|Classic Review: Helstar - A Distant Thunder|
|A Distant Thunder|
Label: Metal Blade Records
Year released: 1988
Genre: Heavy Metal
Review online: July 7, 2004
Reviewed by: Sargon the Terrible
for:A Distant Thunder
Rated 4.23/5 (84.62%) (26 Votes)
Ah, Helstar, one of the great cult 80's bands that I mostly missed. I had "Nosferatu" back in the day, and remember liking it pretty well, and a recent purchase of "Remnants Of War" proved not too bad an idea. So we come to this, the third album in Helstar's catalog, and a definite step down.
Helstar play that 'underground 80s metal' much like old Fates Warning (you know, when they still used capital letters) or Omen. Helstar were a bit thrashier, and not even as well known as those two bands when they still existed. So this should be a very enjoyable listen for an old-school metalhead like me, and yet somehow it isn't. I don't think it's that this is bad music, I just think it hasn't aged well. The production is that muffled, echoey job so prevalent at the time, and so that sort of dates it, but it doesn't hold back bands like Manilla Road, so that can't be it. I think it's just that the songwriting, while epic and packing some really good riffs, never manages to gel into real memorable songs. I big part of this is vocalist James Rivera, who some people claim is a God of metal singers, and other people hate. I don't hate his voice, I hate his style. If he would either sing or shout he would be fine. But he alternates between perfectly good singing and a thrash-influenced yammer that is VERY annoying. Also, I hate the omnipresent echo chamber they stuck him in to record, as it makes him sound like he's in the basement singing through a laundry chute.
Instrumentally, you cannot argue with Helstar, as Larry Barragan was an underrated guitar master who always produces awesome leads and riffs. The rest of the band is solid, and when they're cooking along, "A Distant Thunder" sounds pretty damned good, then Rivera comes yakking on and tries to ruin it with half-assed thrash vocals and uninspired vocal melodies that often seem to have no relation to the song at hand. (Think early Cage for a similar problem). All told, this is a good album, but it never really grabs you, and after it's over you won't remember a thing about it. Helstar are a worthy pick for 80s fans, but they never rose up and produced anything as good as the bands that inspired them, and so they remain a good, but not great band from back when.
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Interview with vocalist James Rivera on November 20, 2016 (Interviewed by Luxi Lahtinen)
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