There’s a good chance that Helstar’s Vampiro could’ve fallen flat on its face. While the Texas group’s ninth full-length album isn’t a direct sequel to their legendary Nosferatu, the return to the vampire lyrical theme and aspirations to achieve their classic tech speed metal sound feels like a desperate gamble similar to the ill-fated Operation: Mindcrime II. Fortunately, Helstar never strayed too far from their roots to begin with, resulting in an album that achieves its goals like so many of their peers never do.
On the surface, Vampiro is pretty similar to the other albums that Helstar has released since they returned with 2009’s The King of Hell. The production is polished and the downtuned guitars hit in with a mix of aggression and clarity. Vocalist James Rivera also continues to the group’s main attraction, leading the way with a melodic delivery that very occasionally mixes in some harsher shrieks to compensate for his somewhat diminished upper range.
But while Rivera’s hamminess is what seems to have kept Helstar all this time, the guitar work is what really stands out on this album. While their other reunion efforts prominently featured chuggy riff patterns in songs that frankly sounded like contemporary Exodus with clean vocals, Vampiro features a much more acrobatic guitar performance as the duo play plenty of intricate patterns and neoclassical harmonies. Considering how the album to feature new guitarist Andrew Atwood alongside the original player Larry Barragan, it’s rather fascinating to see Helstar truly sound like Helstar again.
With that, the songwriting is also pretty good and showcases a lot of variety. Tracks like the opening “Awaken Into Darkness” and “Black Cathedral” make the deepest impacts due to their sweeping theatrics while other tracks like “Repent In Fire” and “Off With His Head” also stand out due to the strong choruses. In addition, the instrumental “Malediction” appropriately makes the most of winding guitar passages while “Dreamless Sleep” closes things out with a brief but somber note.
While bands like Vektor may be the future of thrash metal, Vampiro proves that Helstar is one of the strongest thrash bands left in the old guard. While the modern presentation may throw some old school fans off, the top notch performances keep the retread territory from feeling too desperate. If only all heavy metal sequel albums could be this awesome…
“Awaken Into Darkness”
“Repent In Fire”
“Abolish the Sun”