Helmet formed in New York City as Page Hamilton (vocals/guitar) with Henry Bogdan (bass), Peter Mengede (guitar) and John Stanier (drums) in 1989.
Helmet was acclaimed as a thinking person's heavy metal band. However, they have been criticized by some for creating or paving the way for Nu Metal. Their music was characterized by repetitive, sludgy, and dissonant riffs often augmented by a chorus that involved guitar feedback waves. Hamilton was hailed as arguably the most innovative metal guitarist of the 1990's. In late 1998 the band broke up and the members moved on to several other projects. John Stanier went on to play drums for Tomahawk, The Mark of Cain and Battles. Page Hamilton played guitar on releases by David Bowie and briefly formed the band Gandhi.
~From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia.
This album is not a greatest hits collection, because Helmet only had 2 or 3 hit songs. This is more of a career retrospective. This collection is not just throw together by the record label to milk some more money out of the band, for example the recent guns n’ roses best of, or Muchas gracias : The best of Kyuss. This album is endorsed by the band, and even features liner notes with Page Hamilton. The review will be split up into sections covering the different albums and phases of Helmet.
Strap it on: 1-4
The collection starts out the same way the first L.P. did, you are blindsided by Repetition , Which is noisy and abrasive, just like helmet, there really is no better way to get acquainted with the start stop chaos that’s is page Hamilton’s guitar playing, and rambunctious vocals. Next you get FBLA and Bad Mood , the former being about Hamilton’s disdain for the music industry. The last cut off of, Strap it on is Sinatra, this song is covered by the Deftones on there recently released B-sides album. This is a good taste of the raw side of Helmet, only slightly hampered by the poor production; even after being re-mastered they are still muddy, but not anywhere near un-listenable.
This set of songs is off there second album, Meantime. No less angry, and noisy, these songs are much cleaner and better produced. The new found clarity seems to get the message of Hamiltons shouted vocals across that much better. The 1st track, In The Meantime was produced by one of my personal favorite producers Steve Albini, (formally of the band Big Black), and features chugging riffs corrosive vocals, simplistic and strait forward, unless you listen closely and hear the guitar feedback in the background. Hamilton is a master of feedback. The next track Iron Head is fast, powerful and has a groove that most heavy music is missing. It features one of the most spastic solos around. Next comes Give it which features a nice crunchy bass intro, and features a very jazzy kind or swing feel to what is a very heavy song, with heavy lyrics:
“Killing hurts, but it has to be done. Peace and love…whose number one?"
The song starts slow but picks up towards the end with a cool solo, and some heavy riffing. This song starts off the melodic vocals that you will start to hear a lot more of as you progress through the Helmet catalog, or this CD for that mater. Next song is probably there biggest hit, which helped propel this album into platinum status, Unsung, this is arguably one of there best songs, it starts off with a very ominous bass line, which is then repeated by the guitar, then it stops and one of my favorite riffs of all time comes in, its one of the riffs that gets your toe tapping makes you do guitar noises with your mouth…you know kind of like:
Dun nah nah nuh nah nah dun nah nah dun nah nuh dun nuh nuh nuh nuh nah… sorry
This song is so simple but still so catchy, it features more melodic vocals, very sarcastic almost funny lyrics. Next is Better which starts with a very chunky riff and brings, back the shouted vocals your already used to, I personally don’t really think this should be on “The BEST of Helmet", I would have rather seen FBLA II. But it is a good song, that’s gets better(ha ha get it) as it goes along.
Soundtrack work: 10 + 16
I am going to go out of order here and just put the only two non album tracks together. First there is Just another victim, off of the Judgment night soundtrack, and feature House of Pain to add a little bit of spice to the song. This seemed to me when I bought the album to be a very weird mixture that couldn’t possibly work, but I was wrong. This is a well written song, on both the part of Helmet, and House of Pain, this actually got me interested in House of Pain, and sparked my very limited interest in rap. Next up there is the song Disagreeable, this song has a sound more akin to the last “original" Helmet album, Aftertaste. It is a very mellow song and probably the most strait forward, song on the album, although the lyrics seem kind of B!thchy, but I do think this is a really good song. It is from the movie Feeling Minnesota
Betty was the most experimental album in Helmets repertoire, but sadly it is not represented by any of the more unusual songs off of the album, but these are all good songs, but they really don’t give you a taste of the lighter side of Helmet. This collection starts out with one of my personal favorites Wilma’s Rainbow, which is in the same league as Unsung, a fairly simple very well written song, it features everything you could want fancy harmonics, groovy bass, and snarling sarcastic vocals, and a fierce riff, all capped off with a signature Page Hamilton style noise solo. The next songs are I Know and Milquetoast, nothing really special about the former a fairly standard song, but Milquetoast is one of Helmets most popular songs; to me it has very groovy sort of almost Black Crows-ish kind of feel to some parts. The next track Rollo is about as experimental as you will hear, with its jazz styled rhythm section work, and page Hamilton’s almost underwater wobbly sounding vocals. Overrated is another standard rocker from the guys.
Aftertaste: 17 – 21
The final chunk of the album covers the last “original" Helmet album, in my opinion this is a very underrated album, It’s not as strait-ahead heavy as the others, it’s a bit more refined in a way that, a lot of the coarse, shouted vocals have been replaced by the more melodic styled ones that the past few albums have been hinting at. But the guitar work seems just as loud and abrasive, and the crunchy more upfront bass from the betty album also come through. This album kind of brought together all of the previous elements of Helmet while almost fazing out the earlier “strap it on" elements.
This all starts out with Pure which is a good example of the more refined sound, things are a little cleaner, a little slower, but still just as angry and heartfelt as ever, a good song, but it lacks a solo. Renovation starts with a cool bass intro and goes into a heavy chord progression, with lyrics about a situation that just cant be fixed, a couple of nice solos tie things together, and if you listen closely in the background you get a little bit of classic Hamilton vocal fury. This next songLike I Care has probably the most of an old-style Strap it on, feel to it aside from the mellow vocals this song almost sounds like the very heavy, FBLA.
The next song is one of my personal favorites, its probably tied with Wilma’s rainbow, for favorite Helmet song, Driving Nowhere has a very mellow feel to it and its about having to much time on your hand, it has a couple of cool riffs, the intro/verse riff has some nice harmonics in it, and the chorus has a very simple but effective 3 chord progression, also some of my favorite lyrics, a perfect monotone delivery, and a very Jimi Hendrix style reversed guitar solo make this one of the best songs on the album. Then come one of my few complaints about the whole thing, Exactly What You Wanted is a good song but I don’t think it should be the song to close the album I think that honor should have went to the actual closer of aftertaste, Crisis King, but this is just a minor problem, and the song is still very good, putting in end to a very good album.
+ This CD is a perfect way to get into Helmet if your not into them already, it really is the BRST of Helmet.
+ Re-masterd sound makes everything sound great, well almost everything.
- Some track I disagree with on hear, i.e. “Exactly what you wanted", “better"
- Even after Re-mastering "strap it on" still sounds like ass.
So I give this album a 4.5, it really is full of music, and at 21 tracks oyou really couldn’t find a better starting place, or bargain.