Helcaraxe – The Last Battle Review

New Jersey’s Helcaraxe was already one of the US’ most promising (and least heralded) death metal acts when they dropped Red Dragon in 2012, but that album’s masterful melding of the melodic and the muscular pushed them even further and cemented its creators’ place in the upper tier. The band’s first as a full five-piece, that album slayed without mercy, in the fashion of the Tolkienian warriors that inspired it. Whereas earlier efforts Broadsword and Triumph And Revenge were certainly solid enough, Red Dragon is head and shoulders above, damned near perfection – from the brilliant colorful beauty of the art to the crushing, epic, battle-ready death metal within.

So, of course, my expectations for The Last Battle were high – especially so, after our very own Zach Duvall interviewed Helcaraxe founder Bill Henderson (read it here) and Bill relayed that the next record would be even more epic, with orchestral underpinnings…

And here it is, four years in the making, The Last Battle, and, yes, it’s well worth the wait.

Those orchestral flourishes that Henderson promised are evident from the start, with light strings and flutes augmenting the seven-minute opener “The Old Blood Sings.” Filled with riffs both catchy and carving, “The Old Blood” is the perfect opening shot, with searing leads and shifting dynamics and a chorus hook pulled straight from the classic Amorphis playbook. It’s the sound of Ye Olde Battleground, all crunching bone and majestic spirit, violent and heroic in equal turn. Vocalist Jesse Traynor bellows his lungs out, his words still distinct, his growl powerful and his forays into cleaner tones lifting that chorus skyward.

From there, The Last Battle is a blistering expansion upon those basic ideas – epic melody intertwined with catchy riff after killer riff after killer catchy riff. “Shadows Follow” rips through more than a few of those killers, with another Amorphis-ized chorus to boot. “World Of Nightmares” allows room for bassist Pat Henry to get nimble, his four-string rolling beneath the harmonized riffs, before the song downshifts into an over-all-too-soon “Hey hey hey!” moment custom built for a seething crowd at an outdoor festival. Every song on The Last Battle is strong, but further highlights come in the three-pronged punch of “I Ride To My Death,” the one-minute droning acoustic “Omens,” and the blistering “The Gathering Storm.” Another pair of epics, “An Eye For An Eye” and the eight-minute title track, round out the album in perfect fashion, in much the same way as it began, the circle complete, the battle resolved.

Typically, anything associated with the term “melodic death metal” elicits no great interest from me – there are exceptions, like Amon Amarth, but by and large, melodeath just isn’t my bag, baby. Nevertheless, the pompous and the epic are among my favorite things, and when combined with the skull-cracking aggression of high quality death metal, the results should be positively unbeatable. Luckily, Helcaraxe wields each side of their sword with the skill of Level 20 Fighter. Red Dragon was a monster, appropriately enough, but the addition of further emphasis upon Helcaraxe’s already mighty mastery of the epic pushes The Last Battle in a slightly different direction, even more fantastic than that which came before and every bit as metallic. At $5 for the digital files on the ol’ Bandcamp, The Last Battle is a must-buy – it’s a year-end contender from a band that never gets enough credit and keeps on killing anyway…

Posted by Andrew Edmunds

Last Rites Co-Owner; Senior Editor; born in the cemetery, under the sign of the MOOOOOOON...

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.