September 18, 2017

Helpless - Debt

By Justin C. I've probably mentioned before, but I'm far from a grind aficionado. It's a subgenre that I can appreciate far more often than I can enjoy, and the bands I do favor, like Fuck the Facts, tend to bring something
By Justin C.


I've probably mentioned before, but I'm far from a grind aficionado. It's a subgenre that I can appreciate far more often than I can enjoy, and the bands I do favor, like Fuck the Facts, tend to bring something a little different to the table. In FtF case, their longer songs make it easier for me to engage with the music.

But there are exceptions to every rule, and now that I have a shorter commute, sometimes it's nice to listen to an entire grind album instead of 7% of one funeral doom song. Enter Helpless with their first full-length, Debt. When I think of grind, I think of hyper-dissonance, densely packed instrumental layers, spastic fury, turn-on-a-dime tempo changes, vocals that go from high-pitched shrieks all the way down to tonsil-vomiting growls, and all of this burned through in a minute or less. Helpless follow some of that, but with variations I find particularly appealing.

For example, the sound is a bit "thinner," for lack of a better description, and I don't mean that as a negative. The guitar riffs have plenty of heft when needed, but they also favor higher chord voicings, dripping with dissonance, over chunkier low-end fare, and that allows the bass to stand out on its own. The separation of instruments in general is excellent, so your ear is better able to peel apart the layers. They do "anti-breakdowns," like early in "Out of Commission," where the music gets lean and quiet, but still just as mean. And some of the songs are just damn catchy. That can be a dirty word, and of course I appreciate a well-executed, ultra-dense freak out as much as the next person, but sometimes it's nice when something sticks in your head, whether it be the repeated growls of "STAY LOW" in "Ceremony of Innocence" or the closing moments of "Moral Bankruptcy" when an inner voice moves up and down inside a slow, steamrolling riff that, at times, almost sound a little hopeful, in spite of the relentlessly bleak-but-insightful lyrical content.**

And I'd be remiss if I didn't mention the genre-busting length of the album closer, "Denied Sale," a mini-epic that's near the five-minute mark. This would be a perfect place for most bands to dump a bunch of ambient nonsense or screechy feedback, but Helpless see it through, including a particularly affecting (and effective) anti-breakdown that features just a quiet, single-tap rhythm before the band lurches back to sludgier territory, stabbed through with dissonant bites. The closing track does what the entire album does: it takes you on a ride, but never one where you completely lose sight of the music and have to frantically try to catch up, and it's filled with little earworms that will keep you coming back for more.

**There's even an ode to the antidepressant I've personally been taking for almost 20 years, "Sertraline." The song hints at the all-too-real problem some people face, including myself, which is a muted emotional response, a feeling of “existing for existence sake,” as the lyrics say.

Tagged with 2017, grindcore, Helpless, Holy Roar Records, Justin C
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