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Kickin' ass and taking names - Helstar are back! - 80%

TrooperOfSteel, July 7th, 2011

Originating from Texas in the mighty US of A, Helstar began their thrash/speed metal journey back in 1982. With line-up issues hitting the band early, Helstar almost broke up after their debut album 'Burning Star'. Moving forward, three more solid releases followed in 1986, 88 and 89 before Helstar fell into a stagnant patch for about 4 years or so, after their contract with Metal Blade had expired; releasing a few demos but to no interest from labels. In 1995 however, the big comeback for Helstar turned into a nightmare, when they released their worst album to date, the awful 'Multiples of Black'.

With the band now at the crossroads, vocalist James Rivera put Helstar on hold as he delved into other metal projects, with bands such as Destiny's End and Seven Witches to name a few. From 2001, Rivera organised reunion tours with Helstar with no new material written until 2006, when Rivera announced that Helstar was "musically active" once again as he had reunited with original bassist Larry Barragan (who left in 1989-90). Not only that, but the line-up from 1986's 'Remnants of War' had come back together, a great sign for die-hard fans. In the bold step forward, first came 'Sins of the Past', a compilation disc where songs from the first four Helstar CDs were re-recorded; including two brand new songs. These two new tracks would feature on Helstar's first studio album since 1995, the exceptional 'The King of Hell'. Released in 2008, 'The King of Hell' was a return to glory for the long-starved Helstar, receiving fantastic reviews and loosely branded the tag of best metal comeback.

Helstar has now returned in 2010, backing up on their previous release with another superb speed/thrash effort, titled 'Glory of Chaos'. Within you'll find crushing and intricate thrashy guitar riffs, heavy bass and thunderous drumming. Rivera leads the way with his intense vocal delivery, an underrated singer, who has withstood the test of time and continues to belt out songs in his usual emotional and fierce fashion. While not 100% thrash metal, Helstar also branches out into the speed metal and power metal genres for an ultimate heavy infusion of power that will not only quench the thirst of thrash metal fans (Overkill, Kreator, Exodus, early Megadeth and early Metallica), but also fans of American speed and power metal.

Living up to its previous disc and more, 'Glory of Chaos' is a metal assault of scorching quickness, aggressive tones and powerful melodies and riffs. A very well constructed album which proves that persistence eventually pays off, with Helstar finally getting the recognition they've deserved for some time now. While James Rivera may have received the critical acclaim he was seeking while involved in Destiny's End, Helstar now stands on top of the ladder as Rivera's best metal creation to date. Quite consistent throughout, every track on 'Glory of Chaos' has its own unique feel and sound, neither completely thrash nor speed/power metal. The one main running theme flowing through this album is killer riffs and shitloads of them. If it's riffs you’re salivating over, then 'Glory of Chaos' is your CD of choice, beginning with the ferocious opener "Angels Fall to Hell", followed by the grinding and memorable "Pandemonium". Looking good so far, the disc continues with aggressive thrashy winners including "Bone Crusher", "Summer of Hate", "Trinity of Heresy" and the awesome "Alma Negra".

In the end, if you haven't felt like you've been blown away by the intensely heavy and barbaric guitar riffs and double bass pummelling, or the hair on the back of your neck stand up from the shrieks of Rivera's unique and emotional vocals, then I doubt anything will. Long-time fans of Helstar should blindly see this one through to the checkout, while thrash metal fans should also find this release extremely to their liking. Power/speed metal fans who love their metal hard and heavy and straight to the point, then this is the CD for you.

This type of heavy metal may be in decline of recent times and movements, but one who is waving the flag with pride and honour is Helstar. From sitting in limbo 15 years ago, not knowing where this band was going to go, Helstar has certainly taken the bull by the horns and have controlled their own destiny. By the sounds of 'Glory of Chaos' and 'The King of Hell', they are really kickin' ass and are indeed one of the best comeback bands I've known about in some time.

