Helstar - The king of hell 4/5

Reviewed: 2-20-09


1. The king of hell
2. The plague called man
3. Tormentor
4. When empires fall
5. Wicked disposition
6. Caress of the dead
7. Pain will be thy name
8. In my darkness
9. The garden of temptation

This Texas based band really came into its own with its 3rd and 4th CDs, 'A distant thunder' and (A word that meant undead...) 'Nosferatu', masterworks on Metal Blade that carved out their own special style of American metal; powerful, melodic, intense, but complex as well, taking inspiration from Iron Maiden and honing it into more intricacy, and all commanded by the truly unique vocals of James Rivera, who sounded quite unlike anyone else. You could hear influence in bandís like New Eden and Destinyís End (with which Rivera later played), and a host of others. But while there have been 4 releases under the Helstar name since 'Nosferatu', only one, 'Multiples of black' was a real CD, and that was seen as less of a true Helstar disc, while 'Twas the night of a hellish Christmas' was live, 'The James Rivera legacy' was a collection of demos, and 'Sins of the past' was a re-recording of classic songs, a la Exodusís 'Let there be blood' and Testamentís 'First strike still deadly'. Meanwhile, Riveraís memorable voice contributed to a host of bands, including New Eden, Destinyís End, Flotsam and Jetsam, Distant Thunder, Killing Machine, Seven Witches and Vicious Rumors. Whew! 'The king of hell' then arrives, with Larry Barragan and Jerry Abarca back from 'Nosferatu' with a lot of legacy to address and pent up anticipation to assuage.

Luckily, it does so quite well. While it may not quite live up to its 2 most memorable predecessors, itís a very solid CD. Very similar to style, with all out speed, roaring double bass, intricate guitar work, and even more intense vocals from Rivera, if anything it sounds just a tad ďheavierĒ in production and playing to those earlier works, the intricacy of the guitar work doesnít leap out quite as much, but its aggression is risen even higher, veering towards thrash territory on occasion. Blissfully, Riveraís vocals do not have some of the odd production effects of some of his most recent recordings with other bands (Killing Machine, for instance), but allow him to simply sing clear and true, and there is even more intensity in some of these shrieks. While the opening title track begins with a mellow intro, it soon blasts off into a scouring roar of metal assault that does feel like descending into the zone of the damned. The tone throughout is consistent, fast, aggressive, and dark, and yet with nothing but very memorable choruses on each song which are very direct in their vocal songwriting. A couple of the songs were on 'Sins of the past'.

Fans of those earlier Helstar CDs can purchase this without fear that itís a disappointing reunion. While perhaps not quite as great, and slightly more aggressive, itís good enough and similar enough in style that we can welcome true Helstar back with open arms.




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