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April 12, 2004

{     UNSUNG: The Best of Helmet (1991-1997)     }    

I still remember the first time I heard Helmet's "In the Meantime", more than 11 years ago. The song was just that good, and it had the right combination of hook, rhythm and heavy to make me run right out and buy the album. I was also 17 years old, so that kind of thing appealed to me on a visceral level, tapping into my need for something loud, hard and aggressive. While all of that was brewing in my gut, there was something else going on upstairs in my brain. The jazz-inspired arrangements of band-leader Page Hamilton were meeting their match with the mad-mathemagician production of Steve Albini and the end product was something that was as mentally stimulating as it was physically devastating. Hardcore underground noise rock was being transformed into mainstream math-rock without losing any of it's punch or credibility and I was hooked. This album covers that evolution and showcases many of the band's finest moments, including their prophetic collaboration with House of Pain that would serve as a harbinger of darker times to come.... The aforementioned House of Pain/Helmet track, "Just Another Victim", appeared on the soundtrack to the 1993 film Judgement Night. While the film was a flop, the soundtrack- which united rock bands with rap groups in what was a bold and innovative move at the time- was a huge success. So successful in fact that just a couple of years later an entirely new genre of music was born whose aim it was to capture the heaviness of rock and the street credibility of rap, blending them into the honky-riffic hoe-down that would come to be known as nu-metal or rap-rock. (Thanks a lot Judgement Night soundtrack, you fucking dickwad.) Though nobody blames Helmet for influencing the plague of talentless douchebags that continue to crank out and sell millions of albums to gangsta wannabe suburban white kids, it's hard to deny where ass-clowns like Limp Bizkit and P.O.D. have drawn their inspiration from. The liner notes to UNSUNG discuss this phenomenon with quotes from Helmet's peers at the time, and a single re-listening of "Just Another Victim" and the other tracks on UNSUNG will convince you that the Linkin Korn Bizkits of the world have wasted entire careers trying to reclaim the energy and creativity of a single song while pillaging the guitar and drum lines of the rest of Helmet's discography to do so. Does that ruin my appreciation of this band or their music? No. That would be the equivalent of despising David Bowie and Queen because some cockcheese stole the bass line to "Under Pressure" a couple decades later and turned it into "Ice, Ice, Baby". I did lose interest in hard music once Helmet left the scene, falling back on punk and stoner rock to get me through the lean rap-rock years. It took me a while to get back in touch with my metal roots after watching the whole scene just flush itself down the toilet. It also took some really abraisive shit (ala Converge, The Blood Brothers) and some devastating heaviness (ala Mastodon, High on Fire, Disfear) as well as the coaxing of a good friend (Aaron Zimmerman) to get me to even dip my toe back in those waters. Having plunged back into that ocean of heaviness, I'm happy to find Helmet still holds up, that the music is still relevant and that 10 years later they finally have some company amongst the ranks of intelligent metal.

     » Buy UNSUNG: The Best of Helmet (1991-1997) for $10.97 free shipping

By Adam in Music


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