HELSTAR, 30 Years of Hel (2012, AFM)
Helstar sure do love this horny skull, but unlike fellow past-their-prime thrashers Nuclear Assault, Helstar at least do us the courtesy of commissioning a fresh rendering of their goofy mascot every time they drop him on a cover. That’s about the only creative favor they do us, though, as every one of these covers is boring a lazy. Here they’ve situated the Helskul in front of the Aztec sun stone and made everything red. And that ancient calendar is given some motion blur, for some reason. The skull looks happy though, probably because he’s still got a job, and in this economy, that’s nothing to shake a stick at.
As Friar Wagner has documented elsewhere, Helstar are a band with an impressive legacy who are actually still reasonably good, and as he mentioned in his review of Glory of Chaos, they’re a genuinely excellent live band. 30 Years of Hel is the proper live album that ‘Twas the Night of a Helish X-mas wasn’t, and if the setlist isn’t as good (including, as it does, lots of lesser new stuff to go with the greater old stuff), at least the sound is much improved. Well, at least somewhat improved. This isn’t a bootleg-quality recording by any stretch, but it’s not particularly powerful, either. The band is tight as hell and James Rivera sounds as Riverian as ever, which is of course a mixed blessing. For as old as he is, and for as long as he’s been doing this, he’s still in undeniably great shape as a singer, but his tremulous warble, which was only barely tolerable in the 80s, has completely consumed him. The troughs of his vibrato could hold a dozen other singers. But if heavy metal’s own Ethel Merman doesn’t put you off, and you’re looking for a medium-good document of an above average nostalgia act from the 80s, I guess you could do worse than this.
— Friar Johnsen