Helstar is an American power metal band. While certainly lacking in mainstream recognition, they are a legendary underground name whose work has long been celebrated by a wide variety of metal fandoms, and it is generally assumed that anyone who is seriously into power metal will know and respect their name.
Formed in Houston, Texas in 1981 by Larry Barragan and John Diaz (guitars), the band took some time to compile a lineup; by 1982, they found James Rivera to fill the vocalist position, while 1983 brought Paul Medina (bass) and Hector Pavon (drums), as well as Tom Rogers, who replaced Diaz. After several demos, they released Burning Star, their full-length debut, in 1984, but internal tensions caused the band to splinter and left Rivera and Barragan as the sole remaining members by 1985. The band soldiered on and gained Robert Trevino, Jerry Abarca, and Rene Luna as new blood, and this new lineup went on to record 1986's Remnants of War. The band briefly relocated to Los Angeles the following year and lost Trevino and Luna in the process, but gained Andre Corbin and Frank Ferreira in their place, and 1988 brought a contract with Metal Blade Records and A Distant Thunder, their debut on the label. The band began touring relentlessly with some of the biggest names in metal at the time, and they carried this momentum to 1989's Nosferatu. By 1990, their contract was up, and after they recorded a new demo to try and find another label, they found that few labels were interested. Corbin and Ferreira left within the year, and while they managed to gain Aaron Garza and Russel DeLeon in their place and recorded another demo in 1993, they realized that their style of metal was simply not something that American labels were interested in at that point. Another blow came when Larry Barragan himself left in 1995; while they managed to get D. Michael Heald to replace him and inked a contract with the European label Massacre Records that allowed them to release Multiples of Black that year, the lukewarm reaction to that album, coupled with the side projects that they had been dabbling in since 1993, was enough to spell their end for a while. The band wasn't officially over, but they weren't really doing anything as a collective entity. Rivera kept busy with a wide variety of projects over the next few years, but aside from one fest show in 2001 and a few scattered one-offs, the band wasn't really anything resembling an actual active band. The seeds of a proper reactivation were planted in 2004, when Rivera brought in Distant Thunder (one of his post-Helstar bands) members Eric Halpern and Michael Lewis and got back Jerry Abarca, but the best was yet to come.
2006 brought what people had been waiting for: a proper reunion with Larry Barragan, as well as Robert Trevino, who replaced Halpern. The band announced that they were properly active again (instead of just a greatest hits fest band), and in 2007, Sins of the Past, a compilation of rerecordings with two new songs, was released. These new songs would then be included on 2008's The King of Hell, their first full-length in thirteen years and their first full-length with Barragan in nineteen. Another full-length followed in 2010, and after several steady years, 2013 brought the news that Abarca would be taking an extended break due to illness. 2014's This Wicked Nest followed, along with Garrick Smith becoming their new full-time bassist, and after an uneventful 2015, it was announced that Trevino was also leaving and that Andrew Atwood would be taking his place. They announced a new deal with Ellefson Music Productions (run by Dave Ellefson of Megadeth) in 2016, and Vampiro, their fourth post-reunion full-length, was released that year. While their live appearances after 2017 were mostly limited to fests, a new album is apparently in the works.
- 1983 demo
- Live demo (1983)
- Burning Star (1984)
- Remnants of War (1986)
- A Distant Thunder (1988)
- Nosferatu (1989)
- Demolition (1990) (demo)
- Promo Demo 1993
- Multiples of Black (1995)
- Twas the Night of a Helish Xmas (2000) (live album)
- The James Rivera Legacy (2001) (compilation of Demolition and a demo from one of Rivera's side projects)
- Burning Alive (2006) (live video)
- Sins of the Past (2007) (rerecording compilation)
- The King of Hell (2008)
- Rising from the Grave (2010) (compilation of Metal Blade output)
- Glory of Chaos (2010)
- 30 Years of Hel (2012) (DVD + CD live release)
- This Wicked Nest (2014)
- Black Cathedral (2016) (single)
- Vampiro (2016)
The band contains examples of the following tropes:
- Ascended Extra: Garrick Smith was a live fill-in on bass before he joined full-time, while Eric Halpern and Michael Lewis were originally members of Rivera's post-Helstar band Distant Thunder who were invited to join Helstar.
