I've been an obsessed hard rock & heavy metal fan and collector since the early 1980s. If it's got a good guitar riff and attitude, I'm in.
Helios – Touch The Sun (2022)
Genre: Traditional/Power Metal
Label: Stormspell Records
Run Time: 47:43, 10 Tracks
Helios may be a new name to most metal heads but those who've followed the underground power/prog metal scene for a while will surely recognize one particular band member - lead vocalist Tim Aymar, who's best known for his stints in Control Denied (the late '90s trad-metal project of late Death frontman Chuck Schuldiner), as well as cult favorites Pharaoh and Psycho Scream.
Formerly known as Storm Dragon, this Pittsburgh-based quintet released one EP under that name (2018's Strike At Dawn) before Aymar came on board and they re-branded to Helios. A self-titled Helios demo followed in 2020, and now they've launched their first full-length album, Touch The Sun. Originally a digital-only self release by the band, Touch The Sun impressed the tiny-but-true metal specialists at Stormspell Records enough to grant it a limited CD release.
Our friends at Wikipedia tells me that in ancient Greek mythology, "Helios" is "the god and personification of the Sun," so let's dive into this impressive slab of tried 'n' true U.S. Power Metal and see if their flame burns as brightly as their namesake.
Touch The Sun gets off to a suitably rousing start with the speed metal gallop of "Fire From The Sky." It's been a while since I last heard Tim Aymar's voice (I somehow lost track of Pharaoh after their second album, 2008's Be Gone) but he's still got the same sturdy, confident delivery that I remembered, falling somewhere between Helstar's James Rivera and former Iced Earth front man Matt Barlow. So far, so good.
The title track pulses along like vintage Maiden, followed by the downbeat "Like A Gun," which has a chorus that's both catchy and somewhat disturbing at the same time ("Nothing says I love you like a gun to my head..."). "Kill Your Mother" is another air-guitar-worthy speed metal number, though I have to confess that the title made me chuckle (which was probably not the band's intention) because it reminded me of how my parents used to dismiss my favorite bands as "kill-your-mother music" when I was a teen!
"Mystery" is a highlight track for me, bringing a serious amount of Dio influence to the proceedings with its interplay between guitars and keys, and its lyrics about an evil woman who's placed the narrator "under her spell" which would do Ronnie proud. The heads-down bangers "That's What You Get" and the metal call-to-arms "Keep It True" keep the denim and leather flag flying proudly, and the Iced Earth-ish epic ballad "You Knew It All Along" gives the listener a brief mellow respite before Helios slams gas pedal to the floor again with the gritty anthem "Hellbender" and then brings the album to a properly crushing close with the slamming "Ancient One."
Touch The Sun is the kind of album where, as soon as it was done playing, I immediately mashed the "repeat" button to play it through again.
Summing It Up
Touch The Sun is well played, passionately performed U.S. Power Metal (or "USPM") that will definitely appeal to fans of the aforementioned Dio, Helstar, Maiden and Iced Earth, as well as vintage Judas Priest, Primal Fear, or any of Aymar's previous projects. In addition to their leather-lunged front man, Helios' guitar team of Jonathan Stanley and Jeff Loy shreds most admirably throughout the ten tracks, and the whole thing is anchored by the rock solid rhythm section of bassist Jack Buckholt and drummer Eric Rymers. If I had to pick nits about anything on Touch The Sun, I'd say that the drums occasionally sound a bit "clicky" in the mix, but that can probably be chalked up to the pitfalls of recording on an indie budget.
Stormspell's CD release of Touch The Sun is limited to 1000 copies and features a 12 page booklet containing lyrics and photos. I have a feeling this one will go quickly once word gets out to the hungry metal masses, so if you want to land a copy for yourself, do yourself a favor and hit Stormspell's official store to order one before they're all gone!
There's really nothing else to say except "Nice work, fellas, horns up," and I look forward to seeing where Helios goes from here.
© 2022 Keith Abt