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Unsung: The Best of Helmet (1991-1997)

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Album Review

Four guys who looked like they had just punched out after running the batting cages at Softball City & Put-Putt-a-Rama: that's the type of image Helmet cut on-stage. The noise they generated did not fit the (lack of) image. How could such an unpleasant sound come from people who looked so reasonable? The band spent the early years slumming it with the likes of Unsane and Surgery, fellow New York bands that fit the jockish/bookish postcollegiate look and picked up where Big Black left off. By the time the group began to make an impression on more than the noise rock underground, thanks to what resulted from a major-label deal, their sound had developed from a scummy grind to a very precise and diabolical din — full of martial barks, jackhammering drums, rumbling bass, and some of the most brilliant IQ-lowering guitar riffs since Black Sabbath's first four albums. In their wake, they left five full-lengths and a legion of bands that decided to make a soufflé with them and the Red Hot Chili Peppers as the primary ingredients. Many of these bands went platinum and wound up on MTV Cribs. So 2004 was a good time as any for a compilation of the group's best work to appear. There are few gripes that can be made about what was selected for inclusion; a handful of tracks come from each of the band's proper studio albums, most of which were patchy but not short on gloriously skull-cracking moments. Longtime followers — meaning those who bought Meantime after seeing "Unsung" on MTV, went back and bought the uglier old stuff, and then stayed along for the years of decreasing power — will want this for the reminder and the improved sound. And if a dollar still seems too much to shell out for the Judgment Night and Feeling Minnesota soundtracks, the thriftiness has paid off; while not up with the band's best work, the House of Pain collabo "Just Another Victim" and "Disagreeable" are also included.


Formed: 1989 in New York, NY

Genre: Rock

Years Active: '80s, '90s, '00s, '10s

Like many influential bands, Helmet were born out of an unusual set of influences. Oregon-born guitarist and founder Page Hamilton had actually moved to New York City to study jazz, but found inspiration in the late '80s through post-punk acts Sonic Youth, Killing Joke, and Big Black, and envisioned a group that combined then-unusual tunings (particularly dropped D) with uneven and jazz-like time signatures and harmonies. The result was Helmet, the East Coast's answer to Seattle's then-underground...
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Unsung: The Best of Helmet (1991-1997), Helmet
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