Saturday, February 5, 2011

Review: Helstar - Glory of Chaos (2010)

Helstar [ Website | MySpace | Facebook ]
Glory of Chaos
(2010)
AFM Records

When they burst onto the American thrash scene in the mid-'80s, Houston's Helstar was on equal footing with other genre pioneers like Metallica, Overkill, and Megadeth. Fronted by the vocally charismatic James Rivera and propelled by a wicked twin-guitar attack from Larry Barragan and Rob Trevino, Helstar was poised to conquer the masses. Their fourth album, 1989's Nosferatu, is not only considered their magnum opus but still reigns as one of the top albums of the era. As the '90s dawned and their genre-mates enjoyed varying degrees of success, Helstar fell victim to line-up instability and a greasy-haired dude named Kurt Cobain (and his plaid-wearing legions). In 1995 Helstar released Multiples of Black, an album as atrocious as Nosferatu was brilliant, and departed the scene on a low note.

A decade later, as bands like Death Angel and Exodus reignited the fires of old-school thrash, Rivera rounded up the band's sophomore album (Remnants of War) line-up - minus drummer Rene Luna - and attempted a comeback. The result was 2008's The King of Hell, which received a lukewarm reception but proved that the guys still had some gas in the tank. Glory of Chaos is the continuation of Helstar's resurgence and, though not as monumental of an album as Nosferatu, is the release that will propel the band back to the forefront of the genre.

What's immediately discernible upon spinning Glory of Chaos is the fact the James Rivera still deserves to be counted among the elite of heavy metal vocalists. I would even go so far as to say that his pipes have improved over time, particularly in the lower reaches of his range. The Halford-esque wails still flow freely, but his performance on this album definitely benefits from increased variety. "Alma Negra", one of the highest velocity tracks on Glory of Chaos, is dominated by some insane, almost black metal vocals. Rivera screams a bit on "Summer Of Hate" as well, but for the vast majority of the album he sticks primarily with his tried-and-true signature style.

Barragan and Trevino are also in brilliant form on this album, delivering riff after menacing riff from start to finish. "Angels Fall To Hell" and "Pandemonium" (one of the most appealing tracks on the disc) surge ahead with riffs and solos resurrected from thrash metal's glory days, while the supersonic tempo of "Alma Negra" contrasts the somewhat reigned in cadence of "Monarch Of Bloodshed" to keep the album's pacing from becoming stale. Led off by a Charles Manson soundclip, "Summer Of Hate" finds the two axemen showcasing some seriously threatening, very much throwback riffs before giving way to a bit of contemporary chugga-chugga guitar work. Barragan and Trevino certainly offer more than just a passing nod to the thrash metal of old, but the band also takes advantage of modern production sensibilities to make Glory of Chaos an album that is both fresh and nostalgic.

Drummer Michael Lewis isn't exactly a newcomer to the Helstar family, having served with Rivera and Abarca in Distant Thunder, so he brings a clear understanding of the core Helstar sound to the kit. "Bone Crusher" and "Alma Negra" find Lewis expertly serving up some complex beats and ferociously delivering the double-kick.

Furthering Glory of Chaos' retro appeal, the U.S. edition features two bonus cover tracks. The first is a truly kick-ass version of Saxon's "Heavy Metal Thunder". One of my favorite tracks from one of my favorite metal bands, the intensity Helstar put into this song improves on an already legendary work. The second cover, a doomy version of Scorpions' "Animal Magnetism", is also done quite well...even if it comes off as being a bit creepy.

Fans in the market for a thrash album that remains rooted in the origins of the style without sounding dated should not pass on Glory of Chaos, nor should the Helstar faithful who've been waiting for the band to once again realize their potential.



Track Listing
1Angels Fall To Hell5:11
2Pandemonium4:34
3Monarch Of Bloodhsed5:25
4Bone Crusher5:14
5Summer Of Hate5:58
6Deathtrap4:04
7Anger4:04
8Trinity Of Heresy4:49
9Alma Negra5:51
10Zero One1:06
11Heavy Metal Thunder4:12
12Animal Magnetism6:11
Total Runtime56:39



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