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Helstar were evolving gradually, but surely, adding new ingredients with each subsequent album (power metal (“Burning Star”); speed/power metal (“Remnants of War”); speed/thrash (“Distant Thunder”); technical speed/thrash (“Nosferatu”)) to their arsenal, logicaly reaching their creative peak near the genre’s zenith period. Unlike other bands, who reached their pinnacle at a very early stage (Mercyful Fate, Agent Steel, Metal Church, Paradox, etc.), which led to the bands splitting up, or experiencing major line-up changes, James Rivera and Co. were moving towards the culmination of their career step by step in a well measured, sure-handed, pace. And what a culmination it was… “Distant Thunder” was already a pretty strong album, but even its most inspired moments were not even remotely hinting at the overwhelming listening experience which “Nosferatu” would be.
This album is the perfect metal analogue to a classical symphony, a triumphant technical speed/thrash opera, never achieved before or after. From the complex multi-faced song-structures, to the classically-inspired guitar duels, to the lyrical concept behind the music, to the direct nod to their inspiration (the 2-min instrumental “Von Am Lebem Desto Strum”): everything at display was intended as a tribute to the classical musical heritage, an ambitious undertaking which arguably produced the finest fruit of the whole 80’s American power/speed/thrash metal scene.
What also made this album even more compelling at the time was the fact that it provided a more digestible form of technical metal, as opposed to the ultra-complex, hectic style of Watchtower and the very characteristic, abstract/spacey delivery of Voivod. The technical side of the genre had already reached its summit in Europe (Deathrow, Mekong Delta, Target, Sieges Even, Living Death, etc.) a year earlier, and the other side of the Atlantic was sadly falling behind (Savage Steel’s “Do or Die” being the “lonely warrior” on the battlefield). “Nosferatu” did a lot to bring America back in the competition, along with same year’s Watchtower’s ‘Control & Resistance”, Nasty Savage's "Penetration Point", Toxik's "Think This", and Annihilator’s “Alice in Hell”.
Andre Corbin had joined the band one year earlier for “Distant Thunder”, lifting the musical proficiency quite a few notches up, testimony for which was the excellent instrumental “(The) Whore of Babylon”, among other niceties scattered throughout. But he was yet to perfect his interaction with Larry Branagan which found its full realisation less than a year later. A warning sign for some may have been the closing of the regular 2-year gap left between albums, but very soon it became evident that the guys’ creative genius couldn’t possibly wait for so long to be unleashed upon the scene, to the fans’ utter delight.
The dramatic thundering riffage on the opening “Rhapsody in Black” already suggests at great things to come, and the standout performance of everyone involved more than fulfills all the promises. The Branagan/Corbin duo cooperation is extraordinary, and these guys should be mentioned right beside Downing/Tipton, the Schenker brothers, Murray/Smith, and Denner/Laroque. They literally cross out the entire Shrapnel catalogue with just a few songs down the line with the puzzling execution of some of the most intricate guitar "duels" to ever grace the scene. There is hardly a single moment which would not make you gape in wonder at the genuine brilliance and the effortless swing of creativity at large here. Rivera’s performance is traditionally standout, the man emitting passion, dramatism, and authority in various degrees throughout the album, following the music's mood swings unerringly. “Perseverance and Desperation" should not be left unmentioned as well: one of the five best instrumentals in metal history, a gorgeous classical piece, which Yngwie Malmsteen is yet to come up with. To add other song-titles here, however, would be mind-stretching and unnecessary: every composition is a gem in a perfectly constructed piece of art which would hopefully never be stained with a belated follow-up (remember "Abigail 2", "Keeper of the Seven Keys- The Legacy", etc.); so praise the band for having become a full-blooded aggressive thrash metal act in the new millennium!
This colossal effort, for obvious reasons, remained underappreciated by the fans in the late-80's due to its complex, conceptual manner of execution (at the time the fanbase was still adjusting to Queensryche's "Operation Mindcrime") which was not a very common phenomenon on the scene back in those days. But, judging by the raving reviews which this album has started receiving more recently, now one can only be glad that the metal brotherhood has eventually acknowledged its immortal status, like it always happens with the true genuis. But I would suggest we stop rambling and simply quote Mr. Bram Stoker in the end; the man had said it so well in the distant past: "One man (album) undead... Nosferatu".
Unrest in peace...