Unsung: The Best of Helmet (1991-1997)


    As soon as I threw this album on, I was immediately transported into a not-so-distant past; a past when “heavy” music was menacing and vital, not whiny and pre-packaged. It was bands like Helmet that made me and a lot of other people love and appreciate the art of aggressive playing. Unfortunately, a lot of those “other people” went on to dilute the art by way of cheap imitation, and, well, now we are in need of Helmet again. This anthology can help us remember why these guys had more relation to groups such as Ministry and that jagged, emotionally violent rip-face context than the whiny “I wish my mommy loved me more” bullshit that passes for aggressive music today. All those fucking nu-metal bands owe everything to Helmet anyway.


    OK, no more soapbox. Right from the start, songs such as “Repetition” bring back the feel of what aggressive music was when there was a real, tangible savagery to stop/start rhythms and crazy, angry vocals right up in your face without having that lame, slacker-gen, baggy-pants, hip-slop bullshit as an excuse to half-ass the music. Page Hamilton had the tight-ass tunings, rhythms and jazz style and still threw down every bit as good a groove as these “hybrid” bands.

    The first four tracks, which were culled from Helmet’s debut EP, 1991’s Strap It On, highlight this fact, showing where the melodic aggro masters who wrote 1997’s Aftertaste started: a darker, dirtier, once again savage unit of purely assaulting force. The earlier tracks show a place in the history of aggressive music that stands as the working link between the era of Black Flag and the era of Ministry. Helmet is punk aesthetic honed by the Gnostic math of jazz influence and industrial rhythms, yet without the machines (despite that drummer John Stanier could be considered a machine, as no matter what the man does it tends to be spot-on accurate).

    This is the sound of thick, face-fucking guitars slapping your id off of underground concrete walls. And yeah, that’s a good thing.

    All of the group’s albums are represented here, with tracks like “In the Meantime” and “Unsung” highlighting the second stage of the band’s raw beginnings and “Wilma’s Rainbow” and “I Know” from 1994’s Betty showing the beginnings of Hamilton’s swing into more textured, epic and melodious territory that would culminate on the aforementioned Aftertaste, truly one of the best “heavy” albums ever released.

    The collection includes nice perks, like the Helmet/House of Pain collaboration “Just Another Victim” from the Judgment Night soundtrack and “Disagreeable” from the film Chicago Cab, surely a lesser-known item from the group’s canon.

    To close, let’s just look at the fact that Hamilton has regrouped, reunited with Chris Traynor and made some new friends in the form of Rob Zombie’s rhythm section of John Tempesta and Rob Nicholson, and arrived not a moment to soon to save heavy music from itself by kicking in the listener’s teeth. I don’t know about you, but I was getting a little too comfortable with my teeth, anyway. I’m glad to receive the blessing of Helmet.

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