When listening to early HELMET, I always got this feeling of a massive wall of concrete rumbling across and flattening everything in its path. The band sounded so tight, so heavy, and so monolithic that it always generated a feeling of massive, controlled power. Frontman Page Hamilton's vocals veered effectively between a raging howl and a smoother, more disaffected and somehow eerier monotone, hinting at an intelligence beyond that of average metal acts and heightening the band's unique, almost alien feel.
It's been seven years since HELMET left us with the okay but somewhat unsatisfactory "Aftertaste", an album that in some ways sounded as defeated as the band, wracked by inner turmoil, was at that time. Hamilton, who founded the group, worked on various other projects and potential solo endeavors, but none seemed to really ignite. So now, like so many other musicians, he has returned to the name that made him famous. Some things have changed, however: the band now is completely different, with a guns-for-hire lineup that includes former ANTHRAX bassist Frank Bello and ROB ZOMBIE drummer John Tempesta. Despite that, the new album, "Size Matters", is, despite some decent songs, a disappointingly mild effort.
The most stark example of the sonic change here is the album's first single, "See You Dead", a pop-inflected, airplay-friendly number that bears more resemblance to the generic rock you hear on your modern rock radio outlet than the crushing HELMET of yore. That band was able to pull off a catchy tune in a distinctive fashion, as they did with the classic "Unsung", but here it seems Hamilton is just shooting for spins on his local "The Edge" or "Buzz" or whatever the local FM wankfest is calling itself. "Drug Lord" and "Enemies" take the radio-ready approach too, offering token stabs at vintage HELMET heaviness but ultimately going for a far more mainstream sound.
On other tunes, like "Crashing Foreign Cars" and "Smart", Hamilton goes for a heavier feel but has still altered his singing style, simply sounding less ferocious than on albums past. While the band is certainly competent, they lack the single-minded precision of the previous lineups, which contributed greatly to the band's wall-of-sound strength. In fact, much of "Size Matters" lacks the tension and sense of coiled, furious power that was inherent in the band's sound on their first four records.
While it's no crime for Hamilton to want to evolve in his songwriting and singing, the lack of a real musical connection to earlier HELMET — including the absence of any other original members besides the frontman — forces one to consider that this should have been branded as a Page Hamilton solo project and not a full-blown HELMET return. But in the end, name recognition, like size, matters. Too bad this album only has one of those.