Released: 2012, Regimental Records
Although RED DRAGON is the third album by Helcaraxe it is our first review of the band and it is about time we paid some attention to this fantastic band. Based in New Jersey, Helcaraxe has been gong for about ten years with the usual trials and tribulations, member changes, various splits and EP’s and eventually the band has solidified into a force to be reckoned with. The band consists of various members of a pair of lesser-known Jersey area Death Metal bands, Aborted Jesus and Open Grave. Pat Henry handles the bass and is likely more known for his front-man role in Swashbuckle.
RED DRAGON is a concept album based on J.R.R. Tolkien’s book The Hobbit. Don’t let that scare if you, if you are not into concept albums. Rather than just a re-telling of the classic tale virtual via a literal interpretation, the band lyrics take the listener on a journey through the story. The album has a gorgeous piece of cover art with a (what else) Red Dragon and the whole album of 11 tracks will run you about 44 minutes to enjoy.
Sonically Helcaraxe are Death Metal with some Norse/Nordic influences. Think more along the lines of Unleashed or Edge Of Sanity than Korpikaani or Finntroll. Helcaraxe is really quite heavy most of the time but they fall into that sweet spot of guttural, but intelligible vocals, buzzing guitar tone but not droning guitars, fast drums but not just blasts or double-kicks all the time, and some really sweet clean soloing. It’s heavy and has a lot of heft and weight to the riffs. Pat lays down some nice bass on Track 4, on a slower, shorter instrumental called, ‘A Fortune In Riddles’. It’s nicely placed in the track sequence to break-up the one-two-three punch of the three opening songs. The songs all sort of run together into one giant piece of music to my ears. I don’t know if it was intended that way but there is virtually no hard break between the songs, it all blends very nicely.
RED DRAGON is a very high quality straight-up Death Metal album but with enough innovative and nordic flourishes to keep things lively. The musicianship is high, the songs interesting, especially the fast guitar lines on ‘Into The Fire And Sky’ and the heavy chugging start-stop-start, time-change composition of ‘The Old Forest Road’. There are some good shouted gang-style vocals scattered about the album to compliment the gruffer vocals of Jesse Traynor. There are also bits of acoustic guitar here and there to broaden the sonic palette of the album. These guys take the classic Swedish sound, update it, mold it a bit and make it their own and the resulting album, RED DRAGON is very enjoyable.