Originally written for www.themetalforge.com

Chaos of Glory - 89%

GuntherTheUndying, February 18th, 2011

When it comes to old-school speed/power metal on this rotating orb we call our planet, Helstar are the gods, the masters, the judges, the juries, and since their reawakening, have earned the various executioner positions too. It would only make sense these prime musicians would continue on such a violent road after summoning thrash influence once Helstar rose from the grave with "King of Hell," which Satan himself said was a fitting tribute to his daily agenda. "Glory of Chaos," much like its predecessor, is another lesson in thrashing madness that gnaws and rips like a frenzied animal looking for anything to satisfy its bloodlust addiction. I don't know why Helstar is so aggressive; maybe the Texas heat fried their prefrontal cortexes, or perhaps old age induced this sickening turn into depravity.

Whatever the reason, there is absolutely no debate this album is the heaviest montage Helstar have ever birthed. The riff-frenzied "Angels Fall From Hell" immediately soaks the band's gimmick with crunchy gallops that bite and snarl with every turn while James Rivera continues to prove why he's one of the greatest metal vocalists of all time with his monolithic howls and harsh registers that match the song's flow perfectly. The attack never lets up soon after, as Helstar continuously regurgitates monumental tracks submerged in killer riffs, memorable choruses, and neck-snapping furiousness. The record plays this formula throughout, but they hardly trip over their own feet or turn remotely bland, which is always a blast of freshness considering "Glory of Chaos" is really just thrash ala "Shovel Headed Kill Machine."

The rest of the album smolders with brimstone throughout cuts like "Pandemonium" and "Trinity of Heresy," which are equally addictive and devastating. Many memorable moments occur during the half-way point of "Glory of Chaos" once the epic "Bone Crusher" and "Dethtrap" roll around, which still conjure hammering riffs and Rivera's excellent vocals. But the heat cranks itself past eleven for the closing "Alma Negra," a burning storm of thrash riffs and crushing mid-paced sections which make the experience extra painful and crispy. Variety isn't the key strength of "Glory of Chaos," but with so many wonderful tracks, why not play it safe?

Helstar’s story is often unsung by many, even though their speed-burst assault has proven more effective and lasting than most bands of similar niches; this album is no different. Compared to other thrash bands waltzing around the sound like it’s a Lady Gaga song, here we have an honest construction of stellar riffs layered over the faction’s unique characteristics that forged a legacy typically unknown, yet one treasured by those familiar with Helstar’s usual greatness. I suppose some old-school metal fans may find “Glory of Chaos” too much like Destruction or Exodus and not enough like Helstar, but that is certainly no reason to completely shun this sensational record; Helstar’s demeanor is superb throughout, and certainly one many thrash/power metal fans will crave.

This review was written for: www.Thrashpit.com

Past glory vs. current chaos - 86%

hells_unicorn, February 12th, 2011

When considering Helstar’s extravagant past, it is easy to be turned off by the fruits of their reformation. But in spite of a large number of 80s revivalist bands attempting to relive the past, 2010 sees the Texas power/thrash pioneers electing to be in the here and now, offering up another release in the same overall style as “King Of Hell”. This isn’t necessarily a sound that is conducive to the practices of many modern bands either, but more of a modern reinterpretation of the band’s hardest and most extreme elements, ergo the latent thrash metal tendencies that most early USPM bands took the same bands that influenced the Big 4, but with a keener eye for melody to complement that foray of blistering riff assaults.

“Glory Of Chaos” is, through and through, a thrash metal album that largely reminds of the more recent offerings penned by Teutonic Trio adherents Destruction. It might not be quite as fast, frenetic, or utterly scornful as most of said German band’s work, but the large as hell sounding production meshed with the busy guitar work definitely takes a good number of cues from them. James Rivera’s somewhat cleaner vocals and air raid siren wails give it a little bit of that familiar Judas Priest edge that was last heard on “Nosferatu”, but the pummeling and percussive tendencies of everything going on around him veer well beyond even the aggression level of “Painkiller” and the Tim Owens material, and Rivera even offers some blackened shrieks for added effect. To put it simply, this is just a little too much thrash for the casual Metallica fan to handle, and is more suited to the next echelon of extreme listening before crossing the barrier into Sodom territory.

