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
TRANSMETAL, Indestructible (2012, La Mazakuata)
Crowned in lightning and wreathed in black clouds, this massive sky-skull is not fucking around. And while the figure at the center of the Aztec calendar stone adorning the skull’s forehead is widely believed by scholars to depict the sun god, this interpretation is not universal, and clearly Transmetal are throwing their hat behind an unorthodox theory that it’s none other than Mictlantecuhtli: god of death, and, by extension, death metal. He’s out for blood and will be taking no shit. And don’t even think you can destroy him. Have you not noticed the title?
Looking at that name, and that logo, you’d surely assume that this was some super-corny true metal band, but you’d be wrong, because Transmetal are basically the wise old men of the Mexican death metal scene. Since forming in the mid 80s, they’ve released over 20 full length studio albums, and their meat-and-potatoes DM sound hasn’t changed much in all that time. There really isn’t a comparable band in the States, although Cannibal Corpse or Immolation might fit the bill. And while most DM bands who have held on that long are down to a couple original members, at least, three of the four original Transmetal dudes are still in the band. So, color me impressed by the dedication and longevity. If only their music was better! Their early stuff sounds like pretty much any other class of 87 death metal band, and over they years they’ve only modernized in the sense that they’ve incorporated some European influences (especially Scandinavian), and they’ve resisted the temptations to go melodic or technical. They’re a perfectly fine act, and if Indestructible isn’t one of their best albums (and it isn’t, especially considering the terrible, tinny production), it’s hardly a bad disc. It’s just maddeninly generic, and samey from song-to-song as well. But if mid-tempo death metal a la Asphyx is your thing, if what you want is tank-like consistency, then Transmetal might just do it for you.
— Friar Johnsen