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When I first got into metal there were bands I really enjoyed that released a few albums or so that marked themselves as a classic release. It wasn't always the case that I'd find myself saying "all of them" are winners for a particular band, but that was the deal with Helstar and their entire discography (besides the minor slip up that was Multiples of Black, but for 1995 who could blame them)? Not a lot of bands released four instant classics in a row as flawlessly as Helstar did. Then just like a large majority of incredible metal acts, they disbanded during the 90's plague. 20 years later they're back for the ultimate reunion and reformed in one of their strongest lineups (Remnants Of War). Before we get our brand new full length album we've been treated to this excellent and incredibly unique Best Of compilation.
I had a few takes on what to expect here before I dived into this masterpiece. James Rivera's recent success over the past several years with great bands from Destiny's End, to Vicious Rumors, to the Helstar spin off Distant Thunder, made it ultimately obvious that this would inevitably be totally awesome. But on the other hand I wondered why not release a Best Of set with just some remastering done to a select handful of tracks? After listening to this it will all make perfect sense. Helstar's return will probably be one of the strongest reunions in metal history. This brilliant compilation is the starting proof of that.
For starters the track listing here is dead on. Sure I would have liked to hear Run With the Pack again, Dark Queen or the almighty Winds of War, etc, but I can't complain with this listing a single bit. Burning Star, Witch's Eye, and Dracula's Castle come from their debut Burning Star. Suicidal Nightmare, Evil Reign, Angel of Death, and Face the Wicked One from Remnants Of War (lots of treatment for this album! Though it is the same lineup so no surprise). The King is Dead and Tyrannicide from Distant Thunder. Finally leaving us with Baptized in Blood and Harker's Tale from Nosferatu. Its incredible how well these songs even when ordered apart from their original albums (as they are in this compilation), end up flowing so well together. At the same time each track does an excellent job bringing in that particular "taste" that album had, as its fairly easy to tell an old Helstar album apart. Further proof of Helstar's consistency?
Setting itself far away from the pointless factor (the "Why should I check this out if I've heard their albums?"), the production here is what takes this album to a whole new level. If you thought Nosferatu was their heaviest, think again. Is it modernized? Hardly! Overproduced? Please! Overall its pretty comparable to the production off of Remnants Of War but nicely polished, heavier, more "compact", and all around tougher. Because of this heavier production it might take some getting used to for some of the tracks, but with the majority of the songs here it actually works pretty well and again, gives this compilation all the more reason to look into. The aggression seems nearly doubled with the Nosferatu tracks and I wonder if I'll even favor them over the originals in time! Every instrument has its time under the spotlight when the time is right and sounds completely majestic. And although I'm sure its rather obvious with all his recent activity, vocalist James Rivera himself has not aged a single bit.
However as much as I love the production here there are a few changes I'd like to see with their full length release. Rivera's voice needs to be moved just a bit more out front than it is, handled like his vocals were on Distant Thunder's release. I guess its safe to say the mix here is extremely balanced and nothing overpowers anything but I'd love to hear Rivera dominate like he did with the original albums. Aside from this, I wouldn't mind a "sharper" guitar tone. Though if they do stick with this sound, it truly wouldn't bother me. This is just me being nit picky.
Finally there's the two brand new tracks Tormentor and Caress of the Dead. The band hinted that their new material would be in the vein of Nosferatu and I'll be damned, these two songs bleed absolutely nothing but 'Helstar'. The band completely acknowledges this fact and dismisses any kind of influences that could have plagued them and their style with the current trends in metal and so forth. Rivera, all of them, they don't care what band they have all been a part of after all these years. This is Helstar! Complex, aggressive, power/thrash, whatever you want to call it, these guys haven't turned their back on their sound and haven't changed a damn bit. Hopefully that gets the point across? With these two tracks I think its finally official, their next album is probably going to be pure classic Helstar.
I was instantly hooked with this. The classic opening with Burning Star had me interested, out went a few elements that made the original what it is and in came new elements that sets this version completely apart from it. A few more tracks in it was nothing but a breath of fresh air that managed to replicate the originals flawlessly while containing its own sound and style. If you've seen the video interviews with some members they were humbled that people still listened to Remnants Of War, 20 years after its release. And another 20 years from now I'll still be listening to this! Both new and old fans should be able to appreciate this as well as metal fans of any sorts. Never heard of Helstar? This wouldn't be a bad place to start at all. Get this, along with those four original albums and let the brilliance destroy you.