are, in my opinion, one of the most underrated bands in metal, considering just how great their efforts in the 80’s were. Oh, there are traditional metal bands that linger more in obscurity than Helstar
of course, but this band still deserves more attention for writing excellent, complex heavy metal.
This is Helstar
’s finest album overall, and as far as composition goes, this album has probably the tightest and purest mixture of traditional metal melody and structure with a thrash metal-based riff style, much like 1986’s Remnants of War
. This is a bit less cohesive than that record, thanks to a slightly weaker second half, but the absolute best moments of this album are better than even what Remnants brought to the table, and thus stand as among the absolute best in traditional metal.
The songwriting and performances on Nosferatu
are absolutely astounding. The riffs are exceptionally well written, with a melodic yet extremely sharp and choppy style of writing, with a strong level of technicality in their writing without coming off as overly indulgent. The arrangements are extremely crisp, and while the song structures are mostly verse-chorus, the band shifts between riffs with an extremely strong level of both ease without the transitions becoming overly jarring.
Lead guitar work is absolutely excellent on this album from both Larry Barrangan and Andre Corbin, with a gracefully fluid, yet fairly dark sense of melody that fits in perfectly with this album’s aggressive yet melodic style. The solos are almost always perfectly integrated into the songs, and somehow avoid the self-indulgent feel that others might’ve fallen into. Even the instrumental “Perseverance and Desperation” - which IS essentially a long guitar solo with a quick bass and drum solo as well – somehow deftly avoids coming off as a masturbatory mish-mash, and instead becomes an outstanding guitar piece, with a flashy yet careful sense of melody.
The vocals are operatic in nature, but unlike… certain other bands, James Rivera keeps his range under control, with an excellent sense of melody with his vocals that fits even the darker moments of this album musically. The bass and the drums are for the most part understated, though they turn in very strong performances. Production-wise, this is an excellently produced album, with the instruments being clearly defined in the mix, but not overly polished and with a somewhat murky feel that adds immensely to the atmosphere. It’s cleanly produced, but not to where it polishes away the heavy feel of the music.
The first six songs on this album are all masterpieces. “Rhapsody
in Black” is an intro piece and segues cleanly into “Baptized in Blood
”, which is a raging track with a killer main riff and a gallop rhythm before going into an impressively bludgeoning middle section. “To Sleep
…” is somewhat more controlled and boasts a more evocative chorus, alongside some excellent riffs. “Harker’s Tale” is more in the vein of “Baptized” with some punctual and choppy riffs, and one of the most overtly melodic solos on the album. “Perseverance”… was discussed above a bit and it is an excellent instrumental piece. “The Curse
has Passed Away” is a more understated, balladic song, but it has some of the album’s best riffs and a killer climatic solo.
Here is where the album takes a very slight dip in quality – the last five songs on the album, while excellent tracks in their own right, aren’t as carefully written and arranged as the first half of the album. “Benediction
” is more of a standard, very good with some excellent riffwork, while “Harsh Reality
” comes off as a bit more piecemeal than the other tracks on this album. “Swirling Madness” is a bit of a step up, with a killer two-note riff under the chorus and some of Rivera’s best vocals on the album. “Von
Am…” is a piano piece, not bad for a segue but nothing overly incredible. “Aieliaria And
Everonn” is a great closer, more of a balladic song than anything else and probably the mostly overly melodic in feel on the entire album, but it brings some excellent riffs and an excellent climax of two guitar solos that end the album.
While it’s not quite a perfect album, Nosferatu
is, without a doubt, one of the best traditional metal albums ever and absolutely essential listening if you are at all interested in that style of metal whatsoever. Highly recommended.