The comparisons with this album’s 2008 predecessor become all but inevitable given the similar format of elongated songwriting and unrelenting aggression put forth here. Sometimes things seem to drag a little on the longer riff monsters in “Monarch Of Bloodshed” and “Alma Negra”, but for the most part the battery is constant, and the slow chugging breakdown sections are few and far between (as they should be). There are no overt slouches to speak of on this album, but the general tendency is that the fast the tempo, the better things are. The point of utter climax essentially falls right in the middle of things in “Bone Crusher”, which just screams of the vilest elements of late 80s Sodom merged with a somewhat busier riff set and a less Kerry King informed set of lead sections. Likewise, if a given listener can get through the rabid intensity of “Dethtrap” and “Trinity Of Heresy” without at least the beginning symptoms of whiplash, they’ve probably been building up their neck muscles and consuming plenty of calcium going all the way back to the birth of thrash metal.

Ultimately I think that any detractors of this album or its predecessor should at least come to terms with the fact that the remnant of Helstar’s original lineup have no apparent intention of trying to put out another “Remnant Of War” or “Nosferatu”, nor even attempting to revisit any other familiar zeniths in 80s speed metal antiquity. This is a music that definitely remembers its past, but doesn’t attempt to keep synthesizing it over and over with a complete obliviousness of what else the genre has done since then. The reinterpretations of the Saxon and Scorpions songs in this new sound are pretty well a testament to that, despite them being the weaker examples of what this band is capable of on here. I’ll spare everyone the stupid “be open minded about it” cliché, since the sheer intensity of the contents on here will probably do enough damage to one’s skull to force that saying into a literal reality.

Originally submitted to (www.metal-observer.com) on February 12, 2011.

Lacking identity in a morass of thrashy riffs. - 68%

Empyreal, February 12th, 2011

Helstar was one of the late great 80s bands that have come back in the modern day for a reunion after releasing some crap in the 90s. Haven’t you heard that story a thousand times? Well, either way, it’s always interesting to watch the paths of evolution these bands take. I didn’t like Helstar’s last album King of Hell, but this one is at least coherent and has some actual songs buried underneath the madcap riffing and aggressive howls from the vocals. Glory of Chaos, however, still isn’t perfect.

Now, I’ll just get this out of the way right now: NONE of these songs sounds like the Helstar from the 80s. None of them really have the same unique riffing style or James Rivera’s idiosyncratic bleating. This is a very orthodox sounding album much in the vein of bands like Heathen or Overkill, with Rivera turning in a performance that really doesn’t sound much like him and the guitars mostly resigned to chugging out more basic-styled thrash riffing. It’s all pumped out with energy and vitriol, and it never sounds half-assed, but you’re lying to yourself if you think this album is the return of the old Helstar.

Now that we got that out of the way, what are the songs like? Well they’re mostly pretty solid. That’s the best word for it – solid. Some songs are really fun, like “Angels Fall to Hell,” “Bone Crusher” and the slower, more epic “Summer of Hate.” But some of the other ones, while entertaining while they’re on, are just not that memorable – “Dethtrap,” “Anger” and “Trinity of Hate” come to mind. The closing “Alma Negra” has some of the most ridiculously harsh screams you’re likely to ever hear on a classic USPM style album.

I think the biggest problem this album has is just that it lacks identity. It doesn’t really sound like Helstar, and that hole hasn’t been replaced with anything else yet. The band churns out some good tunes but they just don’t seem to have any unifying theme, any individual stamp that tells us this is a work to be lauded. That’s the big reason why I can’t give this too great a score. It’s just kind of faceless, and it doesn’t have enough style or charisma to be a really good album. But if you want a solid, chugging album of thrashing madness, Glory of Chaos is a safe bet. Just don’t go in expecting the great 80s Helstar. They are pretty much gone at this point.

Glory of Chaos - 95%

Daemonium_CC, November 17th, 2010

After the tremendously awesome “The King of Hell”, Helstar waste no time and return to the studio. Having been away from the scene for a good 20 years, Helstar is now a rabid animal, fiercer than before, hungry as ever.

And with this album, they hold no punches. Every member s parameters are set to only one thing – destroy. Unleash hell, and take no prisoners. And if you’re even remotely familiar with Helstar, you’ll know damn well that it’s quite a dangerous thing to see these guys so determined. With this album, the motivation and passion is ever present, and it’s just heads down thrash metal.

