At a brisk 21 minutes and 40 seconds, Plymouth-based merchants of savagery Helpless are perfectly capable of making a ferocious introduction in a very short space of time. Two years after the release of their debut 4-track self-titled EP, the band are ready to drop their debut album 'Debt' upon an unsuspecting world through Holy Roar Records on 8th September, but you can hear the record in all it's brutal glory 4 days before official release below, exclusively on The Independent.
Helpless formed in 2015 when vocalist/guitarist Dan Couch and bassist Steve Waldron’s previous grindcore project Godsick disbanded. Searching for a drummer to start something new, they asked their friend Russell 'Rusty' Cleave, former guitarist in local underground heroes Brotherhood of the Lake, if he knew anyone that could match the merciless unholy racket they were making behind the kit. Rusty immediately made his own talents as a drummer known and one of the most nihilistic, savage amalgams of extreme music this country has ever produced was born. 'I quite like extremes in music' says Dan in one of the understatements of the year. 'We tend to just pack as much as we can into 2 and a half minutes, which is a formula that seems to be working out well for us.'
There's a startling amalgam of extreme styles in 'Debt'; elements of grindcore, death metal, hardcore and post metal coalesce to form an unruly hybrid that's constantly shifting whilst still sounding cohesive. There's even subtle nods to black metal atmospherics as Dan explains, 'I love having an oppressive atmosphere that has an ethereal feel to it, which we then try to mould into our own style. That juxtaposition of elegant chord patterns played in an aggressive way is something I've always loved because there's an ambiguity there; it's beautiful and violent at the same time.'
What helps elevate Helpless above the rest of the powerviolence pack is their influences; alongside the usual suspects of Gaza, Converge and Nails, the trio also site the likes of The Jesus Lizard, Melvins and Shellac as having a profound effect on their music. Nowhere is this more apparent than on the album's last song, an 'epic' that takes up almost a quarter of the album's running time (despite being a mere 5 minutes in length). Whilst the preceding 9 tracks steamroller their way into your auditory cortex, it's the dynamics and the subtleties of 'Denied Sale' that make it one of the heaviest songs on an album full of devastatingly heavy songs. 'When you're playing any form of aggressive music, some bands see any respite as a weakness in some respect' says Dan 'but we're not afraid to do that. I actually hated that song for quite a while; it's pretty much one bass-line that repeats throughout the entire thing but that's where our The Jesus Lizard influence comes in. They write a lot of songs where it's the same riff playing over and over throughout the song, but the guitars and drums do different things over the top so it doesn't feel repetitive.'
The lyrics match the music's vitriol with dystopian themes and motifs running rampant throughout, continuing a tradition that stretches back through rock music’s rich history – from Rush to Megadeth, from Muse to Fear Factory. Dan professes to being drawn to the prescience in science fiction’s best films and novels, referencing the holy triumvirate of Orwell’s 1984, Huxley’s Brave New World and Zamyatin’s We as having a huge impact on the lyrics on ‘Debt’. ‘I’m interested in the foresight those authors had in their novels’ he says, ‘the obvious parallels between their predictions and what’s happening now in the present. Those novels remain relevant, some of them arguably more so now than ever. The references to totalitarian governments; we see that now in North Korea and look what's happening in America right now. I was writing these lyrics around Brexit and there were a lot of parallels to be drawn there, particularly the misinformation that we're fed through media, TV and politicians.’
Dan provided us with an exclusive track-by-track guide to 'Debt' and the themes that lie within:
There’s a lot of social pressure to acquire wealth, as a means to determine success. Financial stability is obviously important but I see far too much focus on that; mental stability is much more important to me and working s**tty jobs drives me mad. We’re like magpies collecting shiny objects. The pressure that is felt usually amounts to people giving up on pursuing their interests, in order to chase financial gain. I’ve seen it happen to friends and family and it’s a terrible thing. Define your own worth and burn the Bank of England.
Out of Commission
Anxiety and depression can be completely debilitating; leaving the house becomes a total chore and you lose interest in the things you love. Sometimes the only person who can get you out of that state is yourself. It’s a constant internal battle. You have to purge certain thought patterns in order to move forward.
Social media platforms are horrid places to involve yourself in generally. If it wasn’t for bands’ involvement on those sites, I wouldn’t have one myself. I still remember my own reluctance to get a Myspace page all those years ago. But I’ve made a lot of friends through those sites, so it’s a blessing and a curse. Self-loathing and narcissism bond in unholy matrimony inside the mutual approval machine.
The struggle of questioning your own morality and the morals of others, how we make it up as we go along and how some will conform to the ideas of others for fear of blacklist or argument or outcast - both left and right, religious and atheist. Humanity is a massive grey area. I was reading Nietzsche’s ‘Genealogy Of Morals’ around the time of writing that song, as well as Jon Ronson’s ‘So You’ve Been Publicly Shamed’, which really highlighted the mob mentality that comes with social media. People take on the role of judge, jury and executioner online.
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I was on anti-depressants for a bit and depression is something that I've dealt with since I was a kid. I stopped taking anti-depressants around the time of writing this song. I wasn't on them for very long and I understand they work for some people but I realised that they weren't really working for me. My feelings plateaued; I didn't have the highs or the lows and that felt worse to me than being depressed if I'm honest. I felt like a shell of a human being on them. Antidepressants are depressing.
If there is a god, they’re not listening to you. Seize the day before you live to regret it.
Ceremony of Innocence
This is mainly about the habits and rituals we reluctantly perform on a daily basis to get through social situations; it’s a chaotic play that we’re thrown into and some of us never went to drama school, but we’re forced to act. Keep your roles and responsibilities few and you can avoid a lot of bulls**t.
Mondays are fine, it’s your job that sucks. Quit now.
Governments profess their desire for unity, but serve us division. I was reading a lot of dystopian sci-fi whilst writing this album and the novel ‘We’ by Yevgeny Zamyatin particularly influenced these lyrics. Our blind patriotism, our willingness to serve, the ‘you have nothing to fear if you have nothing to hide’ mantra - it’s f**king ridiculous. The way the political and social climate is now just confirms how prophetic those dystopian novels can be and how easily manipulated we all are.
Reproduction is the most natural animal process there is, other than eating and sh**ting. Both involve the consumption of fluids and result in the excretion of materials unwanted by the body. At least that’s how I think about the whole ordeal.
Debt, the debut album from Helpless is out through Holy Roar Records in the UK and distributed through Deathwish in the US on the 8th September and is available to pre-order now. Helpless play dates in Nottingham, Leeds and Manchester on the 8th, 9th, and 10th of September.
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