“Helker” Firesoul – CD Review (AFM Records 2017) by Adam McCann
South America has always been one of the most loyal areas of the heavy metal world. Its rabid fans have always graciously welcomed heavy metal bands in all shapes and sizes into their arms and made them feel special. It is certainly no surprise that because of this, South America is one of the leading exporters of heavy metal.
Helker hail from the capitol of Argentina, Buenos Aires and since their formation in 1998 have released 5 studio albums, their latest of which; Firesoul was released after a 4 year break from the 2013 exceptionally well received album; Somewhere in the Circle. Fortunately for Helker, Firesoul picks up perfectly where Somewhere in the Circle left off as if there was no break at all. One of the main reasons for this is that there has been no change in line-up between these two albums and obviously, the natural chemistry that made the previous album so good is still burning away here. Unfortunately, long standing vocalist Diego Valdez, left Helker after 9 years at the helm just after the release of Firesoul and has subsequently been replaced by Aaron Briglia for the Firesoul tour.
Helker have hiked forward with each release, with each album getting better and better, it is therefore no shock to find that Firesoul is easily the best album that Helker have released. This is down to all-round heavy metal legend; Mat Sinner producing Firesoul. Sinner has managed to get Firesoul sounding perfect, Sinner is not only Helker’s producer, but also their manager and mentor. Through Sinner’s guidance, Helker have been given the drive, determination and above all, responded to the positive criticism, taking it in their stride and adjusting accordingly.
The dynamics on Firesoul push the album forward, hard rockers, mixed in with powerful heavy metal set against beautiful, soaring ballads. These songs rise and fall, nodding to bands such as Dio, Judas Priest and Iced Earth which evidently influenced Helker, these bands come through on Firesoul without ripping off their influential artists, but taking what they know and making it their own and it is this, coupled with fantastically written songs make Firesoul so endearing.
Firesoul flares into action with Fight, a song with a riff so meaty it could belong to Jon Schaffer, but it doesn’t, this riff belongs to the guitars of Marino Rios and Leo Aristu. However, the Iced Earth influence doesn’t end there and Fight comes equipped with the sharp, accenting, emphasising backing vocals that we have come to expect from Iced Earth, but it is here where we get to see the versatile voice of Valdez who in between a more natural Dio-esque singing voice, manages to transfer this energy into the piercing banshee type wail of Tim ‘Ripper’ Owens for some real effect. Helker does not just belong to Valdez, For All the Eternity contains another head-busting riff from Rios and Aristy complete with obligatory pinch harmonics to boot. However, the best part of For All the Eternity comes during the instrumental break where Hernán Coronel becomes a true battering powerhouse behind a guitar solo of such precision, speed and virtuosity that wouldn’t be out of place on Helloween’s Keeper of the Seven Keys series.
From here, Firesoul takes a less aggressive route and begins to plough head first into more traditional heavy metal in the style of Dio. However, Valdez does not have the youthful conviction and vigour that Ronnie James Dio eschewed with Rainbow, Black Sabbath or his early solo output, instead Valdez had the more worn in, experienced, yet no way less inferior voice of Dio’s later years. Playing with Fire comes with a riff that would fit easily amongst Dio’s most underrated albums, Angry Machines and Strange Highways with a riff that is textbook Tracy G minus the sparse production which dogged both albums. Elsewhere on Firesoul are more songs in the key of classic Dio, Where You Belong and You are in my Heart are fantastic slabs of traditional heavy metal and would appeal to any fan of the genre and although Vivian Campbell was no stranger to pinch harmonics, during the Dio-esque song; Break Your Chains, Rios and Aristu ever so slightly overdo the pinch harmonics and this becomes as tedious as listening to Zakk Wylde.
There is also an element of power metal that lurks within Firesoul, but this power metal sound isn’t your standard grandiose, battle axes held high whilst fighting dragons. No, Firesoul has a touch of the metal opera and the ballads; The One and Empty Room offer a beautiful change of pace, the former of which featuring some of the best twin guitar harmony work that you will hear all year this side of Avantasia. Empty Room gives us a glimpse as to what may have been one of the greatest collaborations in heavy metal, Ronnie James Dio working with Tobias Sammet and begs the question to Sammet that if he ever needs another decent vocalist then he should look no further than Valdez.
Firesoul is a great album from a band which keeps going from strength to strength and for any fan of traditional heavy metal or power metal, it is a must have for 2017. Unfortunately with the loss of Valdez, it will be interesting to see how Helker continue with Briglia as the vocalist, but Helker are full of surprises, watch this space. 9/10
Adam McCann / MHF Magazine