A few years ago, Helmet-linchpin Page Hamilton reportedly lost whatever remaining goodwill he possessed in the world when he announced — wait for it — a Helmet band camp. Not a dedicated page on the Bandcamp website, but an actual summer camp where you or your 16-year-old self could go with an Epiphone Les Paul in hand and learn how to imitate the 90s noise-rock pioneers. Apparently, it aimed to provide its happy campers with “large seminars” on “Helmet music theory 101” and “small group classes for guitarists, singers, bass players & drummers to explore the Helmet chord vocabulary.” Whether it would address the question of originality, or of finding an audience (or living) for yourself as a musician when your band is indistinguishable from the 100 other Helmet wannabes in America, wasn’t actually mentioned in Hamilton’s initial announcement of the camp, but you can at least imagine that everyone involved ended up having a good time as they discussed the intricacies of band fights, breakups, and reunion tours.
Well, we may laugh, but it seems as though the members of the Miami-based Wrong are actually one of the few attendees of the Helmet Fantasy Camp who’ve been able to turn their finger exercises and midnight hazing into the beginnings of a career in juiced-up noise metal. Having previously passed through such establishments as Kylesa and Torche, Eric Hernandez, Brian Hernandez, Andres Ascanio, and Ryan Haft took an inspirational pitstop at the camp in the summer of 2014, before forming themselves into an outfit that was quickly signed to Relapse Records in 2015. Clearly, all their tireless work in running through the Helmet-Band-Camp pressure cooker paid off, since aside from this record deal and their possession of a diploma in Page Hamilton studies, they’ve now hit the airwaves with their self-titled debut.
And, really, Page Hamilton would be proud of his students, because this debut really does sound just like Helmet. New oldies such as hulking opener “More Like” and flurried single “Turn In” wield the kind of stop-start syncopated riffing and atonal shredding that made Strap It On and Meantime classics of their incipient genre. What’s incredible is that frontman Eric Hernandez even offers a mightily convincing impression of Page Hamilton, all-but nailing the very timbre and pitch of Mr Helmet’s voice in the charging “Read… Erase” and doing much the same for his teacher’s barking, staccato, pissed-off delivery in the meter-shifting “Humdrum.” With such carefully studied tributes, it’s almost as if Helmet have reformed for a second time, with a new, angrier iteration complementing the version of the band being fronted by Hamilton himself.
But in all seriousness, listen to the intro/verse of “Wrong” and then listen to the verse of “FBLA II” from Meantime. The similarities are so uncanny that Page Hamilton would probably be tempted to launch a Led-Zeppelin-style lawsuit if Wrong and Wrong become a success, despite the obvious caveat that he organized his own band camp and basically encouraged people to plagiarize his work1. Neither is Wrong’s obvious indebtedness to him mitigated by the claim that they play a slightly “heavier and charged up” version of 90s noise rock, which as a claim reminds us of just how far consumerist logic has penetrated into the world of art, reducing music to the level of a new smartphone that justifies its existence by being “faster,” “more powerful,” and “lighter” than its predecessors.
In case you haven’t already guessed, Wrong is that new smartphone, dressed up as rock music. It may boast occasional moments of arresting intensity, and the hard-edged melodiousness of “High Chair” may hint at a less mimetic future, but for the most part, it’s hard to get over the impression that it’s too similar to the models that came before it. That’s probably why you’re better off waiting for next year’s update. Apparently, it will be the best one ever.
1. I say “caveat,” but it’s highly likely that Hamilton’s assent to hosting a Helmet band camp was predicated on the idea that not one of its students would actually ever go on to forge a lucrative career ripping him off, thereby potentially depriving him of moolah and attention.