Tuesday, May 2, 2017

Album Review: Helker - Firesoul

When we think of metal, there are certain areas of the world we expect to find the bands we listen to coming from. There are the British bands where metal was founded, the American bands that took it to the heights of popularity, and the Scandinavian countries that have given metal much of the darkness and innovation that has carried it forward over the decades. One place we don't necessarily look is in South America. Other than the bands associated with Max Cavalera, as well as Angra, that continent has not been a mainstay of metal. Helker is slowly trying to move the needle, but their growth has not yet reached the point where noting their birthplace is not unique.

Right now, there is a rush to anoint Ronnie Romero the successor to Ronnie James Dio, because he was picked by Ritchie Blackmore to front his new incarnation of Rainbow, even though he has never made a record that actually matters. Helker's singer Diego Valdez is a better choice for that mantle. His gruff singing is a very close copy of the deeper tones Dio adopted as he got older. That's the biggest selling point Helker has going for them. Since there can't be any more Dio albums, they offer us the chance to hear something that would otherwise be a memory.

But similarities and nostalgia aren't enough to build a band on, so what about the actual music on "Firesoul"? Well, like later-era Dio, the results are mixed. The heavy, chunky sound works well with the mid-pace the band prefers, and it gives plenty of space for the vocals to sit. Unlike the way Dio wrote, however, Helker does try to resolve their songs in stronger melodic choruses. A song like "The One" is something Dio wouldn't have written for himself, but hearing it, you can understand why so many people were underwhelmed by albums like "Angry Machines". This is the kind of music Dio could have been making, which is a more fitting batch of songs for a vocal powerhouse.

If it seems I'm spending too much time comparing Helker to Dio, it's because I can't hear any of these tracks without being reminded heavily of the legend. Both the writing and the tones are just too similar not to notice. I don't consider it a bad thing at all, let me note.

Things do bog down a bit here and there, like with "Where You Belong", which does make the album feel longer than it needs to. There's plenty of good songwriting here, but not much great songwriting, so the record melds into one large piece of metal. It needed some extra diversity, either in the tones or the pacing, if it wanted to elevate itself into something special. Valdez is a great singer, and can easily traverse more ground than Helker is providing him here. It was a missed opportunity.

Overall, "Firesoul" is an album that falls into that growing category of records that are both good and enjoyable to listen to, but aren't quite good enough to make a deep impact. This is the sort of album that at the end of the year I'll wonder why I didn't listen to it more often, and I won't have a good explanation. It's great to hear the legacy of Dio carried on this way, even if I'm not sure how often I'll be spinning it.

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