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Helmet frontman goes cinematic

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Sandwiched in the middle of the jagged, jazz-metal salvos on Helmet’s latest album “Seeing Eye Dog” is a sonic oddity — “Morphing,” a dark, lush instrumental that combines spooky samples with no less than 10 separate guitar tracks.

“I’m sure 14-year-old Helmet fans are bummed out about it, because they’re like, ‘I just wanna rock!’” says band songwriter/founder Page Hamilton. “To which I respond that it’s my job to open their minds a little bit.”

The dirge flickers cinematically for good reason — film soundtracks are where he’s been busy moonlighting for the past 15 years.

It all began by accident, says Hamilton, 50, who brings his recently rejuvenated group to the Bay Area on Friday.

In the mid-1990s, after Helmet had turned heads with its trailblazing “Strap It On” and “Meantime,” the in-demand guitarist was referred to Oscar-winning movie composer Elliot Goldenthal, who was searching for new colors and textures in his work.

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He rolled the dice on Hamilton and put him to work on the score for Michael Mann’s brutal “Heat.” The partnership took off; soon the musician was assisting on Hollywood productions like “S.W.A.T.,” “Catwoman” and “In Dreams.”

Hamilton also adds guitar tones to the panoramic dramas of Goldenthal’s significant other, Julie Taymor, like “Titus” and her upcoming take on Shakespeare’s “The Tempest.”

“I love Julie and Elliot — I’m so flattered and honored that they like what I do,” says the man who’s systematically mastered sampling, synthesizers, orchestration, even computer programming to enhance his sound-sculpting abilities.

Most of the former New Yorker’s ideas are captured in his L.A. home studio, which occupies his entire living room. “You walk into my house, and there’s no place to relax, really,” he says. “It’s just where I work, sleep and eat.”

Being Goldenthal’s hired gun is a win-win situation. Hamilton has been free to turn down projects he wasn’t enjoying. The rest of the time, he says, “I’m kind of like the hero — I’m the guy doing this weird, cool guitar stuff and there’s no pressure, because I’m not the composer or the producer. I’m not anything, really — I’m just doing my job.”

“Morphing” was initially created to accompany a nine-minute gunfight in “S.W.A.T.” — Hamilton merely expanded on the theme with Helmet.

Still, he has no illusions. “When you finally hear your music in a movie, the guitar is often just a sound effect, mixed low,” he says. “But all these other musical things that I do keep me inspired, so when I sit down to write a Helmet album, I feel really good about it.”

IF YOU GO
Helmet
Where:
The Uptown, 1928 Telegraph Ave., Oakland
When: 9 p.m. Friday
Tickets: $15
Contact: www.ticketweb.com

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