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Helstar - "Rising From The Grave" (2-CD Set)

Helstar - "Rising From The Grave" 2-CD Set cover image

"Rising From The Grave" track listing:

DISC 01 ("A Distant Thunder")
1. The King is Dead
2. Bitter End
3. Abandon Ship
4. Tyrrannicide
5. Scorcher
6. Genius of Insanity
7. (The) Whore of Babylon
8. Winds of War
9. He's a Woman, She's a Man

DISC 02 ("Nosferatu")
1. Rhapsody in Black
2. Baptized in Blood
3. To Sleep, Per Chance to Scream
4. Harker's Tale (Mass of Death)
5. Perseverance and Desperation
6. The Curse has Passed Away
7. Benediction
8. Harsh Reality
9. Swirling Madness
10. Von Am Lebem Desto Strum
11. Aieliaria and Everonn

Reviewed by on July 23, 2010

"These guys aren’t revivalists, they’re the real thing. But that doesn’t mean they are an automatic success."

The metal revival is going so well that it’s time to cash in. Old school traditionalists Helstar made most of their headway during the 1980s, and Metal Blade has conveniently re-mastered and reissued their best two long-players as a set called “Rising From The Grave.” Full length “A Distant Thunder” was released in 1988 and “Nosferatu” in 1989. These guys aren’t revivalists, they’re the real thing. But that doesn’t mean they are an automatic success.

After spinning these discs a few times, it is clear why Helstar faded from the metal scene a full two years before Nirvana burst metal’s bubble – they aren’t that great. Yeah, they’ve got the relentless speed metal riffs, and yeah, the bass just rumbles instead of actually playing notes, and yeah, the solos are hailstorms of notes, but there are precious few moments that cause spontaneous air-guitaring, air-drumming or even head banging.

Most songs are just shadows of Iron Maiden’s formula, and “Abandon Ship” is a perfect example at the poor ape-job. Clocking in at almost seven minutes, it is aiming for epic territory but doesn’t get there. The layered guitar intro sounds flat instead of inspiring. Vocalist James Rivera is like Bruce Dickinson after a running race, winded and wheezing and without much power. The tempo changes for the chorus are awkward and completely interrupt whatever groove Helstar had gotten into. The acoustic music break is a straight Maiden rip off. The big crescendo doesn’t get that high. And on and on the list goes.

Most of the two albums are this way. Banal vocal delivery, solos that fail to inspire, and song structures that are poorly assembled. But every blind band finds a fist pump, and Helstar gets it on the humorous “He’s A Woman, She’s a Man.” Aside from the title, this short ditty rips a straight riff, backing it with some good gang vocals and a head-banging-and-solo section, mostly not trying to do too much. The last song on “A Distant Thunder” was probably intended as a throwaway but here it shines; managing to escape the over-wrought constructions on the rest of the album. “Harsh Reality” also follows this formula to success.

While “Nosferatu” improves somewhat on “A Distant Thunder,” by stripping down a bit and focusing on verse-chorus type stuff, it still fails to inspire. Revivalists are all the rage in metal, but the single most important factor of old school metal often gets overlooked – all the great bands wrote great songs. It is less about the riff style, instrument tuning, vocal style or anything else; great songs rule. Helstar’s clear heroes Iron Maiden are heroes because they consistently wrote phenomenal hooks and crafted songs that made the entire metal world ready to storm the castle. At best Helstar get us ready to unlock a door to which we already own the key – all our old albums that actually rock.

Highs: The shorter the song the better – “He’s a Woman, She’s a Man” is fast and to the point.

Lows: The vocals are weak and can’t carry what the music needs.

Bottom line: Veterans from the 1980s, Helstar muddled about with traditional metal clichés but couldn’t end up writing any good songs, and these are their best two albums.

Rated 2.5 out of 5 skulls
2.5 out of 5 skulls

Rating Description
Rated 5 out of 5 skulls Perfection. (No discernable flaws; one of the reviewer's all-time favorites)
Rated 4.5 out of 5 skulls Near Perfection. (An instant classic with some minor imperfections)
Rated 4 out of 5 skulls Excellent. (An excellent effort worth picking up)
Rated 3.5 out of 5 skulls Good. (A good effort, worth checking out or picking up)
Rated 3 out of 5 skulls Decent. (A decent effort worth checking out if the style fits your tastes)
Rated 2.5 out of 5 skulls Average. (Nothing special; worth checking out if the style fits your taste)
Rated 2 out of 5 skulls Fair. (There is better metal out there)
< 2 skulls Pretty Bad. (Don't bother)