“Angels Fall to Hell” delivers the first strike. Subtlety? These guys don’t know the meaning of the word. After a pace building intro, the boys from Texas unleash all hell. After the first lead, the songs explodes with a massive thrash riff which sets the tone for the rest of the album, and gives us the first real taste of the mix and production. The mix is very well done, everything can be heard nice and clear, not to mention fucking loud. Guitars are beefier than ever, drums sound great, bass is auidable if you listen for it, and James’ vocals are laid out on the perfect level above everything else.

Speaking of James, this is probably his best performance, ever. He’s managed to really just annihilate all of his other previous performances. On this album, he does pretty much everything a metal vocalist does, except only far better than most. His voice has matured over time, yet he can still hit those high notes like no one’s business. He also delivers some downright intense, black metal type vocals on “Alma Negra”, which was totally unexpected.

For me, Helstar is all about the riffs. There is just something about their style of writing riffs that just rings true to me. As I always say, they have the perfect balance of heaviness and groove to them, yet with always a touch of evil which they do so well. Larry Barragan and Rob Trevino sure as hell don’t hold back, that’s for sure. Riff after riff, lead after lead, it’s pretty relentless, yet fortunately it never gets tiring due to the masterful arranging skills of these two legends. They know when to go for the throat, and when to lay low a bit to give the listener some breathing space. Above a lot of other things, its Helstar’s level of arranging and use of dynamics which makes them so special. Take a listen to the masterful riffing on “Angels Fall to Hell”, “Monarch of Bloodshed”, “Bone Crusher”, “Dethrap” and “Alma Negra” – it’s enough riffage to feed a thrash fan for a few years!

Also, there never seems to be any of those moments where the flow of the record falls apart. Everything transitions into each other very smoothly, despite being so goddamn heavy. The rhythm section of Jerry Abarca and Mikey Lewis hold it down tight – and I mean tight. Lay on some amazing thrash riffs and the intense vocals of James Rivera and you have nothing but a full fledged, onslaught of pure thrash metal.

Some may complain that it’s not like “Nosferatu”, and well, they’re right, though it’s certainly nothing to complain about. That was 20 years ago. You can’t expect a band to not evolve and change a bit over the years, and adapt to the times. It’s a no win situation – if you repeat the success of a classic album, you’ll get accused of repeating past glories. If you evolve and expand your horizons, you’ll be accused of not staying true to your past. Come on, what a load of fucking shit that is. The best thing to do in this situation is to do what Helstar did – turn everything up to 10, and play what you want. I bet they can’t hear you bitch and moan anyway, with how loud they fucking play.

To me, modern thrash does not get any better. If I had only one gripe about this album, it would be the guitar solos. This time around, they are just not as memorable as the riffs. They were absolutely flawless on “The King of Hell”, but here they seem to have taken a backseat somewhat. That’s not to say that there are no killer leads on this record – just listen to “Alma Negra” if you ever feel like having your face liquefied.

Originally written for www.jorzine.com

Rivera Still Has It - 77%

pinpals, November 14th, 2010

Out of all the unnecessary and fake reunions out there (“fake” as in it includes only one or two original members), we need to be thankful for Helstar, who not only sport four of the five members that created their classic “Remnants of War” (only drummer Michael Lewis did not appear on that album), but also have not lost an ounce of heaviness over the years. James Rivera is still one of the greatest metal singers out there, in fact, I would posit that he has gotten better with age. He can still hit the high notes, but his lower and mid-range vocals have improved with maturity.

Helstar formed in the early 80s and quickly grew notoriety for their speed-metal attack, opening for bands like W.A.S.P. and Anthrax. After “Nosferatu,” which many (including me) believe is their best album, they split up due to the popularity of grunge and general disinterest in the heavy metal genre. They reformed in 1995 to release the largely forgettable “Multiples of Black” before breaking up again. However, they justified their (re)reformation in 2008 with the surprisingly vicious “The King of Hell.”

“Glory of Chaos” pretty much picks up where “The King of Hell” left off. The riffs are ferocious and James Rivera gives a fine performance. They waste no time with “Angels Fall to Hell.” This song kicks all kinds of ass and proves that not all bands lose their passion and heaviness with age. Although it does not bother me, some purists will take issue with the "modern" production sound for the guitars. Some may find them too clean and digitized compared to how they sounded in the 80s, so that is something to be aware of.

