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Helstar - Clad in Black

Label: Massacre Records
Format: Download
Released: 2021
Reviewed By: Jack Mangan
Rating: 9/10

Y’all need Helstar.
“Clad in Black” is a double-album showcase for the vocal supremacy of James Rivera and the riff mastery of Andrew Barragon, as well as a testament to their decades of Heavy Metal excellence. Just as their Traditional Metal early years eventually led to a Thrashier, more in-your-face sound, so go the two extended sides of this record. Disc 1, “Clad in Black,” is plenty heavy, just a little more melodic and old school with some dalliances in Speed Metal.


These 6 songs stick to the realms of King Diamond, Iron Maiden, Anvil, Accept, Helloween, Raven, Manowar, Judas Priest, etc. - - replete with a swaggering cover of Priest’s “Sinner” to close out the side. The opening track, “Dark Incarnation (Mother Of The Night),“ starts out with a pretty stock 80s Metal riff, but then wends its way to a bloodsoaked Hammer Horror chorus guaranteed to infest your mind and your veins.
Disc 2, “Vampiro,” takes this intensity and pushes it into an even more violent place, bringing in buzzsaw Thrash sounds akin to Death Angel, Testament, Overkill, Slayer, Megadeth, Anthrax, Annihilator, et al, sounding much more like latter day Helstar. The riffs here get more technical, heavier, louder, faster, harder, more bloodthirsty, more tooth-gnashing.
Both album sides have powerful moments, but disc 2 is clearly the superior take. It seems that Helstar are at their strongest when they activate Thrash mode. Given the intricate, detailed craftsmanship of the riffs and connecting parts on these songs, Andrew Barragon sounds like a man in an intimate, co-dependent relationship with his guitar. That central unmuted power chord riff on “Awake Unto Darkness” is muscular and rageful enough to turn Bill Bixby into Lou Ferigno. This song is a modern masterpiece.
And James Rivera. . . aka Vampiro. . . This guy’s name should be on every “All-Time Metal Vocalist” list. He brings tremendous gravity and power, whether he’s singing in his mid-range blast or his airborne predator screech. Walls and speakers crumble before his power.
All kudos to the rest of Helstar too for rounding out a tremendous record - - Michael Lewis’s drums serve the songs with intuition and power. He and Barragon showcase their superpowers on the disc 2 warp speed, choir-vocaled Thrashstrumental, “Malediction.”
The name, “Clad in Black,” is taken directly from the writings of Bram Stoker. As if the music alone wasn’t enough to process, the songs across both discs comprise a concept album intertwining the narratives of Stoker’s Dracula and Rivera’s Vampiro persona. Even without tracking the story beats, the lyrics are resplendent with evocative imagery, steeped in vampire lore and mythos, focusing more on death, immortality, and undeath than bloody gore.
There’s something on “Clad in Black” for just about every Metal taste. It’s ambitious, it’s powerful, it’s relentless, it’s built with dedication and great attention to detail. It’s Helstar.

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