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Classic U.S. Heavy/Power Metal - 96%

__Ziltoid__, August 1st, 2010

I’ve been on a bit of a traditional heavy metal kick lately, and that includes the U.S. power metal movement, which is much more aligned with ballsy heavy metal than flowery European power metal. Helstar created one of the best albums in this category, Nosferatu, in 1989.

From the first track, ‘Baptized In Blood,’ you can immediately hear how riff-oriented Helstar is. The transitioning from catchy riff to the mandatory 16th note strumming that power metal is notorious for works seamlessly, creating a sound that really is a blend of heavy and power metal (not that the two ever strayed too far from each other). The break at 1:56, though, is just masterful! Subtly complex, it provides as an excellent method of transitioning into the next riff.

At the same time, whenever the power metal element of Helstar’s sound sticks out, one can’t help but be reminded of Yngwie Malmsteen a bit, and that certainly is the case – the “neoclassical” crap he’s known for is present here, but in a much more restrained and tasteful form. This can be heard at the end of a few riffs and in most of the solos on the album. Just listen to the solo on ‘Harker’s Tale (Mass Of Death)’ – I feel like Michael Romeo of Symphony X very well might have listened to this a lot before starting his career, because it sounds very much like something he’d write. Still, this sound is most prevalent on the instrumental track, ‘Perseverance And Desperation,’ one of the finest metal instrumentals ever recorded. This song is a masterful display of musicianship. Mainly focused on the harmony between the two guitarists, this is intricate and tasteful at the same time. This also brings to mind the dual guitarwork of Iron Maiden and how that made them such a revolutionary band in metal. This is easily one of the high points on Nosferatu.

With the vibrancy of a young traditional metal band, Helstar have a very nice rhythm section, providing both the backing support needed, while also doing some very nice subtle things that really add to the sound, whether it may be a small drum fill or complex rhythm (‘To Sleep, Per Chance To Scream’ come to mind), or an odd bassline that deviates from the guitar melodies that really adds another dimension to the song. In fact, I really like the bass sound on Nosferatu, and the bass is mixed high enough in the mix where it’s really audible.

But one of the most important parts of Nosferatu is the vocal performance. Frankly, it’s chilling. This is not your average Dickinson or Halford here, but instead a soaring voice that somehow sounds depressing and lulling at the same time. It really is odd, but it fits well with the album. It really makes slower songs, such as ‘The Curse Has Passed Away,’ that much creepier, and in that regard, I love it. Also, the chorus of ‘To Sleep, Per Chance To Scream’ is fucking awesome. With the guitars getting most of the attention here, it would be easy to ignore the vocals upon first listen, but after that, they really stick with you.

This is a classic album, and anyone who considers themselves a fan of traditional heavy metal or power metal should get Nosferatu as soon as possible.

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