Helker – Firesoul (2017)

Oddly sharing the same name as the recent Brainstorm hit, Argentina’s Helker are back with another crushing effort in their fifth full-length album. You might remember me mentioning in a review of their last album Somewhere In The Circle, how much the band’s frontman Diego Valdez sounds like the great Ronnie James Dio and there must be something special in the waters of Buenos Aires, because this gentleman still manages to capture some of the mannerisms of Dio, especially on “Where You Belong” as the performance is nearly a dead-ringer in some instances. Valdez also proves that he doesn’t have to resort to sounding like a legend to make an impression as well, like with the ridiculously catchy “The One” which is definitely going to be popping up in my head from time to time. Essentially songs like this and “You Are In My Heart” are essentially heavy metal pop ballads, but I did strong love songs with a great deal of thundering bass and heavy metal might, so I can definitely get down with it. I’d much rather hear songs about people loving each other in these dark times, rather than hearing all the hate in the modern media between groups of various races, religions and social views. Despite the fact that I might be making this disc out to be some kind of romantic toned-down thing akin to Nickelback, it’s definitely not. Maybe it has some semblances to early Bon Jovi, but I still stand by Slippery When Wet and other such heavy love albums.

The record actually begins with a fiery cut called “Fight” which definitely takes from Brainstorm and gives us a strong heavy metal feel with the Dio emulated vocal approach. It begins to sound like Dio fronting Brainstorm and comes off pretty potent. “For All Eternity” seems to continue the thrashing might of the opener, while packaging a rather light and Helloween-ish chorus line which might sound like the cheesiest power metal hook one can think of, but lyrically has a very devastating meaning. “Playing With Fire” invokes a groove-laden sense that only really heats up when axemen Mariano Rios and Leo Aristu perform one of the album’s many spectacular solo nodes. We expect heavy/power metal to evoke this kind of feeling, so it’s good to see our expectations met. Skipping “The One”, “Where You Belong” and “In My Heart” (which I’ve already covered) we have the soft piano backed ballad “Empty Room.” This works to show the incredible vocal range that Valdez has on the record, also allowing some romantic old-school solo hits to peer out from the darkness, just like a “November Rain” moment if I’ve heard it.Valdez also begins to channel Dio on a few notes, reminding me of some of his softer, less potent sides. “Leaving Out The Ashes” balances acoustics and Christian Abarca’s thick bass riffs together in what comes off as a very odd approach – it even feels a bit experimental. “Stay Away” feels like Dio-thrash, kicks up the pace and seems to slap on a speedy chorus that just manages to be decent enough to work well on the stage. This one would work as an especially fiery moment, just the sort of real “kick ass” fistraiser that will get the crowd pumped right after an introduction. I’m reminded a little of Judas Priest‘s “Painkiller” albeit with a bit more crunch and some slightly more uplifting melodies within the chorus section. That speed slows a bit for the returning grooves of “Break Your Chains” which only really seems to shine in the solo. To be honest, I didn’t think much of this track until it got to the solo moment. But hey, they can’t all be winners. I would personally rather hear the Galneryus song of the same name, as it’s positively killer. The album’s title track comes next, which although erupts with the same level of punchy heavy metal thunder that we might expect from any power/thrash or Brainstorm record for that matter, it just doesn’t really seem to go anywhere for me. I want to like sections in the chorus, but I just don’t feel it’s a strong enough piece to have been the album title. “Playing With Fire” or “The One” are much stronger cuts and would have made more appealing album titles. In my opinion, if you’re going to title an album from the name of one of it’s songs, then that song had better be fucking amazing. The track does contain some great guitar theatrics towards the end, but they aren’t enough to really matter. The last cut on the disc before the cover is “Rise Or Fall” which actually relies on such heavy downtune that it nearly resembles doom. This is a bit of a change from the performance thus far and seems a very good note for the band to leave us off. Though some might like the happy, almost grunge-meets power metal chorus utilized here, I didn’t quite get it as much as I would’ve liked. It’s a noted effort, but doesn’t leave me with anything. The album closes with a cover of Black Sabbath‘s “Neon Knights” which is pretty much played note for note and seems like a nice little bonus. I don’t think it’s really worth judging on it’s own, as it doesn’t really accomplish anything new other than to say, “isn’t it cool how much Diego Valdez sounds like Dio? Here he is on a classic.”

At the end of the day, Helker’s Firesoul came in crushing but left me a bit underwhelmed towards the end. I don’t hate it, but I definitely feel it is one of the low-water marks in terms of overall quality. I know that not every song can be a hit, but this one just doesn’t seem to hit much harder than what you’ll get with the first five or six songs. Even the title track failed to deliver and that’s just not normal. Helker still remain one of the best Spanish heavy metal acts I’ve heard, so even their weaker efforts are still rather quite strong in retrospect. The production quality is high and the performance in general is quite ripping, more often than not. It’s still worth picking up, but certainly not a classic.

(14 Tracks, 53:00)

7/10

http://shop.afm-records.de/Helker/
http://www.itunes.com/afmrecords

http://www.applemusic.com/afmrecords

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