HELSTAR, Glory of Chaos (2010, AFM)
2010 was an amazingly prolific year for the big dumb skull. Scan through previous BDS reviews and you’ll see what I mean. It might just have been the best-ever year for skulls and, not coincidentally, was the year this friar’s collection of skull album covers grew exponentially. What does Helstar’s glorious chaos skull offer the Skullection? Not much, although it’s slightly worthy for the ominous, fiery glow that lights that sucker up like a Christmas tree. And then there’s the eight-pointed chaos symbol, its arrow tips sporting all kinds of symbols that probably amount to a lot of mystical malarky when you get right down to it (the RX sign for prescription medicine? Huh?). Anyway, I’m not sure where the glory is, and chaos is only implied by the symbol. Just another half-assed cover idea, I say.
Whoever thinks Helstar is better as a beefier, thicker, chunkier, faster, more modernized version of its old self is certifiably insane. They’re still “true” metal, and there’s still some great stuff to get out of this album and its predecessor, The King of Hell. James Rivera remains a vocalist of power, control and personality. And Helstar remains one of the best live bands going. I’ve seen them twice and was completely speechless afterwards. But here’s my problem with their new stuff: Glory of Chaos is to old Helstar what Painkiller is to ’70s era Priest. It’s good, but they’ve traded something precious away in dialing down their youthful naivete (Burning Star) and their sense of innovation and discovery (Nosferatu). There are no high or low points on Glory of Chaos, just one sturdy red line of near-thrash metal. “Trinity of Heresy” and “Deathtrap” could have been on A Distant Thunder, but they’re too bloated with down-tuned guitars, while “Monarch of Bloodshed” sounds like old men trying to be way heavier than what comes natural for them. Think Jugulator this time. But the production is throwing me off some. Everything’s way too up front, no real dynamics. It lacks the earthiness of their early stuff…then again I’m not going to sit here and tell you the guitar sound on Burning Star was great, because it wasn’t. You could do worse than listen to this album while the first four Helstar albums are also on your shelf, but for me, I’ll always choose any of those over this. Good luck to ’em, though, because in a perfect world they’d be as popular as Amon Amarth.
— Friar Wagner