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The early-90’s were times for changes, within the thrash metal circles as well, and Metallica led the pack. Being the fathers of the genre, they had the right to “kill” their own child, and “kill” it they did, with the Blackest of Albums in 1991. Amazingly, in the process they not only didn’t lose their old fans, but won an army of new ones catapulting themselves to the very top of the metal, perhaps even music, world. The other thrashers, encouraged by the Four Horsemen’s success, decided to follow in their shoes. However, it obviously was just a “first come, first serve” situation since the majority fell flat on their faces after their “cosmetic surgeries”, losing most of their fans thus terminating their careers for an indefinite (for some still finite) period of time.
Yeah, a sad story overall which fortunately had a happy ending in the new millennium with another burgeoning thrash metal scene delighting the fans. Back to the 90’s: almost every existing at the time thrash metal practitioner tried something groovy or post-thrashy; the sole exception remains Tankard who continued with their high-speed thrash antics all the way to the present day (for which they deserve salute with an overfull tankard; cheers!). From the rest there were still a few acts who managed to pull it through with decent transformational works which at least didn’t suck: Coroner, Kreator, Testament, and my personal triumvirate in this train of thought: Anthrax (“The Sound of White Noise”, 1993), Forbidden (“Distortion", 1994), and Helstar with the album reviewed here.
“Nosferatu” was more than a glorifying conclusion of the 1980’s for Helstar who adapted very well to the progressive/technical speed/thrash metal fraternity that was growing exponentially. However, the winds of change came way too soon for anyone to be prepared. The band were ready with an excellent 4-track demo less than a year later which sounded like a nice warm-up for a “Nosferatu” sequel, at least music-wise. The bad news was that the technical metal outfits were not the vogue of the day anymore, and playing as intricately and proficiently as possible was quickly becoming obsolete. The Helstar axemen Andre Corbin and Larry Barragan saw no reason to keep our Immortal Count alive, and they “hammered” a stake through his heart by leaving the metal scene (you can’t kill a vampire so easily, a fact; “Vampiro” (2016), a fact).
However, Mr. James Rivera had other intentions; he was determined to proceed through those turbulent times, and before long he appeared with his new formation, Vigilante. A self-titled demo was released in 1991 with the style a direct follow-up to the progressive power/thrash heard on the last Helstar demo. How much attention the new Vigilantes managed to generate with their musical exploits at the time is not known, but they soldiered on and produced another demo two years later. The style on that one was still quite complex and thought-out, but the guitar sound has become somewhat brasher and angrier. It was still far from the awful groovisms that were ravaging the scene, but it was a visible attempt on the side of the band to partially adapt to the modern trends.
To everyone’s utter surprise a new Helstar appeared, literally out of nowhere, in April 1995. There were hardly a few dozens of fans who genuinely cared about that, but I personally was so delighted to see the cassette in the shop that I looked at the nice cover for at least half an hour (“Wow, and the cover is so nice! Helstar are on fire again!”). Yes, they were on fire alright, but under a different guise. Rivera has preserved the Vigilante line-up who, I guess, were only too happy to perform as Helstar. Basically the material featured here is the one from the Vigilante demos, released under the Helstar name supposedly for commercial purposes; plus a Judas Priest cover of “Beyond the Realms of Death” and a few short quiet instrumentals/ballads. Rivera makes sure to keep Nosferatu’s “corpse” permanently buried so expect no classical virtuosities along the lines of the Dracula saga. Back at that time the Internet was still a wishful thinking so there was not much information about this Helstar release. Few fans were aware of the Vigilante existence, and that’s the reason why the album was universally rejected by the fanbase since it had no ties to the band’s previous recordings except for Rivera’s distinctive vocal bravado.
And this is why, I think, one should approach this effort with a more open mind; because if one does that, he/she should be able to appreciate it for what it is, really good modern technical thrash, a sure highlight on the mid-90’s dull horizon. It’s not exactly Helstar, so why not enjoy these potent intricate rhythms, something which wasn’t coming aplenty at that time… So the more open-minded should have no problems nodding in approval to the choppy dramatic opener “No Second Chance (in the Angry City)” some of which chord progressions and technical breaks are sheer old Helstar. Rivera sounds a bit angrier and less melodic, but perfectly suits the more mechanical musical canvas which proceeds with the sterile minimalistic shredder “Will I Catch It Again”. “Lost to be Found, Found to be Lost” thrashes with both more intensity and more technicality galloping with passion at some stage, too; a notable cannonade of hard-hitting riffage and abrupt stop-and-go rhythms which would make the other Helstar members proud (a lost and then found Helstar piece?). “When We Only Bleed” is a melodic mid-pacer without any flashes, and “Reality” is just a short 2-min ballad with more romantic Rivera behind the mike.
