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A Lost and Found Tribe of Fearless Vampire Killers - 82%

bayern, January 3rd, 2017

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”.