Modern Metal with a Sabbath Touch: Helmsplitter, January 13 at RIBCO Print
Music - Feature Stories
Written by Jeff Ignatius   
Wednesday, 11 January 2012 09:44

Metal often skates by on aggression and technical chops, and it rarely creates drama. The Quad Cities quartet Helmsplitter, on its debut Storms of Genocide – for which the band will perform a CD-release show Friday at RIBCO – nails the requisite fury and dark majesty while also capturing that elusive elevating quality.

I’m not suggesting that Helmsplitter is transcendent. The album’s first four tracks are “Lions to the Lamb,” “Salvation Through Impurity,” “Damnation’s Children,” and “Warchrist” – the names of which might have been spit out by the Random Metal Song Title Generator. And if those labels turn you off, the music therein is unlikely to do much for you, either.

But within the black- and death-metal constraints (and I admit I’m not fully up on the distinctions), the concise album – eight studio cuts over 30 minutes, plus a live add-on – does a lot right. The band frequently hits a martial groove, shifts and tempo changes rarely feel arbitrary, and throughout there’s a good balance between unholy noise and accessible hooks. Half the songs are only three minutes long, and they’re generally dense, developed, and constantly developing. While the aesthetic elements of the music are essentially static from track to track, each song snakes from place to place, bringing the album to life.

Truth be told, it’s surprising I like Storms of Genocide as much as I do. Blakk’s purely guttural vocals (standard issue in several metal subgenres) are of course intentionally unpleasant on the ears, but more importantly they inherently lack shading and variation. Helmsplitter mitigates this with two vocal styles – one on the low end and one on the high. This doesn’t fully overcome the natural limitations of the style, but it adds enough diversity to make things interesting.

And there are abundant pleasures elsewhere. “Tonight We Ride” churns until Bruce Duncan’s bass leads a gallop near the halfway point, and the band just charges forward for 50 seconds – a mindless adrenaline rush over a disciplined flurry of Nate Boyd’s drums. Ross Mallie’s central riffs on “Lions to the Lamb” and “Warchrist” are Black Sabbath big and foreboding. On the latter, the guitarist’s unforeshadowed high notes near the end of the song – they almost sound like mistakes – are jarringly effective. The guitar break of “Damnation’s Children,” on the other hand, is bright and tuneful – another Sabbath nod showing that the band isn’t interested in extremity for extremity’s sake.

With its vocal style and jackhammer rhythms, Storms of Genocide is certainly drawn from modern underground-metal styles. But it really excels when it looks further into the past, drawing from the genre’s earliest pioneers to create welcome nuance, texture, and connection.

Helmsplitter will perform a CD-release show on Friday, January 13, at RIBCO (1815 Second Avenue in Rock Island). Cover for the 9 p.m. show is $5, and the bill also includes Enabler, Pear Device, and Vermillion.

For more information on Helmsplitter, visit

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