Helstar – Vampiro (EMP)

Sunday, 14th August 2016
Rating: 9/10

Old school metalheads remember this Texas band Helstar in the 1980’s – Burning Star and Remnants of War essential early Combat staples, while a move to Metal Blade and lineup shuffles put them in Yngwie on power steroids mold for A Distant Thunder and the conceptual Nosferatu. While the 1990’s weren’t kind to them (when US traditional/power groups got dropped like flies), the landscape since has improved, and they’ve embraced a heavier, occasionally extreme sheen on the known power riffs, pounding tempos, and Rivera-oriented vocal acrobatics. Vampiro is the ninth studio platter, a return to Dracula/vampire lyrical content and an equally vicious musical outlook that proves they’ve still got a lot left in the metal tank.

Familiar stunted melodies ring out over a cascade of bass and guitar hero action for “Blood Lust”, the rhythms swirling about like a beehive in full on attack mode – reminiscent of A Distant Thunder taken into 2016 overtones. James Rivera, often referred to as the mini-Mexican Dio, has not lost one ounce of his soaring passion and fierce delivery – adding a paint melting blackened nuance to his upper register screams that pushes the pulsating riffs and rhythms for “To Dust You Will Become” to almost Cradle of Filth proportions, while still being gallop march-oriented. Bassist Garrick Smith and drummer Michael Lewis elevate their game in terms of signature manipulation while maintaining solid backbone construction- check out some of their fierce progressive fills during highlight “Off With His Head” and the Maiden-esque “Repent in Fire” – punctuated by a multitude of voices for the chorus.

Guitarists Larry Barragan and Andrew Atwood bring their A game axe skills, providing the tools for aural-gasmic riff and lead attention, be it through the back and forth action on the aforementioned “Repent in Fire” where some classical licks gain favor, or the epic “Black Cathedral” that starts off very somber and introspective only to build into a galvanizing arrangement worthy of praise a la Judas Priest. Sprawling out a couple of instrumentals midway through and at the end also gives the listener the dynamic chance to process what’s coming out of your speakers – although at 4:04 “Malediction” is one of those impressive full-on efforts that Maiden and Metallica followers appreciate. Four studio albums in to the revitalized Helstar era, Vampiro embraces the past while not sitting on its laurels – proving that you can teach an old dog new tricks so to speak. Bravo gentlemen- the king is not dead.

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