Rising From The Grave
posted on 7/2010 By:
Metal Blade continues reissuing their back catalog with this set, compiling the label’s three releases from Texas' long-running and often-ignored Helstar. Comprised of 1988's A Distant Thunder and 1989's Nosferatu alongside a DVD of 2000's belatedly released live effort 'Twas The Night Of A Hellish Xmas, Rising From The Grave skips the band's earliest efforts and picks up with the band's third record--their first for Metal Blade after a pair for Combat--and at the same time, it avoids 1995's Multiples Of Black, originally released on Massacre Records. (I have not heard Multiples, but it's generally considered a low point for these progressive power-thrashers. As such, I am perfectly happy to avoid it. And for those who wonder, Hellish Xmas is not a Christmas record—it’s a live recording of a show on December 25, 1989.)
So, as mentioned above, Helstar trades in power metal with progressive thrash tendencies--these tunes are filled to the brim with fiery speed metal riffs that are palm-muted into chunky thrashiness, aggressive and fleet-fingered soloing, plus the requisite soaring, vibrant choruses. Helstar is edgier than the average power metal band, hence the thrash addendum, but they are epic and melodic nonetheless. For a reference: think some of Helloween’s darkest moments, crossed with the bite of vintage Metallica. The most prominent facet of Helstar's sound is James Rivera's vocal performance, midrange-y and melodic, pierced with periodic forays into a punchy falsetto. He's a gifted vocalist, but those not attuned to power metal or to the sound of the late 1980's may find his contributions treading close to dated and/or somewhat corny. Regardless, Rivera’s vocals are undeniably powerful and certainly noteworthy, especially since he's been Helstar’s driving force and only constant member for nearly three decades. (Despite the band's line-up changes throughout the years, each of the releases compiled herein feature the same five musicians, most notably guitarist Larry Barragan, another Helstar mainstay, having only sat out on Multiples Of Black.) The remainder of the band is solid, above average but yet nondescript, a combination that unfortunately defines most of what’s on hand.
Thanks to the shortcomings of today's reliance upon digital promo-disc delivery, I was not serviced with the Hellish Xmas DVD and thus cannot comment upon it. Of the two discs of material that I did receive, the Nosferatu portion is the better half—better developed and better performed and just generally more interesting, given its thematic concept. (The record is based upon Dracula, of course.) Opening the set, A Distant Thunder features several of the band's best tunes, "The King Is Dead" and "Abandon Ship" among them, plus a cover of the Scorpions' "He's A Woman, She's A Man.” But still, Thunder feels less rumbling than its successor, simply because Nosferatu upped the ante in terms of all three major factors—the songs are better, more fully realized; the performances are tighter and more furious; the production is stouter.
I will admit that I missed these records when they came around the first time, and I will admit that I was stoked to see them come back around, and I will admit that, while I thoroughly enjoyed Rising From The Grave…well… I’m not entirely blown away. Yes, Helstar is/was a good band (they’ve reformed again of late); they are/were worthy of more attention than they ever get/got, but neither of these revisited releases is an absolutely, buy-or-die slab of metal—they’re both just damn good records that time unfortunately forgot by a band that most of life unfortunately ignores/ignored. Rising From The Grave is a fun listen, especially so for guys like me, which is to say fans of classic-era melodic metal, and I’m more than happy that Metal Blade reissued it, if only so that guys like me can, in one quick pick, snap up two good vintage records (and one wild-card DVD that probably isn’t worth it to anyone but Helstar die-hards).
But beyond that, I’m critical enough to admit that this Rising is not mandatory—it’s more in the vein of Metal Blade’s Lizzy Borden reissues than in that of the Fates Warning, Primordial, Flotsam & Jetsam and Voivod re-releases. Enjoyable, yes, and for fans of power metal and for underground metal historians, Rising is worthy of investigation. For all others, it’s an interesting listen, certainly, but ultimately, it’s only a medium-sized diamond-in-the-used-bin discovery.
And while we’re at it: hey, Mr. Slagel, where’s the Sacred Reich reissues? Nasty Savage? C’mon…
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