Helstar_VampiroIt’s always a dangerous proposition for a band to revisit one of their most beloved albums and attempt a sequel. Nine times out of ten they can’t come close to recapturing whatever magic made their earlier work so enduring and they end up besmirching their legacy in the process (Operation Mindcrime II, anyone?). And so it was with great discomfiture I received news Helstar would be revisiting the same vampiric themes first examined on their classic Nosferatu album on new opus, Vampiro. Nosferatu was a special album for a number of reasons and saw the band find the musical sweet spot between traditional metal, thrash and neo-classical noodling. It’s stood the test of time about as well as its titular character and I still spin it regularly. Vampiro is a semi-return to the style that made that album so enjoyable and it comes after a series of releases steeped in thrash and all-out speed. Surprisingly, it manages to conjure some of the same dark magic and atmosphere as the original did way back in 1989. Is it as good? Of course not, but it’s better than many (including myself) probably expected and shows the band has a lot left in the metalli-tank.

Vampiro is a heavier, thrashier album than Nosferatu, but the basic style and feel is much the same. Opener “Awaken the Darkness” almost feels like a lost track from the source material. It has that same neo-classical flair along with a dark, ominous vibe and the classic Helstar riffing style is there with James Rivera’s trademarked high-pitched shrieks and menacing baritone. It sets expectations high for the rest of the album, which is both a blessing and a curse. Aggressive, speedy cuts like “Blood Lust, “To Dust You Will Become” and “Repent in Fire” get the heart racing and blood pumping, and “From the Pulpit to the Pit” is slower and catchier, like a jacked up version of the similarly named Ghost tune.

For my money, the best track is either the opener or “Malediction,” an instrumental callback to “Benediction” from Nosferatu. Though I usually don’t gravitate to instrumentals, this one is so sharp and engaging, it’s tough to stop spinning it. The razor-like corkscrewing riffs are things of beauty, the solos are face melting and the whole thing is a musical smoke show. Lead “single” “Black Cathedral” is also quite tasty, evoking much of the old Helstar style to good ends, though at over 7 minutes, it feels too long.

Helstar_2016

The peformances are first-rate and uber-technical, but the song writing sometimes falls below the level of the musicianship. Songs like “Off With His Head” and “Abolish the Sun” aren’t bad, but they aren’t super memorable either and I end up appreciating the guitar-work more than the songs themselves. Vampiro is also way overlong at 58 minutes. I know the theme here is long teeth, but that’s no reason for the album to follow suit, and two or three tracks could be dropped without being missed. Mixed by legendary producer Bill Metoyer, things sound quite good with appropriately crunchy guitars. Rivera’s vocals sit well atop the music and it’s dynamic enough to suit the techy neo-classic wanks as well as the traditional, over-the-top metallized shredding.

This is definitely a guitar lover’s kind of album, with original axe Larry Barragan and new ace Andrew Atwood ripping things up and tearing them down in a string-snapping frenzy of aggressive riffing, neo-classic wanking and excessive whammy yanking. They’re both extremely talented and let absolutely everything hang out, yet somehow all their techy noodling avoids getting in the way of the songs themselves. Barragan’s unique style gave Helstar a distinctive sound through the 80s and a lot of that is present again here along with a healthy dose of Agent Steel-esque exuberance and energy. James Rivera’s voice is a wonder of modern science and is little changed by the decades. He can still hit those crazy air raid shrieks and adapt his vocals to various moods and styles. He’s as commanding a presence here as he was on Nosferatu though his voice now has a slightly darker, more sinister tone. He also throws in some harsh screams and rasps and these are mostly well done but occasionally veer too close to typical scream-core for my tastes (“Abolish the Sun”). Still, it’s cool to hear him incorporating a few modern elements nonetheless.

While Vampiro could have ended up a ghoulish dumpster fire, it earns its own place in the Helstar pantheon, and for that I’m thankful. The band is hitting a pretty respectable late career upswing and it’s good to hear these old timers can still bring the high heat. If you aren’t familiar with the band’s back catalog, go hear those first 4 classics and then come back here. They’ll leave the coffin open for ya.


Rating: 3.0/5.0
DR: 7 | Format Reviewed: 192 kbps mp3
Label: EMP Label Group
Websitesfacebook.com/helstar.metal
Releases Worldwide: August 26th, 2016

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  • Blueberry Balls

    All kvlt unicorns wear sweet chains and leather.

    • Bas

      Perfect :-) I was already afraid you would stop ;-)

      • AnnieK13

        Is it just me or does unicorn guy ( the original face I mean..) kind of look like William Shatner with long hair and leather…

  • Bas

    The video doesnt work…

    • Might be region limited. Works for me.

      • [not a Dr]

        It usually tells us when it’s region-challenged. This one just says not available.

        • I have no answers. Abbath runs IT and he’s lost in the forest.

          • Told you he didn’t have a clue!

          • Juan Manuel Pinto Guerra

            Abbath… He would fit just right in that band picture.

  • Dr. Wvrm

    I know someone who likes that album title.

    • The Nerd.

      Is that Vampiro the wrestler?

      • Dr. Wvrm

        It is indeed.

  • Scourge

    Wow! I really enjoyed The King of Hell and Glory of Chaos, but not so much This Wicked Nest. This album sounds like a winner to me based on the songs on YouTube. Seems more nuanced and darker than This Wicked Nest.

  • Sharp-Blunt Boy

    Per chance to scream!… again?

    I loved nosferatu. A high point in high theatrics. However, that embedded track sounds laboured to me – more amature dramatics. Intro was promising, guitar solo exciting but the whole thing rapidly returned to a crepuscular slumber.

    It’s great that these guys are still going – I’d love to see them live, but it looks like I’d be waiting in the shadows till the classics called my name.

    • It’s pretty solid with some time and a few spins.

  • savafreak

    3= good, that’s a bit harsh Steel don’t u think? you are becoming tyrannical on the US aka Traditional Metal lately and nothing seems to gets your praise! While it is not up to the skillfulness and originality of Nosferatu, but I found it to be their best album since, an addictive dark high octane melodic double Axe aggressive attack from start till finish, never got bored nor felt listening to a filler through it, while it is not perfect but it deserves more from you, at least a 4! But hey who am I to speak, I am not a Druhm, I am but a sucker for this kind of music, and this album my friend fed my hunger for a while!

    • I almost gave it a 3.5 but when on the fence we grade DOWN!

      • savafreak

        Well “the fence” did’t stop u from giving Metal Church’s latest 3.5 ! which although deserve such a decent rating, but personally I find Vampiro a better written album; and I am more a Metal Church fan than a Helstar fan, but truth be told!

        • Difference being I was on the fence between a 3.5 and 4.0 with Metal Church. That’s a much more addicting listen in my humble opinion.

  • Carlos Marrickvillian

    I’ve seen these guys reference many times but never heard them… Will check this out.

  • Matt slatz

    Seriously…..Abigail 2 was the worst follow up attempt ever…. period

    • [not a Dr]

      Reload?

      • Matt slatz

        Load was not nearly a classic like Abigail. Hence the worse rating

  • Dead1

    Wow that’s good!
    I’m thoroughly impressed at how fresh this sounds.

  • Bryan Stroup

    If nothing else, I find this imminently more interesting than anything they’ve done post Nosferatu (but that very well may have to do with the familiar riffs and sense of melody that their other reunion albums lacked). This is also a way better “sequel” than the last sequel I bothered to listen to; Abigail II.