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Every Helmet Album Ranked Worst to Best

Helmet is less of a band and more of an idea and really a solo act with supporting musicians. Paige Hamilton is the only constant in the band’s 35-year history and with his singular vision for precise syncopated rhythms is the one responsible for their unique sound. And while Helmet may have had a direct influence on giving the world the idiot-shiver-inducing sub-genre nu-metal they also influenced such post-hardcore heavy hitters as Snapcase, Cave In, and Refused as well as many others. Though taking the occasional multi-year hiatus here and there, Helmet has consistently churned out their own brand of alternative metal since the early ‘90s.

Well, we pulled out our oversized Hang Ten shirts from storage, grabbed a skateboard with the tiniest wheels possible, loaded up every one of Helmet’s albums into our parent’s 6 CD changer, and took a journey through Helmet’s three-decade-long career to rank their albums while making sure not to spill our 2-liter bottle of soda on the carpet because we were push moshing around the living room. Enjoy! But seriously please don’t spill anything my parents will be home any second.

9. Seeing Eye Dog (2010)

The cover of Helmet’s seventh album looks like it was done by AI despite coming out fourteen years before ChatGPT was invented. Maybe worst of all the band’s logo has a horrendous default drop shadow on it. None of this has anything to do with what the album sounds like of course but it is a pretty good indicator that this is not Hamilton & Co. at their finest. That’s not to say it’s terrible since there are some classic Helmet riffs on “Welcome To Algiers” and a few new songs that go in a new direction that work like the breezy “LA Water.” But we need to start somewhere on the low end and this is the lowest of the low for them.

Play it again: “Welcome To Algiers”
Skip it: “And Your Bird Can Sing” No, just no. For the love of all things holy, no more Beatles covers.

8. Monochrome (2006)

Right off the bat, “Monochrome” sounds like an attempt to return to their “Meantime” sound. Even the cover looks like a halfhearted effort at reliving their peak. You can’t fault them for trying but it is sort of the musical equivalent of getting back together with an ex years later. It seems like the good old days but you’re older now and just don’t have the energy to put up with them anymore and all your friends are a little embarrassed for you.

Play it again: “Bury Me,” “Gone”
Skip it: Rekindling an old relationship. Seriously, just don’t.

7. Left (2023)

Playing the same heavy(ish) style of music for 30+ years based on essentially 3 or 4 frets of the guitar neck means that you’re probably going to run out of ideas eventually and honestly sounds like a living hell. Returning after a seven-year hiatus, Helmet released “Left” and somehow managed to break the formula they’ve used since the George Bush Sr. administration all while still actually sounding like a Helmet record. Is it their best? No. Is it their worst? No. Is it likely to be in anyone’s heavy rotation? No. Am I asking myself questions to answer to pad out this review since there really isn’t much to say about this album? Possibly.

Play it again: “Gun Fluf”
Skip it: Am I struggling to find a funny thing to put here? Yes.

6. Dead to the World (2016)

Some songs on “Dead to the World” are a bit of a chicken and egg situation. Helmet’s influence on bands like Cave In come full circle with songs like “Life or Death” that sound like they were directly influenced by Cave In. Like, you could tell me I’m listening to later-era Cave In and I’d believe you. Unlike the previous couple of mid-career albums though, Hamilton seems to remember that his vocals sometimes need a little studio love and aren’t really the strongest part of their music. The vocals are also a little lower in the mix (as they should be). You aren’t Taylor Swift, my dude.

Play it again: “Life or Death”
Skip it: “Drunk In The Afternoon” Both the song and the actual act of being drunk in the afternoon. You’re not the spring chicken you once were.

5. Size Matters (2004)

By 2004 all of the nu-metal bands that had been directly influenced by Helmet were (thankfully) starting to lose favor with the masses and the rise of mall emo had begun (un-thankfully). “Size Matters” comes across as Helmet’s best attempt at being a mainstream metal act. There are a lot of radio-friendly hooks and repeating choruses and the production is glossy and polished. Unfortunately, their big TRL moment never happened but 20 years later “Size Matters” is a perfectly fine time capsule to listen to while you throw on your old bootcut jeans and update your Myspace page. Did you know Myspace was still around by the way? I had no idea.

Play it again: “Speak and Spell,” “Crashing Foreign Cars”
Skip it: Trying to fit into those 20-year-old bootcut jeans, they seem to have shrunk around the waist.

4. Strap It On (1990)

New York City in the late 1980s was not the sanitized, curated influencer selfie backdrop it is today. There were still areas you did not venture into at night or day. The bands of this time period reflected the harsh, you-could-die-at-any-moment reality of crumbling Gotham. It must have been tough for Helmet to find their place with the exploding New York hardcore scene of the late ‘80s since they weren’t hardcore and also weren’t really metal. Probably their harshest-sounding album both in instrumentation and production. It’s raw and aggressive and almost has a faint smell of a hot, urine-soaked 1990’s Lower East Side sidewalk.

Play it again: “FBLA,” “Distracted,” “Repetition”
Skip it: “Murder”

3. Aftertaste (1997)

After burning through a rotating door of second guitarists on the first few albums, Helmet released “Aftertaste” as a three-piece. The cover is the three members in silhouette disappearing into fog which is fitting since this is the last time this iteration of the now three original members would ever be seen. 1997 was a weird year for music as grunge had run its course and the awful backwards baseball hat-wearing burning sun of hot garbage called nu-metal was appearing above the horizon. Stuck in this in-between period was Helmet trying out some radio-friendly jams that in hindsight are some of their best songwriting.

Play it again: “Exactly What You Wanted,” “Driving Nowhere,” “Pure”
Skip it: “Crisis King”

Honorable Mention: Judgment Night Soundtrack (1993)

The first of two appearances by Helmet on fantastic movie soundtracks for totally unwatchable movies (They were also included on the soundtrack to the ill-fated disaster “The Crow.”) There’s a lot to unpack with this soundtrack and its ambitious genre-melding collaborations but the clear standout is Helmet’s collusion with the Celtic Jersey adorned House of Pain on the song “Just Another Victim.” The classic era syncopated riffs, Paige Hamilton’s angsty vocals, lyrics about Jodie Foster and Harvey Keitel – this song’s got it all!


2. Betty (1994)

Somehow this album is now 30 years old and is still just as listenable as it was in 1994. If you were to listen to something in 1994 that was 30 years old it would be something like The Beatles and who the fuck would ever want to do that. “Betty” is slightly less aggressive and more accessible than their previous albums but still has all the machine-like hum and precision you expect from Helmet. Hamilton really shows off his musical chops by adding some jazzy elements here and there and doing what is probably his best clean singing than on any other release.

Play it again: “Milquetoast,” “Tic,” “Overrated”
Skip it: Realizing that 30 years of your life have gone by in an instant.

1. Meantime (1992)

The cover of “Meantime” is a stark monochromatic image of what looks like a worker shoveling coal into machinery and that’s exactly what the album sounds like – a monolithic, well-oiled machine. The best lineup of the band delivering crushing riffs with John Stanier on drums absolutely destroying those things. Meantime essentially created a new genre of metal while simultaneously ending it since no other band including Helmet themselves could reproduce. “Meantime” helped Helmet achieve the most coveted prize a non-mainstream metal band could achieve in the ‘90s – being featured on an episode of ‘Beavis and Butthead’ with Butthead making the observation: “These look like normal guys, if they were walking down the street you wouldn’t even know they were cool.”

Play it again: The whole thing
Skip it: Doing your Beavis and Butthead impression. Please, it’s 2024 and you’re just embarrassing yourself.