“Good Day to Die” accumulates heavy doom-laden riffs at the beginning, and remains a more ordinary mid-tempo thrasher. The middle starts dragging being inferior to the opening trio, and the aforementioned Judas cover doesn’t do much to improve the situation being another overlong ballad with expected more passionate performance by Rivera. “Save Time” comes to rather save the listener from the relative boredom settled, who should enjoy this track’s more aggressive riffs, the excellent chorus and the admirable lead support. Comes “Black Silhouette Skies” which captures the attention with the children’s choir at the start, and later on remains a worthy power/thrasher with a more epic flair, another nice memorable chorus provided amidst steam-roller semi-technical guitars which reach a fever pitch at the end. The actual end is a short balladic instrumental, the aptly-titled “Last Serenade”.
The old school fanbase from the 90’s shouldn’t have many complaints about this work. It’s much better than all the nu-metal shite that was lying around in heaps at the time, and also managed to keep the Helstar name alive with dignity which, I believe, was Rivera’s main agenda. The man cared about the band and he used his new formation’s material to keep the ashes smouldering. Some hint at possible contractual obligations that Helstar had towards the label although I strongly doubt that having in mind that “Multiples of Black” was released by Massacre Records whereas the old Helstar “shelter” was Metal Blade. Whatever the reason behind its anomalous existence, it remains a firm fact from the band’s career, and not only as the sole recording released under that name during the 90’s. It’s a very good example of how a veteran act can sound relevant to the trends without “shedding” their skin beyond recognition. And, I haven’t heard any of the musicians denying its place in their discography, the way the Destruction team denounced their “products” from that same period…
With Helstar getting stronger in the new millennium, this album’s significance, it there ever was one assigned to it in the first place, is by no means as big anymore; the band speed/thrash on like the previous transformational decade never existed, and are by far one of the most prominent representatives of the thrash metal resurrection wave at present. They fearlessly brought Dracula back from the dead in 2016 with the outstanding “Vampiro”, and it doesn’t seem very likely that they would pay tribute to their short spell with the modern thrash era any time soon. Still, if they decide to get rid again of their Undead friend, I’m sure they should manage to assemble in no time another handful of “Multiples…”, be it “…of Garlic” or “…of Crosses”.
I have faced many humiliations in my time, Mr. Harker but this one is placed above them all!
The most woeful entry in Helstar's rather admirable catalog occurred in 1995 when the band itself was a fallen and forgotten shambles, a ruined house. Only James Rivera remained of the original bunch and although his perseverance is nothing short of commendable, he was clearly not immune to the musical void that bloodied and buried many of his contemporaries in that bleak decade of the '90's. As such, "Multiples of Black" is the absolute sewer if it is to be judged by the monolithic grace and grandeur of its predecessors. It lacks the genius and sheer craftsmanship of Larry Barragan's riffing , the ceaseless stomp and power that the riffing held when combined with Jerry Abarca's slick bass and James Rivera's throat of wonders and all the quirks and idiosyncrasies that made Helstar stand out as a singular force of traditional metallic brilliance. It is a severely vanilla record with the occasional spark but even when that spark shows up, it looks dim and lazy.
