Helmet’s BETTY: 20 Years Ago Today

Limited Edition Blue Jewel Case Version

On this date in 1994, Helmet (@Helmetmusic) would create what would arguably end up as their creative masterpiece.

Whether or not you agree with that statement, it cannot be denied that Betty is by far the bravest and most experimental offering from within their catalogue.

Releasing this album as the follow-up to commercial and critical darling, Meantime, was a straight-up ballsy move.

Perhaps, the degree of confidence the band were operating under at the time is why the album continues to hold up to this day.

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After wrapping up a collaboration with House of Pain (@houseofpain1) for the Judgment Night soundtrack in 1993, Helmet seemed bit by the rap bug.

Drummer John Stanier was already a noted fan of hip-hop music and his familiarity with the genre may have also played a role in selecting producer T-Ray to helm the Betty sessions.

T-Ray would eventually go on to win several Grammy Awards for his production work with Santana and Ozomatli (@ozomatli) but at the time, he was primarily working with the likes of the Soul Assassins crew, cutting a lot of records for the likes of Cypress Hill (@cypresshill) and Funkdoobiest.

Nowadays, T-Ray (legal name Todd Ray) runs a damn freak show that is the subject of its own reality television program. DAFUQ???

But that’s another story…

Not many people are aware that Betty is the album that allowed T-Ray to get his foot in the door of the rock universe.

I guess in a weird way, we can sorta blame Page Hamilton for that shitty Santana / Rob Thomas (@ThisIsRobThomas) song through association.

Given that this was T-Ray‘s first professional foray into rock music, all of his rap hallmarks remain on full display.

The piercing crack of the piccolo-sounding snare, the massive boom of the bass-heavy kick.. it is obvious that Stanier is beating the hell out of his drums on these recordings but it sounds like he’s playing a rap kit from the early 90s (albeit one that doesn’t sound thin as shit).

And his drums really drive this album.

Have a peek at the intro to “I Know” just before it dives into the heaviest thing ever:

Bassist Henry Bogdan, the most unsung (no pun intended) member of the classic Helmet line-up, is also in rare form here, as he seems to be given a lot more freedom to deviate from following the guitar on this record.

He also earned two co-writing credits here, one of them for one of their weirdest songs:

I would also argue that the often buzz-heavy bass tone on Betty is fairly unique, especially for the the genre during the era of the early-to-mid 90s.

Rap music is very bass-and-drum heavy and being rooted in that foundation allowed for other areas of focus to shine as bright as the guitars usually tend to.

Don’t get me wrong – as with all Helmet records, it’s all about the riffs.

But whereas many rock records treat the more percussive instruments as supporting ones, T-Ray managed to spotlight Hamilton, Bogdan, and Stanier as individuals, with each component being no more vital than the other.

Speaking of Hamilton, his jazz training typically comes across by way of odd time signatures and unique bar phrasing on his rock recordings.

But on this record, he introduces an instrumental piece entitled “Beautiful Love” written by Dizzy Gillespie. And then it gets all Helmet-y at the end.

Betty is also notable for being the only Helmet album to employ a wide variety of vocal effects, most notably on “Biscuits for Smut”.

There were a lot of chances taken on this record at a time when the band was being affixed with “next-big-thing” labels and unrealistic expectations from jerk-off record executives like Jimmy Iovine.

Although critics highly praised the effort, it was a commercial flop, with many fans seemingly expecting Meantime II.

When Helmet contributed the Butch Vig produced “Milktoast” (renamed as “Milquetoast” on the Betty pressings) to the Crow soundtrack, it doubled as a teaser single for the forthcoming Betty, due to drop a month after the release of the film.

What resulted was an album created with eyes forward rather than a comfortable attempt at standing still.

Three years later, Helmet would release Aftertaste, an album that was more in line with fans’ expectations.

However, after going so far left on their previous effort, to be constrained by old band tropes proved too much and the band split shortly thereafter.

The band has since reunited with an ever-evolving cast (Hamilton being the only remaining original member) but have yet to produce a work on par with the quality of their 90s output.

Betty has been looked upon much more favourably in hindsight by the Helmet fanbase.

Most likely because they are now able to compare it against the likes of Seeing Eye Dog.

For me, though, it is an album that has stayed in my rotation for two decades now. And I’ve called it my all-time favourite since practically day one.

* Fun fact: the record was mixed by the god, Andy Wallace.

HELMET '94 L-R: Bogdan, Stanier, touring guitarist Rob Echeverria, Hamilton

HELMET ’94
L-R: Bogdan, Stanier, Rob Echeverria, Hamilton

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OtherBetty Videos

Wilma’s Rainbow

Biscuits for Smut 

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