The metal pride of Houston, HELSTAR, are back once more with the core lineup of James Rivera, Larry Barragan and Rob Trevino, while bassist Jerry Abarca remains out on extended leave due to a reported stomach-related illness. Subbing for Abarca onstage is Mike LePond, while Mikey Lewis continues to hold court over the drum kit. Since 1982, HELSTAR has always been an underground sensation with a fierce following that would just as soon keep them from breaking out. No worries there, since HELSTAR have no intent on conquering much else beyond the old-school thrash and power metal scenes. Thus the protective devotion of their fans will be rewarded once more with the band's badass new album, "This Wicked Nest".
HELSTAR fans, old and new, will find themselves ready to vault into the pit with the brisk opening number "Fall of Dominion" and its walloping thrash and mosh modes. Every transition on this cut is fluid and each speed section is carried with hummable up-and-down riffs. The choruses scale back the tempo just enough to let James Rivera sing through the melodic upswings. He screeches like a bat as punctuations where appropriate and if you're adrenaline isn't spiked at this point, go hang out at a THREE DAYS GRACE gig.
The intensity hardly wavers on "Eternal Black" with its punching beats and precise chord strikes. Larry Barragan and Rob Trevino's riffs on the verses are lethal and addictive in tandem to the song's steady throb it reminds of OVERKILL, yet HELSTAR spools a series of winding signature changes in-between the verses. James Rivera takes a back seat to the constant force of the band, which clocks a lot of instrumental time as they do repeatedly on the album. Rivera's shriek prior to the solo is almost premeditated to remind everyone of his presence since the band plays with such ferocity behind him.
The guitar solo sections on the title track are so malevolent yet harmonious they send shivers. Here begins a succession of mainly mid-tempo mashes spanning "This Wicked Nest", "Souls Cry" and the instrumental "Isla de Las Munecas", the latter of which putters a bit before getting a proper head of steam at the midpoint of the track. The creeping "Cursed" slows the album down altogether with its eerie guitar lines and James Rivera's cryptic vocals.
"It Has Risen" bulls ahead once more with a gusting tempest of thrash, over which James Rivera ralphs and grooves with calculated control. "Defy the Swarm" stays as fast as it promises within the first flurrying bars and Rivera's a metal warlock with his piercing and inveigling wails. Finally, this track and the album's closer "Magormissabib" belongs more to Rivera than the band despite the tremendous velocity of these tracks. Listening to Rivera yelp "Magormissabib" (translated as "fear on every side") is a lot of fun, and it should be a load of laughs watching HELSTAR fans scream it back at him onstage.
While Rivera nobly continues to do what he does with sweltering chokes now and then, the instrumentation parts on "This Wicked Nest" are protracted on many of the songs the showcase benefit ends up going to the rest of the band. After more than three decades fronting HELSTAR in addition to VICIOUS RUMORS, SEVEN WITCHES and DESTINY'S END, Rivera has nothing to prove to anyone other than he can still roll. Naturally, he can roll. "This Wicked Nest" might've suffered a bit if not for the tireless proficiency of the components chugging behind Rivera. Instead, HELSTAR once again proves to be one of the best secrets of metal, a secret carrying over thirty years now.