Good, good stuff streeting from Magnetic Eye Records today: the release of Meantime: Redux, in which a battery of ferocious underground metal acts (KEN Mode, Meek Is Murder, I Am Become Death and Fuck the Facts among them) take on the entirety of the 1992 Helmet classic Meantime, offering some daring interpretations of the source material. All 10 downtuned bruisers are covered, and as a bonus, Magnetic Eye tacks on six additional Helmet covers, featuring bands like Rosetta and Heads tackling crushers from Strap It On, Betty and Aftertaste.

The comp was a no-brainer for Magnetic Eye label head / Ironweed founder Michael Vitali. "When I started thinking of doing full album compilations, Helmet's Meantime was at the top of the list, along with Electric Ladyland," he says. "I'd always loved the jagged riffs, tightness of the band, and the experimental improvisational feel of the solos. Great band, great record. Still so influential to heavy music."

To celebrate today's release, we're not only streaming Meantime: Redux below; we had assorted bands from the comp ask Helmet founder Page Hamilton anything they wanted about the songs they were covering, or, fuck it, Helmet lore in general. Hamilton — whose eighth Helmet album, Dead to the World, drops October 28 on earMUSIC — was kind enough to reply. In the meantime (har har), you can pick up the comp here.

Why was David Plowden's photograph "Puddler in Blast Furnace Cast House, Steel Mill" chosen and used as the cover art for Meantime?
We were fortunate to find that photo. There's no deep meaning behind choosing it; just a fantastic photo that I thought worked beautifully as a Helmet album cover.

IRONWEED (“Give It,” “You Borrowed”) BASSIST JEFF SMITH:
Helmet was one of the first bands I heard that combined different time signatures and syncopated rhythms in a hardcore style. What influenced you the most in those aspects?
I'm a huge jazz fan, and listen to a lot of classical music as well. I think the phrasing and crossing the bar line, etc., in those genres had a huge impact on my writing. There's an amazing Leonard Bernstein lecture series from 1973 filmed at Harvard. He rearranged the first movement of Mozart Symphony No. 40 to make it "mathematically correct," I guess? He has the orchestra play the original, as well as his "corrected version," to show how nut-less and awful it is to adhere to the grid, so to speak. I believe it's unnatural and not human / soulful to play within strict mathematical grids. Bernstein confirms this!

When I bought my guitar cab from Chelsea Guitars circa 2009, the proprietors told me it belonged to “the dude from Helmet.” It’s slightly unusual in that it is a ’90s Orange 4x12 custom that is eight ohms rather than the usual 16. I’ve always wondered, was that yours? If so, why’d you sell it? What’s that stain on the front grille? Did you get the jacks installed low on the back to make my life miserable? It still sounds like hot fire, by the way.
Hahaha. When the band broke up, part of the unfortunate legal agreement was that we split the proceeds from the band-owned gear. The cab was a casualty. I don't remember whether that specific cab was purchased by Chelsea, but it is possible. I still have a '70s Orange head: cool-sounding, but limited amps.

We really enjoyed recording a version of “Blacktop,” and love the original so much. It really was a huge challenge trying to pay respect and do justice to your song. One of the things I appreciate about this song is the directness of the lyrics. It always seemed to me as though “Blacktop” was about being dependent on something or somebody, like a drug dependency or some other form of addiction. Given that interpretation is often an individual thing and can easily be very wrong, what is the actual story behind “Blacktop”?
We rehearsed in a section of NYC back in 1989 / '90 called Hell's Kitchen. It was the height of the crack epidemic; drug dealers had the area well-serviced, and they were aggressive and vocal sellers. One name for crack I heard time and time again between the subway stop and our rehearsal space was "Blacktop." You hit the nail on the head as far as the drug reference; the dependency / addiction is to attention or a fear of being left out of the cool kids' club, maybe?

How is it different finding musical collaborators now, compared with 10-20 years ago?
All of the musical collaborations I've been a part of have come to me through people's familiarity with and love of Helmet (no pun intended!). Thanks to my late, brilliant friend Tim Carr, who tried to sign Helmet to Warner Bros back in 1991 for recommending me to Elliot Goldenthal (genius composer from N.Y.) for the movie Heat. Tim and Elliot saw early on that the guitar stuff I was doing had an orchestral quality. That connection came full circle last year as I performed with Elliot in Krakow, Poland as a member of Elliot's guitar ensemble for his "Tempest" suite at the Krakow Film Music Festival. That festival lead to me playing as a soloist with the Britt Festival Orchestra conducted by Teddy Abrams (Louisville Symphony Orchestra musical director). All of this is a long-winded way of explaining how early collaborations end up creating long-term musical relationships.

