When I attended the inaugural Frost & Fire Fest in Ventura, California in October 2015, one of the early bands to catch my ear was Helion Prime, the self-described “science based power metal band” from Sacramento, California. Truth be told, Helion Prime were a poor fit for the festival. Unfortunately, their melodic Euro-inflected power metal stylings fell largely on deaf ears amongst the more primal denim-clad trad metal hordes whose heroes are the likes of Manilla Road, Ostrogoth and Satan. The Frost & Fire reception to Helion Prime was perhaps best encapsulated by the moment when the singer asked if there were any Dream Evil fans in the house, and the room mostly fell silent. The thing is, that’s not a reflection on the quality of either the band or the festival. It was a just a mismatch, that’s all. But as I say, something caught my ear during Helion Prime’s performance, and I made a mental note to check out their debut full-length CD when it was released.
So here it is, Helion Prime’s self-titled debut album. “Science based power metal” is actually a great description for what the band are all about. Take the North American female-fronted power metal style exemplified by the likes of Seven Kingdoms, A Sound of Thunder, MindMaze and Unleash the Archers, add a huge dose of Euro science-fiction power metal (think Iron Savior, Gamma Ray and early Scanner), and you’ll have a good idea of what Helion Prime bring to the table. What’s all this talk about “science” and “science fiction,” you ask? Such themes permeate the lyrics, which delve into topics such as the probability of life on other planets, riding astral waves and breaking laws of physics in black holes, navigating the space-time continuum to encounter Vikings and pharaohs, and the Apollo landing. Hell, the cover artwork (a space dinosaur being attacked by space explorers as spaceships fly by) and the band name itself (an allusion to a planet in the Chronicles of Riddick) fairly scream “science fiction.” But the science leanings of the band go beyond words and images. They are also captured in the vibe of the music, from the science-fiction guitar sound employed by Jason Ashcraft (don’t know how else to describe it, but if you’re familiar with Axel Julius’s playing on Scanner’s ‘Hypertrace’ album, or anything in the Iron Savior discography, you’ll know what I mean) to the effects/filters used on Heather Michele’s vocals.
All in all, it’s actually quite well done. The songwriting is memorable, the performances are strong and convincing, and the production job is stellar for a self-made effort with most parts recorded in band members’ houses. The band have amassed an impressive collection of guest performers to help out (including members of A Sound of Thunder, MindMaze, and Niklas Isfeldt of Dream Evil). Sure, there are times where things lean a little too modern for me, when the brassiness of Heather’s vocals doesn’t quite strike me right, or when things just seem a little too cheerful and, well, nerdy for my blackened metal heart. (I don’t mean that last bit pejoratively, by the way. I’m the biggest nerd I know.) But then there are moments like “The Drake Equation,” “The Ocean of Time,” and “Apollo (The Eagle Has Landed)” where everything comes together beautifully in speedy, bombastic Euro power metal bliss. For my money, Helion Prime still have a ways to go to match the brilliance of Piet Sielck or Kai Hansen (circa “Men Martians and Machines”), but they’re definitely on the right track. They’re carving out a unique niche for themselves in the U.S. metal scene. They’ve got the talent and skill to pull it off. And they’ve put their best foot forward with this debut album. I’m curious to see where the space-time continuum leads them next.
~ Review by Kit Ekman ~