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Review: Helstar - The King of Hell
The King of Hell

Label: AFM Records
Year released: 2008
Duration: 50:01
Tracks: 9
Genre: Heavy Metal


Review online: January 7, 2009
Reviewed by: Larry Griffin
Readers' Rating
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Rated 4.63/5 (92.68%) (41 Votes)

So the other day I was thinking to myself, "People are really getting worked up over that new Helstar album, when in reality it's just pretty good. Not great." Well, luckily, I hadn't already reviewed it, giving me the opportunity to talk about it now.

Helstar are one of my favorite bands, and I actually started off this year really enthused after hearing that they were recording a new album. Their Sins of the Past compilation was fun, if not quite as good as the songs' original counterpart, and I was listening to Remnants of War and A Distant Thunder and the debut Burning Star almost constantly. Total fucking worship. When the new album finally surfaced in late August, I eagerly checked it out, expecting an old school Metal buffet like no other. I mean, of course, Helstar couldn't ever produce anything less than stellar, right? They couldn't ever write an album that didn't completely floor the listener with a barrage of galloping 80s Metal riffs and high-flying falsetto madness, right?

Well, not quite. Helstar are still obviously waving the metal flag as high as they can; that much is obvious from anyone who ever read the band's Myspace page. This is no sell-out album, being even more feral, dark and oppressive than anything the band has done previously, with more emphasis on heavy, chugging, modern Thrash riffage and the demonic intonals that vocalist extraordinaire James Rivera has taken to using as his primary mode of discourse than the galloping Iron Maiden-esque narrative songwriting style of old. No, this isn't a sell-out, it's just a sort of update of the band's sound from what it was back in the early 90s when the band disbanded. It's a similar change in sound to the one that Agent Steel went through recently, except this isn't quite as masterful and captivating as Alienigma was. The band is kind of like an old car. King of Hell is still the same type of car; the band hasn't dismantled or destroyed it - rather, the band has given it a new coat of paint and a bigger set of wheels. It's a bit slower and clunkier than before, but it still manages to run.

The main thing wrong with this album is that the hooks aren't good. There is nothing here that you will remember after one listen. The songs are very dark, heavy and visceral, but they aren't connected together well at all, thrown together in a haphazard manner with little regard for catchy songwriting or any sort of headbanging groove. There are a lot of bad-ass parts on their own, mostly involving James Rivera and his wickedly demonic bellowing, but they never flow cohesively into great songs. It sounds like the band just wanted to write the most diabolical, evil, metal sounding songs they could possibly put down to paper, except they forgot to make the songs enjoyable and durable and able to be played more than once. Every song packs a few really cool vocal tricks, a nice solo or two, but they're never all tied together. Then you get a song like "Pain" thrown in randomly and it sounds nothing at all like the rest of the album, being this ballsy, cut-throat Thrashing machine that careens on for three minutes before the album returns to its previous mode. Was there any thought put into the construction of this at all? I appreciate the sentiment here, but it just doesn't work.

I love a good dark metal epic too, but that's the thing. I love a good dark metal epic. You can't just throw together a bunch of cool ideas without proofreading them and fixing up the errors first. You can't just expect a cobble of good ideas without any sense or flow to be good. The King of Hell, despite its good intentions, is a misguided and confused little album, and it gets worse every time I hear it. Helstar are still a great band, though, and I have confidence that they can come back and deliver a real monster of an album in a few years, but this...this isn't it. You can skip this one unless you're a Helstar die-hard.

More about Helstar...
Review: A Distant Thunder (reviewed by Sargon the Terrible)
Review: Black Wings of Solitude (reviewed by Michel Renaud)
Review: Clad in Black (reviewed by Michel Renaud)
Review: Glory of Chaos (reviewed by Christopher Foley)
Review: Glory of Chaos (reviewed by MetalMike)
Review: Nosferatu (reviewed by Sargon the Terrible)
Review: Remnants of War (reviewed by Sargon the Terrible)
Review: Sins of the Past (reviewed by Bruce Dragonchaser)
Review: This Wicked Nest (reviewed by MetalMike)
Review: Vampiro (reviewed by Bruno Medeiros)
Review: Vampiro (reviewed by MetalMike)
Interview with vocalist James Rivera on November 20, 2016 (Interviewed by Luxi Lahtinen)
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