HELSTAR - Vampiro

Helstar - Vampiro

11 songs
59:18 minutes
***** ****


Having started in the early Eighties, Texan power speed metal band Helstar gradually built their reputation in one millennium. While the first two albums Burning Star and Remnants Of War were well regarded by critics and audiences alike, it was only with their third album A Distant Thunder that they made their breakthrough, which was only refined by the following Nosferatu. And then the Eighties were over, and the bandís mid-Nineties release Multiples Of Black was met with lukewarm reception. Which explains why Helstar, although not split up, went on a thirteen-year hiatus.

Since then they have released quite regularly new albums, with Vampiro being the fourth since their comeback and their ninth longplayer overall. The album title is clearly a nod to their career highlight Nosferatu, and apart from the songs this time being somewhat longer, resulting in a generous one-hour tour de force, there are a lot of stylistic similarities. From the classic line-up, we still have Łber-vocalist James Rivera and guitarist Larry Barragan, actually the only remaining founding member. The three other musicians are more recent, with drummer Michael Lewis having joined already in 2004, and bass player Garrick Smith in 2014 and guitarist Andrew Atwood only this year.

My first impression of Vampiro was one of scepticism. Apart from the instrumental Malediction and the outro Dreamless Sleep, the songs generally vary between five and eight minutes, seeing a band that feels more playful and possibly even self-indulgent than in the past. Gone are the concise four-minute metal attacks from way back, instead the band takes its time to build their songs. And yet, repeated listening will allow all of the songs to crystallise into true to form metal hits. Especially the first half of the album is near perfect, with each and every track becoming a classic if you allow them to unfold their many facets. James Rivera is meanwhile fifty-six years old, but his voice still sounds as sharp and crystal clear as thirty years ago. Considering that during breaks with Helstar, he was active in many other bands and projects, itís clear that this man lives for the music. He always felt to me like the spiritual successor to Ronnie James Dio. Both are not very tall men that surprise with incredibly voluminous voices. Larry Barragan still plays this neo-classical inspired fast guitar that gave the band its signature sound, locating their music somewhere between US, power and speed metal. And I am more than pleased that this hasnít changes to this day!

Had Vampiro been released during the bandís heyday, it would have deserved the maximum rating. At least Helstar donít hide the fact that Vampiro is the spiritual successor of Nosferatu, and that is proof of their artistic sincerity and integrity. Lesser bandsí sequel albums all too often feel trite and calculated, but not so Vampiro, which is actually a great record in its own right. I have to admit that I like the bandís playful side, because they are technically versatile musicians that are able to pull this through, leaving us with possibly their best album since the Eighties. Fans of vintage Eighties metal sound will have to get their hands on this product.

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