Savage. It’s a word often used to describe metal, but so rarely does one hear music which actually embodies the term. Gaza was the exception. With their vicious, howling aggression that combined noise, sludge, and hardcore, the Utah troupe were the equivalent of being bludgeoned with a cement block and then flayed with a rusty pair of scissors – all while lecturing listeners about social injustice and the futility of faith in a higher power. The group would later split and reform as Cult Leader to perfect their formula on 2015’s Lightless Walk, an album which I loved at the time and has aged so well that it will almost certainly get an “Underrated” writeup if I ever get around to doing my own Contrite Metal Guy piece.
Lo and behold, two years later another act has emerged that’s more than worthy of the “savage” descriptor. The band is Helpless, a U.K.-based trio who formed the same year as Walk and released their debut self-titled EP just two months prior. With debut full-length Debt, will Helpless prove themselves torchbearers of savagery or be left paying pennies to their influences?
Fortunately, the answer is very much the former. If I were looking for a way to market Helpless, I would describe them as a combination of the brutal rage of Nails with the wild noise of Anaal Nathrakh – yet perhaps a more accurate description is simply “a grindier Gaza.” Like them, Helpless’s lifeblood is dissonance. Sharp chords pile atop sharp chords, barreling forward on loose rhythms that morph from merciless stomps to charging blasts, all while vocalist Dan Couch roars and screams like he’s about to swallow the world. It’s violent, it’s crushing, it’s loud – but most notably, it doesn’t feel forced. Right from the swirling mania and abrasive riffs of opener “Worth” to the Leader-esque stampede of late highlight “Manufactured Consent,” it’s clear this group truly feel the rage they’re peddling.
Fitting their vicious attitude, Debt is lean and bullshit-free. This is very much a grindcore record in construction, with a 22 minute runtime comprised of 10 tracks that sit comfortably in the one to two-minute range. Songs move frantically between ideas, punctuating dissonant outbursts with slight twists to keep things interesting. Take aforementioned “Worth,” whose final seconds morph into a locktight chug that’s almost certain to get one’s head pounding. Likewise, “Out of Commission” and “Sertaline” briefly diverge from Debt’s typical chord-based riffs to deliver explosive flurries of open notes, with “Sertaline” augmenting its attack by tossing in a couple measures where the drums blast in the absence of guitar. “Ceremony of Innocence” takes further cues from Gaza with a quick glimpse of the band’s apocalyptic post-rock, while the sludgy lurch of “Weightless Prayers” could fool even the staunchest ‘za fan into thinking it’s a lost He Is Never Coming Back B-side.
These moments are brief, but they do add power to Helpless’s attack. In fact, if there’s any negative to be said here, it’s that they don’t go far enough. For as good as the band are at capturing the merciless chaos of their influences, expanding a bit more on these musical forays would give the group more character and make them a more interesting band. Fortunately, despite the fact Debt is about as brickwalled as your local fire station, the production works with the album’s brevity and pummeling nature, and the mix still offers enough room for the thick molten bass to be heard rumbling beneath it all. Equally enticing, however, is when the instrument emerges from its supporting role on closer “Denied Sale,” a five-minute sludgebomb of a track whose main loping bassline staggers forward like a hospital patient emerging into a post-apocalyptic wasteland.
As the song culminates with shrill guitar-bashing, the final message is clear: Debt is more than a homage to Gaza and Cult Leader, it is an expulsion of vitriol, an aural depiction of wretched disgust that adds a frenetic grindcore edge to an already compelling sonic palette. At this point Helpless may be a bit one-dimensional, but it’s a good dimension to inhabit, and one which will no doubt entice fans of The Secret, Call of the Void, or even All Pigs Must Die. Make no mistake: this is worthy of the savage name.
DR: 4 | Format Reviewed: 192 kbps mp3
Label: Holy Roar Records
Websites: helplessband.bandcamp.com | helplessnoise.com | facebook.com/helplessnoise
Releases Worldwide: September 8th, 2017