Things actually kick off to a promising start with "No Second Chance (In the Angry City)" which although deceptively bland, possesses a bite and energy not unlike the more blunt efforts of Omen and Vicious Rumors. James Rivera gives it as much as he can but it suffers from a lack of any truly captivating riffs and leads. The ghost of Larry Barragabn lingers nowhere and every time Russel DeLeon pounds his drum, it sounds like nails descending into coffinwood. The spiral keeps on in downward fashion from thereon largely fostered by the entirely lacking in charisma and finesse guitar playing of rightly forgotten axemen, Aaron Garza and Michael Heald. There are occasional moments of fun and inspiration because after all this is James Rivera's mind we're talking about. "Lost to Be Found, Found to Be Lost" sounds like something fellow Texans Militia wouldn't disown which means its thrash-isms are cannily placed and indeed it is a slab of fun when compared to the dour counterparts within its realms. Outside of said realm, it would be laughed out of existence. "Good Day to Die" on the other hand stands a chance of survival in the general Helstar cannon mostly because riff wise it exhibits a dynamism akin to the band of old. Only Rivera's pseudo street smart lyrics threaten to doom it. Nothing else is salvageable. Rivera handles "Beyond the Realms of Death" like a pro-adding another layer of despair to Halford's already somber vocal. But where Halford turned blackly triumphant towards the end, Rivera remains feeble and solemn. Not to mention those utterly sinful gang shouts that make "I'm free to speak" sound like a political lyric. The crappy production of course only serves to make matters worse.
In its defense, "Multiples of Black" is truly of its time. It is child of the groovy nineties when bands didn't have much to say and even less riffs to say it with. Besides more bizarre deviations were happening back then, like Queensryche's commercially tilted grunge affiliated "Hear In The Now Frontier" and Flotsam and Jetsam's infinitely absurd "High". When compared to some of the records that came out then though, it still falls short. It lacks the ceaseless charm of "Something Burning" and the character of "Dissident Alliance" and even the selling power of Iced Earth's "Something Wicked This Way Comes". Even to this day, it is still not much to reminisce about. Not for the fans and not even for the band themselves.
Wow. Helstar put out four high quality, grade A albums during the 80's. Seriously some of the best stuff I've ever heard, enough for me to put them on my "Top 10 Favorite bands" list. Although US Metal seemed completely drowned in urine during the mid 90's, I just had to hear this for myself. And it made me depressed.
First off, the worst thing about this album is the production. The sound in the instruments, and all of that. Its completely unbalanced, and horrible. And even the overall production -quality- seems incredibly horrid. I've heard stuff from the 70's better than this. The guitars are just drowning, and these have got to be some of the worst drums I've ever heard, sounding like the guy was hitting trash cans.
We all know about James Rivera's extraordinary performances, but its too hard to focus on his amazing vocals when the music drags down the overall experience down enough already. I think its obvious you can tell Rivera probably didn't enjoy recording this one, since he's pretty well known for his emotion ... its there, but a hint of it doesn't want to be. It sounds like he just wants to break out of a cage during some of the songs.
These guitarists are pretty bad. I'm more than sure they had an effect on the overall feel and sound to the album also, the writing, and whatnot. There's a few cool riffs here and there, the decent solo's. But Helstar's been known for completely over the top, mindblowing riffs and solo's. That's not the case here. The solo's on here aren't very dynamic, and just don't really give you much of a satisfying feeling when a song ends, because you were expecting more, and the structure just feels broken. Even when I try not to compare this album to Helstar's earlier releases, this still wouldn't be something I'd ever listen to for fun. Its so low grade, lifeless, and doesn't give off any sense of satisfaction at all.
So, the former reviewer BARD_Jean_Pierre pretty much nailed everything perfectly. But, I myself was just too interested to hear this myself, and as he stated, it was depressing. And although I hate to give such a low rating to one of my top favorite bands, I just felt it was necessary to further this warning to everyone to stay completely away from this broken mess of a album. Its a shame too, because look at what James Rivera has done recently in the last few years. Distant Thunder, Destiny's End, Seven Witches, absolutely incredible stuff and you can tell the man knows his Metal and will always stay true to it. For that, you can just tell he doesn't sound like he wants to be here on this release.
However, as you can see Helstar is active again, and we'll more than likely see a new release from them sometime soon. Luckily, with Metal in the US, and the entire world continueing to expand and regain its high popularity thesedays, and looking what Rivera has done over the years outside of this album, I'm sure everyone can agree that Helstar will truly be back at top of their game when that new album comes out. Can't wait!
For that, I say we all pretend Helstar never released this album. Its that bad, and I give it absolutely no recommendation at all. But ... if you're like me, and must hear it for yourself ... go for it. Just be ready to brace yourself for one of Metal's biggest disappointments of all time.