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Helstar had been honing their craft for awhile before entering the studio to record Nosferatu. The band started with Burning Star in 1984, establishing themselves as a capable 5-piece unit with an interesting blend of thrash and melody. Certainly back in those days more was going to be expected; one doesn't release solid powerful thrash metal with outstanding vocals and slick production without the buying public thinking to themselves "the next one is going kick some serious ass." And so the boys set about honing their craft, improving their musicianship and songrwriting. The result were two successive improvements in Remnants of War and A Distant Thunder -- each receiving its portion of acclaim among the faithful, and each promising more.
There is often an indelible moment in a band's existence -- that time & place where the musical improvements couple perfectly with the songwriting ideas leading to a pressing of songs that blow minds and wash away any remaining doubts. I believe Nosferatu is one of those moments. This CD is nearly without peer, combining the best songwriting of the group's career with an obsessive dedication to perfect guitarmanship and solid production.
Nosferatu is broken into two distinct parts. The first half contains a condensed concept piece on the story of our most prolific of anti-heroes, Dracula himself. 6 songs are dedicated to the subject, all freakishly incredible. The latter half of Nosferatu are individual titles, more in keeping with the material on A Distant Thunder.
Really, those first 6 songs are some of the best thrash metal ever created. Each song plays a perfect part in the whole of the story, each possesses a different melodic and rhythmic take on the theme of dread, each contributes perfectly to the whole. I could give a particular song of note, but that would be pointless. All stand as treasures that must be witnessed and cherished. I have heard Andre Corbin say that there was tension about the recording of Perserverance and Desperation, being that it is an instrumental and contains much guitar self-indulgence. But really, that's part of the magic of Nosferatu -- it's wankery DONE RIGHT. It's guitar noodling that somehow works this time. It's what all these Shrapnel arpeggio freaks always wanted to achieve, but never, ever made it. Not on this level.
While I certainly prefer Rhapsody in Black through The Curse has Passed Away, there's much to like on the latter portion of the album. Benediction is a head-banging monster fest, possessed of technical mega riffing and some very nice sync'd rhythmic vocal lines and altered time signatures. Swirling madness should bring a smile to the faces of all those who enjoy chaos, with its lyrics about a Hellraiser-style opening of rifts between our world and a dire, nasty altered reality.
Aieliaria and Everonn deserves special mention. My grandma -- of all people -- once remarked to me "I listened to this entire CD and thought it was noise, but that last song is beautiful." And it is. Beginning with the electronic piano introduction Von Am Lebem Destro Strum and proceeding into the main song, Aieliaria and Everonn is a neo-classical delight, possessed of masterful guitar wizardry, fascinating mythological lyrics, and expert songwriting craftsmanship. I only wish it didn't end so abruptly; but then again, all good things must come to an end...
Nosferatu is a guitar player's wet dream. There's really no other way to put it. Andre Corbin and Larry Barragan log some of the most worthwhile man hours ever on this album. I once read an interview with Corbin where he talked about the work the duo put into perfecting the performances and techniques used on Nosferatu. It definitely shows. Every pick stroke is executed to pefection. The riffing is astonishingly haunting -- if you wanted to create a soundtrack to the story of Dracula, you'd be hard pressed to top the first half of Nosferatu. It draws the listener in, and what gets me is that there is plenty of noodling and wankery here. Normally that would hurt the songwriting for me. But somehow, on Nosferatu, its exactly what the doctor ordered. I also love how the distortion is drawn back -- neither guitarist is competing for the highest gain channel on their amp. Instead, the tone is set to draw out the intricacy of the workmanship. Heavy guitarists take note -- killer distortion is not the end-all, be-all of existence. People have to hear what is being played. Listen to Nosferatu and learn.
James Rivera is laid back on Nosferatu compared to some of his other work. For my money, it works really well. The effect is very haunting. Many other times we hear James exercising his considerable range, but on Nosferatu he keeps to his lower register, contributing to the storyline and working within the composition. I've heard some criticism of this and really, I wouldn't have it any other way. These songs are supposed to impress foreboding and dread upon the listener -- not make him jump out of his chair. And it works perfectly. The second half of Nosferatu is disconnected with the main Nosferatu story arc, and predictably, Rivera's vocals are more animated, more in keeping with his work on Helstar's previous effort, A Distant Thunder.
Bill Metoyer, he of many a credit on metal CDs, was smart enough to step out of the way and let the natural musicianship of Nosferatu show. He did add some reverb and echo to Rivera to increase the effect, but always those fast-picking guitars are shoved in the listener's face, along with the raw drumming of Frank Ferreira. Only the bass work of Abarca seems a little lost in the mix; but really, it's a small sacrifice considering the supreme performances of the rest of the band.
I know almost everyone will know this CD, but if by some chance you haven't, you really do need to pick this one up. After listening to so much heavy guitar work over the years, I'm conviced that Nosferatu is a singular expression of emotion, creativity, and technciality that every fan of heavy music should witness.
One final note: the voice on the interludes between songs is none other than the great Frank Langella, from the movie Dracula, released in 1979. This particular rendition of the story was met with a mixed reception, but in terms of quotability, there's no one better to draw from than Langella. Perfect choice.