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Helmet heir | The San Diego Union-Tribune

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POP MUSIC
Helmet heir

Hamilton's reconstituted band still shaping heavy metal

By Chris Nixon
July 6, 2006

'Da-da-da-daaa,” sings Helmet leader Page Hamilton, humming the opening notes from Beethoven's Fifth with a little distortion for effect. “I always use the example that Beethoven's Fifth Symphony is the best heavy-metal riff ever. I sort of utilize the same approach: Less is more.”

With a background in both classical and jazz guitar (earning his master's in jazz guitar from Manhattan School of Music), Hamilton reshaped metal music in the early '90s with his quartet Helmet. Emerging during the formative years of the grunge movement (just a year after Nirvana's “Nevermind”), 1992's “Meantime” shot the band into the mainstream, sporting the gritty single “Unsung.”

Hamilton utilized a “drop D” tuning on his guitar, a setup mostly used by finger-picking blues players. The tuning gives Helmet its trademark low, guttural guitar riffs, and has influenced bands like Tool to use the same tuning. Both odd tunings and Hamilton's jazz background gave Helmet a unique sound in heavy-rock music.


DATEBOOK
Vans Warped Tour 2006 with Helmet, Joan Jett, NOFX, The Academy Is and more
Noon today; Coors Amphitheatre, 2050 Entertainment Circle; Chula Vista; $25.25-$27.25; (619) 220-TIXS

“Helmet chords are not standard rock chords,” said Hamilton, speaking from Los Angeles. “People have used dropped tuning before I have, but I sort of took it to a new place, I guess. Helmet certainly doesn't sound like any other heavy band. My feel is definitely influenced by playing jazz or classical music. The band swings. It always has.”

After touring in support of 1997's “Aftertaste,” the band dissolved.

“I think it was a lot of exhaustion,” said Hamilton. “I didn't fire anybody in the band. Those guys left. For me, it was a little disheartening, because I put a lot into it, and they did as well. I never stopped loving doing it. I thought we'd maybe take a break for a year, but it just wasn't in the cards.”

Hamilton went on to work with David Bowie (replacing guitarist Reeves Gabrels), Bono and trumpeter Ben Neill during the hiatus, but re-formed Helmet in 2004 and released “Size Matters” the same year.

Helmet emerges in 2006 with a new disc, “Monochrome,” and a headlining spot on the Vans Warped Tour, which stops at Coors Amphitheatre in Chula Vista today. With Chris Traynor on guitar, drummer Mike Jost and bassist Jeremy Chatelain, the album recaptures Helmet's classic metal sound.

“We recorded, mixed and mastered ('Monochrome') in three weeks,” said the 46-year-old guitarist and vocalist. “I think it benefits from it: There's an explosiveness to this album. When you have a little too much time, you can redo things and get them to where you think they're going to be perfect. But there's a certain sound you get from recording quickly and recording to tape as opposed to digitally.”

The Warped Tour – with young demographic and all-ages mentality – is sure to showcase Helmet's hard-core sound to new audiences. Described as “punk summer camp” by many of the regular bands that hit the road with the tour every year, Hamilton's looking forward to the Warped experience.

“Everybody's describing it to me as fairly grueling and hot,” said Hamilton, who joined the festival for the first time this summer. “I guess it's kind of one-for-all and all-for-one vibe a little bit. It's run the way a festival should be. A lot of bands I know do it every year, so there's kind of a Warped Tour family.”


 Chris Nixon is a San Diego music writer.

Hear sound clips from Helmet's “Monochrome” by logging on to http://entertainment.signonsandiego.com/profile/274399

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