Helion Prime – Question Everything Review

Revisiting Helion Prime’s Terror of the Cybernetic Space Monster in preparation for their new record was like listening to it for the first time all over again. Though no worse than I remembered, it is every bit as forgettable now as I had scribed in 20181, with the pain of its disappointment in 2020 only dulled by further proximity from the band’s stellar self-titled debut. Helion Prime’s sophomore outing suffered severely from sequelitis, going for a bigger, bolder sound while squandering the charm that won me over at the band’s inception. Album number three, then, feels something like a compromise. Question Everything is a conscious streamlining of Helion Prime’s sound, trading in the band’s most bombastic elements for something less distinct, but more elegant. The landing isn’t perfect, but the charm is back in full force.

Where Terror of the Cybernetic Space Monster doubled down on Helion Prime’s distinctly American crunch, Question Everything focuses on the lighter corners of their sound. With a greater reliance on lead guitars and keyboards, often to the point of sounding like Sonata Arctica or even Power Quest, the songs are granted a pop-centric flow. While a dearth of decent refrains was Terror of the Cybernetic Space Monster’s greatest misstep, Question Everything has no such deficiency; several passages took residence in my memory from the first listen. From the massive double-choruses of “Madame Mercury” and “The Forbidden Zone” to the jubilant flow of “Words of the Abbot,” there are addictive and memorable moments at every turn. Question Everything may lack the variety and weirdness which made Helion Prime’s debut a singular work, but with such consistent songwriting, it’s hard to complain.

And now, please excuse me while I complain. Question Everything’s sound is simple by design, perhaps to grant its lyrics a less crowded stage. This is a non-linear concept record that celebrates scientists who dared to challenge unimpeachable norms; ironic, as much of the music is far from daring. This is a difficult record to speak critically on, because it’s utterly enjoyable despite being largely unremarkable. There is nothing particularly catching about the instrumentation, with Jason Ashcraft’s typically galloping guitar style taking a backseat to melodically driven riffage. New vocalist Mary Zimmer, meanwhile, performs commendably, but sounds a bit stiff when stacked against what she accomplished in White Empress. She sports a likeable, smoky timbre that stands out in the power metal genre, but I had hoped her arrival would signal the return of Helion Prime’s melodeath side. Alas, her delivery here is relatively straightforward, but I find her a more distinct and likeable singer than prior vocalist Sozos Michael all the same.

Helion Prime does, thankfully, find a helluva second wind at Question Everything’s tail end. The penultimate title track features guest verses from both the aforementioned Michael2 and original singer Heather Michele3. This is not only a beautifully wholesome family reunion, but also the record’s best song, an energetic blast of speed that’s miles better than the similarly paced “Urth” from the previous record. Conclusory4 cut “Reawakening,” meanwhile, sports a darker, almost Kamelot-esque atmosphere, and what is far and away Zimmer’s best vocal performance. It’s a shame that the production doesn’t leave the same lasting impression as Question Everything’s final stretch. The instruments are mixed flatly so as to sound piled together, while the vocals are mixed a bit too low, sounding somewhat displaced. As much as I rag on it, Terror of the Cybernetic Space Monster’s sole credit is that it sounded much better than this record.

Even with its mediocre production and only two songs that I can comfortably classify as great, I somehow can’t get enough of Question Everything. Power metal is so hit or miss for me that even a record such as this one, which largely coasts by merely being good, feels wholly recommendable. It still isn’t a match for Helion Prime’s debut, mind you; it simply doesn’t possess the same level of infectious earnestness and effortless diversity which made that record a modern power metal classic. But considering the record that came directly before it, Question Everything feels like a huge step in the right direction, and has successfully rekindled my interest in this band. If they can keep improving album to album so drastically with future efforts, they may eventually sport the legendary discography I had once hoped for.

Rating: 3.0/5.0
DR: 7 | Format Reviewed: 256 kbps mp3
Label: Self Released
Websites: helionprimemetal.com | facebook.com/helionprimemetal
Releases Worldwide: October 5th, 2020

Show 4 footnotes

  1. Oddly enough, I failed to mention “The Human Condition” at the time, which upon revisitation effortlessly stands out as the best that album has to offer.
  2. Whose brief contribution here actually sounds far better than any of his performances on Terror of the Cybernetic Space Monster. Sorry our latest n00b dragged your new project, by the way. No hard feelings?
  3. I feel an emotion I can only describe as homesickness when I listen to her contribution to this song. Christ, I missed hearing her in this band.
  4. Okay, the <b>Misfits</b> cover is technically the last song, but it feels like a bonus track and I couldn’t find a natural place to talk about it. It’s a ton of fun, though!
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