By Jason Wellwood
Rising From The Grave compiles the first two of Helstar’s Metal Blade releases (1988’s A Distant Thunder and 1989’s Nosferatu) into one package along with 2000’s Twas The Night of a Hellish Xmas DVD for good measure. Unfortunately, my digital review copy didn’t come with a preview of the DVD but if the DVD is as well restored as the albums themselves, I’m sure it will be a great watch. I’m told that Helstar live is a force to be reckoned with. Original CD pressings of material from the 80’s and even early 90’s sounds very quiet and muddy by today’s standards, but this reissue has restored the vinyl (or cassette) crispness. All of the instruments (including the bass) can be heard clearly in the mix and the drums don’t sound like coffee cans, which is a refreshing change. My hat is off to the folks who worked on restoring this one!
As the disc progress, it’s very obvious why Helstar were both highly regarded by their peers but not ever a household name in metal. James Rivera has an incredible voice that easily walks between a mid-range thrash vocal and a high pitched power metal scream that many expect. An interesting thing about Rivera though, is he doesn’t always go for the ‘scream’ when you think he would. He’s reserved with his voice and at times almost understated. Musically, the songs take turns galloping along at breakneck speed and then gently easing you in to the next passage before taking you on a high speed romp once again. The problem with Helstar is that many of their songs are remarkably similar, as great as they are. Only Rivera’s vocal performances differ, but lyrically and structurally there is a lot of sameness here. Songs like ‘Abandon Ship’ and even ‘Scorcher’ sound good but are pretty silly at the same time and even the cover of the Scorpions ‘He’s A Woman, She’s A Man’ sounds like it could have been written by the band in the same sessions as the rest of the disc.
Helstar could have been a much bigger band if the songs had just been a bit stronger. Rising From The Grave is an enjoyable listen though and it’s easy to get carried away in Rivera and company’s enthusiasm and skill.