- Author Appeal: Vampires and gothic horror are common lyrical tropes in their music.
- Booze-Based Buff: Andre Corbin had been struggling to nail the intro to "Winds of War" during the A Distant Thunder recording sessions, and after finally giving up, he asked a piss-drunk Larry Barragan to do it, who apparently managed to get it done in fifteen minutes.
- Concept Album: The first half of Nosferatu (a condensed retelling of Dracula), and Vampiro (another Dracula-inspired tale).
- Cover Version: They have covered "He's a Woman, She's a Man", "Animal Magnetism", "Beyond the Realms of Death", "White Witch" (Angel Witch), and "Heavy Metal Thunder".
- Darker and Edgier: Remnants of War, which was where they found their trademark power metal style, and The King of Hell, where they took an even darker and heavier turn to mark their return.
- Doom Metal: "Awaken unto Darkness" and "Abolish the Sun" off of Vampiro are epic doom metal songs, though the former speeds up in the second half.
- Early-Installment Weirdness: Burning Star was a lighter, less aggressive release that was more of a traditional heavy metal album than the power metal that they would later become synonymous with.
- Epic Rocking: "The Garden of Temptation" (8:53), "Black Cathedral" (7:39), "Cursed" (7:28), "Magormissabib" (7:22), "Abandon Ship" (6:56), "Awaken unto Darkness" (6:47), "Run with the Pack" (6:38), "Fall of Dominion" (6:36), "The King of Hell" (6:28), "Angel of Death" (6:16), "Wicked Disposition" (6:13), "Winds of War" (6:09), "Defy the Swarm" (6:05), and "Abolish the Sun" (6:02).
- Instrumentals: "The Whore of Babylon", "Perseverance and Desperation", "Isla de la Munecas", and "Malediction".
- Metal Scream: James Rivera is a firm Type 4, though some of the most aggressive tracks on their later material (namely "Alma Negra") have him pulling off Type 1s and borderline Type 3s.
- New Sound Album: Several:
- Remnants of War was significantly heavier, thrashier, and more technical, and was the album that firmly cemented them as a power metal band.
- A Distant Thunder was even more technical, with prominent neoclassical and shred elements courtesy of newcomer Andre Corbin. This sound would be carried over to Nosferatu.
- The King of Hell modernized the sound, bringing back the thrash elements (as Trevino had returned) and injecting some subtle but noticeable Groove Metal elements to effect an even darker and heavier turn that would become the default style for modern Helstar.
- Power Metal: Along with Manowar, Jag Panzer, Metal Church, and Vicious Rumors, they were a Trope Codifier for US power metal, and they are still one of the most famous USPM acts.
- Putting the Band Back Together: While they were active as a live entity without Larry Barragan after Multiples of Black, they did not consider themselves an active band. Getting Barragan back was what got them to declare themselves truly active again.
- Revolving Door Band: Between inter-band tensions, label and management issues, and (by the end of Barragan's original run) the fact that they had nothing left for them in their home country career-wise, they could not keep a lineup during their initial run.
- Special Guest: Jeff Loomis had a guest lead on "Isla de la Munecas", while Matej Susnik (Metalsteel, also a live fill-in after Jerry Abarca left) tracked bass on This Wicked Nest; lastly, Mike LePond and Mike Millsap (Well of Souls) were strictly live bass fill-ins.
- Start My Own: James Rivera has started multiple Spiritual Successor projects to Helstar, namely Vigilante (who never went anywhere and had their demo included on The James Rivera Legacy), Destiny's End, and Distant Thunder, while Barragan and Trevino had Eternity Black.
- Take That!: "Abandon Ship" was a shot at Trevino and Luna for opting to quit the band rather than move to LA with the rest of them.
- Teen Genius: Larry Barragan was only 16 or 17 when the band formed, and was 19 when Burning Star was recorded and released.
- Thrash Metal: Have flirted with this over the years (particularly on the albums with Robert Trevino, who was always the resident thrasher), and Glory of Chaos was explicitly intended to be their take on thrash.