When the hard and heavy New York quartet Helmet played the Troubadour on Wednesday, long-haired metal fanatics, nerdy college kids and skinheads in shirts that read "Full Boar Hardcore" bobbed their heads in unison to the band's undulating mass of organized mayhem.
It was a visual reminder of how this aggressive group, which pumps out an adrenaline-producing vibe, has crushed the boundaries between bonehead metal, experimental underground and hard-core genres. The reason for Helmet's wide-ranging appeal is simple: The band offers a challenging and intelligent alternative to straight-ahead hard rock.
If Helmet had a motto, it would simply be control . Helmet's leader, singer-songwriter-guitarist Page Hamilton, played textural walls of guitar noise behind assertive and disciplined riffs.
Hamilton, a product of New York's improvisational noise scene, injects Ozzy-like vocals and gut-level screams that betray his boy-next-door looks. The slamming, highly disciplined sound is somewhere between Black Flag and early Sabbath.
Even lengthy guitar solos were a joy, a rarity in an age of shapeless feedback. Skewed guitar tuning and tight stop-and-go rhythms gave the group's dense sound a precision, almost mechanical edge. These guys may well be hard-rock's hope for the '90s.
Helmet plays UC Irvine's Crawford Hall on Saturday.