|Cover art by Alan Lathwell|
Let me be perfectly clear as I start this review that a band as strong as Helcaraxë in the realm of melodic death metal with a penchant for J.R.R. Tolkien may be one of the more bizarre marriages I have come across. Looking at the album cover, the song names and the sound and one instinctively thinks that they will be listening to another European band with lore to explore. But boy are you wrong! This band from New Jersey (Yes New Jersey!), have created a stellar melodic death metal album that is as brutal and strong as anything you will hear in this genre of music today.
Helcaraxë have produced a solid album with Red Dragon and have competently used the most aggressive sound they could muster to tell the story that they have interpreted. It is a testament to the band that they were capable of creating an original sounding album in a genre that tends to stay pretty safe most of the time. Helcaraxë are smart with this album and showcase the innate abilities to bring something fresh to this genre and allow the beautiful guitar harmonies to lead the way while allowing the rhythm section to help move the songs along.
For the most part every song on this album is solid with the stand outs being “Skin Changer” (with a guest appearance by Dark Tranquility's Mikael Stanne), “Dungeons”, “The Arkenstone” and “Circle of Firelight”. Using the solid and surprisingly appropriate growl of lead singer Jesse Traynor, the urgency and aggression of these songs convey the epic atmosphere and the overall brutality of the subjects being offered. Yet even with all of this speed, aggression, and brutality the listener is able to develop a deep feel of the songs and embrace the subtle progressions as the album moves from song to uninterrupted song.
So as I have all learned you can’t judge a band by its album cover. I would never have pegged these guys as Americans let alone from New Jersey, but it is a great surprise to see a band this talented come from the US and have created an album that measures up to the likes of European favorites like early Amorphis or Dark Tranquility. Hopefully this trend continues for Helcaraxë but in the mean time give Red Dragon a listen.
[Go to the post to view the Bandcamp player]