Reviewed: April, 2021
Released: 2021, Massacre Records
Helstar’s last studio album VAMPIRO was released in 2016, the longest stretch between releases for the band since they reunited in 2008. Sadly, the pandemic has had an impact on all bands, including delaying album releases and tours. Fortunately, CLAD IN BLACK delivers some new music even if it is not a full-length album. The new package is two CDs, with the first disc containing the two songs from the 7” October 2020 release BLACK WINGS OF SOLITUDE. Two new original songs and two new cover tunes from the band are also included. Disc two is the entire 2016 VAMPIRO album, making this a great acquisition for fans that do not already own VAMPIRO. However, disc one is certainly a worthwhile purchase for the loyal fans of the band.
Helstar have been writing and recording vital metal since 1982 and show no signs of slowing. Vocalist James Rivera still sounds incredible, his age defying wails over the accomplished riffs of Larry Barragan and Andrew Atwood still bring a metal-toothed grin every time. I would go so far as to say that two of the band’s best tracks are on this new disc. First up is the pulverizing “Dark Incarnation (Mother of the Night). It is a majestic piece of metal that delivers a darkly melodic clean introduction, before kicking it up a notch with some monster riffs and tight drumming. Rivera’s vocals are imaginative and diverse as he uses all of his arsenal on this one. “Black Wings of Solitude” is a ballad, and many fans hear that and immediately roll their eyes, but they should not on this one. Again, Rivera’s performance is inspired and versatile, as Helstar’s version of a ballad provides a dark and doomy feel that is almost certain to evoke an emotional reaction.
Rounding out the new songs is “Across the Raging Seas”, another strong tune though not as memorable as the first two. The cover songs include Sabbath’s “After All (The Dead)”, Accept’s “Restless and Wild”, and Priest’s “Sinner”, each being given a healthy of infusion of heaviness and Helstar fun. None of the three are amazing, but “Restless and Wild” comes across as the best of the group, though the middle solo section of “Sinner” is amazing. Disc 2, as previously mentioned, is the VAMPIRO album which was reviewed by Metal-Rules in 2016 and is a very strong album.
I am appreciative that Helstar is still together and making music that is as good as any they have written over their long career. I was fortunate to meet and interview the band before a sweaty club show in Tampa, FL several years ago, and they are down-to-earth, friendly and a humble group of guys. They have paid their dues and they deserve some success and recognition. CLAD IN BLACK serves as an excellent appetizer before the next studio album and is recommended for fans of traditional and early American power metal delivered with thrash like intensity.
1. Dark Incarnation (Mother of the Night)
2. Black Wings of Solitude
3. Across the Raging Seas
4. Restless and Wild (Accept cover)
5. After All (The Dead) (Black Sabbath cover)
6. Sinner (Judas Priest cover)
James “Vampiro” Rivera – Vocals
Larry Barragan – Guitars
Andrew Atwood – Guitars
Garrick Smith – Bass
Michael Lewis – Drums