Some bands employ orchestras, huge choruses, soaring vocals and all manner of melodic niceties; Plymouth-based trio Helpless are resolutely not one of these bands and on debut album Debt, they serve up a platter of nasty power-violence, grind and hardcore with a crust thicker than the Earth; this is the sound of baseball bats with nails in them, of bricks thrown through windows and good old nihilism.
From the outset, the album refuses to let the listener get comfortable; it grinds, snarls and occasionally blasts a cacophony that, frankly, three people should not be able to make. This is music as catharsis, conveying a deep abiding sense of rage and despair throughout its barely 40 minute runtime. Bar closer ‘Denied Sale’, barely a handful of songs make it past the three minutes marker. The band draw heavily from hardcore stalwarts such as Converge as well as other relative newcomers, with definite similarities to Nails.
Helpless also eschew more traditional song structures, favouring dissonance and atonality giving the impression of a more stream-of-consciousness approach with each track a tight blast of white-hot aural fury. Opener ‘Worth’ sets the tone at a blink-and-you’ll-miss-it minute and a half runtime, delivering a punishing statement of intent before an abrupt end and chucking the listener headlong into ‘Out of Commission’, showcasing the band’s ability to use dissonance to create distinctly uncomfortable soundscapes that lurch sickeningly towards a violent conclusion. There is a definite trend to ending songs without warning before hurtling recklessly into the next blast of atonal noise and Debt Is all the more memorable for it; this is a strength of the songwriting that Helpless exploit incredibly well.
Sixth track ‘Weightless Prayers’ is a particularly memorable example, showcasing Helpless’ sound in all of two and a half minutes; opening with dissonant chords and furious screams, the song swiftly morphs to a very brief blasted quieter passage before upping the ante with a return to dissonant chords and higher shrieks; around the 1.30 mark the song slows down to a real crawl and we get a real taste of despair with the guitars striking jarring notes that just feel wrong, evoking the feeling you’re hearing the anguish of the forgotten and the downtrodden.
If there is criticism to be levelled at such a promising debut it’s that the songs themselves don’t seem to stick particularly well, even on repeat listens, given that the band stay about as far away from hooks and melody as they possibly can; but then, the record doesn’t feel like it’s designed this way. Debt feels like catharsis, like raw emotion, unfiltered, simply channelled through the members themselves.
The album boasts a far more robust production than might be expected of something so clearly aimed at a particular niche and designed to be indigestible. Despite the heavy distortion and dissonance, the bass is crisp and clearly audible, guitars cut like buzzsaws without losing any intensity, the vocals sound cavernous without sounding like they were recorded in a cavern, and drums, whilst the snare isn’t exactly crisp, don’t get lost in the mix or shoved to the fore as can be the case with more extreme offerings.
Quite frankly, three people shouldn’t be able to make this level of unholy racket, but Helpless manage it and manage it well – this is an debut with plenty of promise for the future, and one that sounds like the band are only just getting started.
Check out: Worth, Weightless Prayers, Denied Sale