From the first notes of this album, you can tell it's going to be something quite special and epic. Eerie sounds with a soft acoustic guitar riff start before a monster riff comes in and you know this album means business. "Awaken Unto Darkness" is the title of this killer opening track. The opening solo, with it's haunting eastern feel, fits so perfect. Halfway through the song it speeds it up with another kick ass riff that is reminiscent of older Helstar. New guitarist, Andrew Atwood, is an amazing fit because his solo on the song smokes with a great tone that compliments Larry Barragan's sound and style. Everything here seems to be falling into place perfectly.
Of course, this is a Helstar album so the real star of this show is James Rivera. His voice has changed little over the years but the changes it has made has only gone to compliment the band. His screams and shrieks have become his signature in their ferocity and his lower "clean" singing voice has only gotten better. He can bring that eerie, dark vibe to the songs but he also has created a way to bring out characters in his voice. "To Dust You Will Become" is a perfect example of how much dynamic his voice has taken on. I've personally known James since 1999 and seen him perform on multiple occasions as well as rehearsals, soundcheck's, etc. Prior to this album, Welcome the End from his Distant Thunder project was my favorite performance by James. This album has turned that all around. He's telling a story on this album and is using his voice, much like King Diamond, to create the atmosphere for the story and the result is just incredible.
The songwriting and the riffs on this album need mention because the opening riff on "From the Pulpit to the Pit" is catchy as fuck and the opening solo just shreds making this one of my favorite Helstar songs. "To Their Deathbeds They fell" is another killer song that seems to hearken back to the old days but is much deeper than that. The riffs are technical on this album and do remind me of Nosferatu but you can tell the modern Helstar elements are their. As I said earlier, this album is the culmination of everything they have done, mixing their modern elements with their classic riffing.
I think the fact that long time knob twister, Bill Metoyer, mixed this album is another factor that should be mentioned. I actually think the production on this album is much cleaner and more defined than on their previous three. At times it even reminds me of Destiny's End's first album. The guitar tone is especially amazing and compliments these songs so well. Combined with the brilliant song writing, killer solos, and James' skill at using his voice to actually put you into this story you get a result that is just brilliant.
As we approach the end of 2016 we start to think about what albums could be in the running for album of the year and this album is truly in the running. I knew it would be a great album just because it was Helstar but I never expected this. From beginning to end this album is pure heavy metal at it's finest. Fans of old and new Helstar can get on board with this album because, at the end of the day, one can not deny great heavy metal.