What happened between 1998 and 2004 that inspired the reformation of the band and the killer (and maybe underrated) album Size Matters?
I could write a book about that period of my life. I divorced my wife [and] got a call from David Bowie to play lead guitar on his Hours tour about four weeks after I left her. That was an incredible experience, as Bowie was a great musical hero. I then moved to L.A. a few months after the September 11 terrorist attacks, met my now-dear friend, monster drummer John Tempesta, and formed a new band in L.A. Jimmy Iovine phoned me one day and asked me to make a new Helmet album, so Johnny and I reformed Helmet with my dear pal / brother from another mother Chris Traynor. We had such a great time working together. Jimmy Iovine also got me going as a producer by introducing me to Gavin Rossdale, and I ended up producing Gavin's solo album Institute.


1) If you were to do a similar-styled redux album that you had to perform on tour, but had unlimited resources with regards to the musicians and stage production, what album would you pick?
The new Helmet album, Dead to the World.

2) Would you rather be sent back in time to be commissioned to write / record the score to Terminator or Big Trouble in Little China?
I'm not familiar with Big Trouble in Little China and don't remember much about Terminator or the score, but of the many amazing movies that inspired and influenced me, To Kill a Mockingbird will always stand out. The Elmer Bernstein score is one of the best ever.

One of the biggest reasons Helmet struck such a lasting chord with me beginning in the ’90s was that I was starting to see that punk and hardcore could have these great elements of rhythm and musicality to it. Finding Helmet was big for me. The rhythm and modality of the riffs were so awesome you could almost dance to it, but it was also heavy as shit. What kind of influences, musical and otherwise, informed the band in the beginning?
I got into this a bit in an earlier question, but can expound a bit more here. I've cited the influence of jazz and classical music on my writing and playing, Motown was also incredibly inspiring for me: Marvin, Stevie, Curtis, Smokey, the Spinners. I've been fortunate to meet amazing musicians over the last 27-plus years, including bassist T.M. Stevens (James Brown, Pretenders, Tina Turner et al), who told me Helmet is like a big bowl of ice cream, but when you dig in, there's spinach inside. Or Steve Jordan (Keith Richards, Eric Clapton, Blues Brothers, SNL), who said, "You guys are the only heavy 'metal' band that grooves." To me, the groove rules, and 3/4 over 4/4 grooves!

We've been a band for 15 years now, which already feels like a small eternity, so I'm curious to know what motivates you to keep creating music with Helmet almost 30 years later?
I love music and Helmet fills a part of my musical soul that nothing else can. When the band split up in 1998, I was content to move forward and call it a day. I formed a band called Gandhi with a bunch of drinking buddies in NYC; we had a good time, but when it came time to play gigs, we didn't have enough material for an entire set. The guys suggested we play some Helmet songs. I then realized I missed playing those songs, so getting back to writing Helmet songs happened naturally. I realized it was a huge, important part of my musical personality.

Our question is, what are the lyrics [to “He Feels Bad”] about? They are vague, but seem to also speak of a specific personal event … any insights appreciated.
Interesting choice for a cover. A great friend of mine, Jason Pettigrew, is the senior editor of Alternative Press. He's also a talented writer, and "He Feels Bad " is one of his favorite songs. I always found that perplexing, because the song was a bit of an experiment lyrically. I was writing around the sound of the words rather than trying to convey any kind of message. It contains no social commentary, no personal experience, and there is no narrative. This pisses some people off, especially music critics! It's not an attempt to write in a stream of consciousness style, and not really a collection of random images, which is another approach I've taken over the years. The song is kind of about nothing. It's possible I was watching a lot of Seinfeld when I wrote the song. A show about nothing, a song about nothing?

01 – I Am Become Death – “In the Meantime”
02 – Earthship – “Ironhead”
03 – Ironweed – “Give It”
04 – Sunflo’er – “Unsung”
05 – KEN mode – “Turned Out”
06 – Kings Destroy – “He Feels Bad”
07 – Meek Is Murder – “Better”
08 – Ironweed – “You Borrowed”
09 – The Glorious Rebellion – “FBLA II”
10 – Fuck the Facts – “Role Model”

11 – Fashion Week – “I Know”
12 – Rosetta – “Like I Care”
13 – Livver – “Sinatra”
14 – Heads. – “Blacktop”
15 – BlackWolfGoat – “Bad Mood”
16 – Brief Lives – “Milquetoast”