals, meanwhile, have gotten thinner and increasingly less powerful, making him actively irritating to listen to on cuts like "Brand New" and "Bury Me". Some surprisingly potent and fierce lead guitar work does come to the forefront on "Brand New" and the short, introductory "Howl", while the title track is more accessible, even down to Hamilton's smoother singing, without coming up with a truly catchy hook. "Money Shot" tries to have it both ways, finding the frontman singing somewhere between his art-metal croon and his more industrial rasp, but the song is made more memorable by a hooky main riff than anything else.

There was a point in time, when "Meantime" came out, that HELMET seemed poised to introduce a whole new angle to metal, mixing the intellectual ambitions of art-rock with a precision style of brutally heavy playing that sounded like musical concrete. Commercial and internal pressures led the band astray and ultimately into oblivion, and as hard as Hamilton and company seem to be trying on "Monochrome", they can only rehash that old feel without truly re-energizing it.

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