The intensity level is pretty much consistent throughout, although as a whole, the songwriting is somewhat lacking. Sometimes the guitarists will resort to basic chug-chug riffs beneath the singing and aside from the opener, not a lot is memorable. The biggest disappointment was the lead guitars. I assume Andre Corbin was responsible for the neo-classical direction that showed up in the late 80s, but even before he was around, Helstar wrote some bad-ass solos, and sadly the quality of the solos on “Glory of Chaos” is vastly inferior.

The drumming is certainly competent enough, but a more dynamic and interesting drummer could have added an interesting dynamic to some of the more pedestrian sections where the rhythm guitars are not doing anything more than chugging along. As mentioned before, James Rivera is the real hero of this album. He certainly lives up to his reputation and perhaps even surpasses it. My only qualm is that sometimes the choruses could have been better, like in “Pandemonium,” for instance. Otherwise, he’s definitely the most distinctive and memorable aspect of Helstar.

I realize that some may interpret my review as being mostly negative in nature and might be surprised at my rating, but in all honesty “Glory of Chaos” is a solid album that is worth owning. The reason that I seem so critical is because it pales in comparison to what Helstar accomplished in the 80s. In reality, it’s refreshing to hear a band that has reunited and has not lost their edge. I simply think that this lineup is capable of more. Here’s hoping that this lineup will continue, because the potential is certainly there.

(Originally written for www.metal-temple.com)

Thrashtar slices, dices, and cooks - 85%

autothrall, November 5th, 2010

Back in 1988-89, Helstar had pretty much written themselves into a corner with excellent albums A Distant Thunder and Nosferatu, a corner that they would certainly not escape with the abysmal Multiples of Black, which might stand as one of the most miserable letdowns in all metal music history. Six years in the making, too! Well, the band's coma ended in 2008, 13 years post-atrocity, James Rivera having spent the interim dancing about a number of other acts trying to be Helstar. The King of Hell was a respectable if not highly appealing comeback, though the entire lineup of their Golden Age would not return, and here we arrive at the band's 7th full length effort, Glory of Chaos, with James Rivera, Jerry Abarca and Larry Barragan returning to the fold with Michael Lewis on drums and Robert Trevino in the second guitar seat. Both of whom have worked with the Helstar members in other project, so it's safe to say they 'get it'.

And damn, do they 'get it'. Glory of Chaos marks a notable increase in aggression for this band, and stands as by far the heaviest offering they've ever released. The first few tracks ("Angels Fall to Hell" and "Pandemonium") are misleading, because they paint the portrait of a pretty pure thrash band, almost like Destruction's masterwork The Antichrist if James Rivera had been handling the vocals. The guitar tone is superb, thick and punchy, but once you move beyond these, you start to see a return of the old Helstar's intricate, classically evolved guitar patterns songs like "Summer of Hate" and "Trinity of Heresy". Still, it's quite telling that the best of Glory of Chaos is where it hits the hardest, like the enormous "Bone Crusher" or punishing "Dethtrap", the latter of which feels like something Ritual Carnage of Japan might write, such pure and unwavering thrash force, with Rivera's siren-like laments cast upon it like a sorcerer's lamentation at a conjuration gone foul. There are also a number of other, intense cuts like "Alma Negra", "Monarch of Bloodshed" and "Anger" that ultimately add up to the feeling that you've just been blown into smithereens before you even realized you had gone numb and limbless.

If you asked me a month ago if I was interested in a thrash Helstar, I might have begrudgingly admitted that the potential was there all along, and that they certainly incorporated such elements into their 80s catalog, but that I'd be more interested in hearing A Distant Thunder Mk. II. Well, I am gladly chewing my own cowboy boots here, because the Texas tycoons have indeed succeeded in creating something tense and violent that puts most modern thrash to shame, without losing all of the characteristics that once graced their best work. Immense production values, impeccable musicianship, and an expansive, angered James Rivera ensure that Glory of Chaos is one of the best of its kind this year, and worth the cash whether you're into their old records or just want your head kicked in. Is it as memorable as the band's prime? Perhaps not, but it's a lot more than I bargained for, and with Forbidden and Helstar offering such wonderful surprises late this year, I have to wonder what might turn up next?

-autothrall
http://www.fromthedustreturned.com