A name like Hellnite may give you 80s glam flashbacks, but this Mexican-Canadian group is as retro thrash as a band can get. From the token acoustic intro that starts things off to the endless array of dueling riffs and relentless tempos throughout, Midnight Terrors is packed with all the tropes lovingly perpetuated by Lich King and Fueled by Fire among others. Unfortunately, a few weak elements make for a rather faulty homage.
As with many of these retro thrash groups, the vocals are a major hindrance. But rather than sounding tuneless or cheesy, they suffer from what I’m now dubbing the Nathan Explosion Effect. What should be a deep growl comes out as a hoarse whisper that sounds as if mastermind Paolo Belmar was too worried about waking up the neighbors. It’s monotonous at best and somehow ends up sapping the rest of the other instruments’ power despite them drowning him out in the mix.
It’s a shame because Belmar is an otherwise solid musician. The guitar tone is somewhat processed, and the drum programming is inevitably stiff, but they suit the material well enough and the playing never comes off amateurish or out of place. His bass work ends up shining the most, securing a prominent spot in the mix and throwing out plenty of Steve Harris-inspired gallops and solo spots. For what it’s worth, he knows what he’s doing and is capable of doing it.
But as mixed as the musicianship gets, the songwriting stays consistently pedestrian. The tracks are decently structured and there’s nothing offensively bad here, but the poor vocals only highlight their inherently unexceptional nature. Fortunately, “Darker than Black” sets a precedent for a decidedly better second half but you know it’s a problem when your album’s best song is an instrumental. I can dig “Stage on Fire” and “The Necromancer,” but I can’t tell if it’s because they’re legitimately better written or if they just benefit from their place in the album order.
Hellnite’s debut album demonstrates how a poor performance can bring down an otherwise average effort. Better vocals wouldn’t magically turn this into the best thrash release ever, but the poor performance threatens to undermine the potential that is otherwise felt here. There’s obvious passion put into this project, but it’ll take stronger tweaks than usual for this project to truly get to where it could be. Hopefully having assembled a full band will yield more favorable material in the future, but I really hope Belmar either steps up or finds a better singer.
“Darker Than Black”
“Stage on Fire”