Bedfordshire thrash quartet, Helgrind, come from Arlesey, which still boasts the record for being the longest linear village in England. Sharing a border with Hitchin in Hertfordshire, the band are one of the most enduring metal acts in the A1 south-east corridor and easily the most technical. If you like unadulterated thrash metal with shredding lead guitar and Slayer riffs, you’ll love Helgrind and will understand why the UK thrash scene holds them in such high esteem.
You hear terms like ‘no nonsense’ and ‘balls to the wall’ too often in the metal press, just as words like ‘stalwart’ and ‘veteran’ prefix every description you read about cult bands with more than three albums to their name. It’s true that Helgrind are one of those artists that generate a lot of good will because they rock like motherfuckers and graft like miners. Opener, ‘Dead Shall Rise’, might be indebted to Tom Araya and company and even starts like ‘Disciple’ from Slayer’s 2001 album, but there’s no doubting the quality of the execution. The cold death metal tone of the bridge section is as impressive as the melodic guitar patterns of the chorus. Local metal hero, Joe Lyndon (Dorylus), is a welcome new addition as the band’s resident shredder to compliment the songwriting partnership of Simon Ellis (guitars) and Paula Nelson (vocals/bass).
‘Bitter End’ is the type of early Metallica thrash that Sylosis have made their own in recent years, but Helgrind give them a run for their money here. Unlike Josh Middleton, the charismatic Nelson puts a lot of time into her vocal enunciation and projects total confidence in her muscular roar. You don’t need a lyric sheet with Nelson’s gravel-throated voice guiding the way on ‘Not My Enemy’. Her opprobrium lands on the nefarious neo-conservative governments, oil barons, and manipulative press that led the West into a succession of disastrous regime change conflicts and never-ending counter insurgencies at the beginning of this century. The song would be even better if it didn’t ape Pantera’s ‘Dominate’ for the solo and grinding breakdown riff after replicating the groove in Megadeth’s ‘The Conjuring’. Yet the surprise switch to a clean guitar passage of reverb-heavy arpeggios will remind you of Dream Theater just as you’re about to tick them off for their shameless pastiche. Helgrind are too good to pay homage to the greats without leaving their own imprint on the genre of music they love so much.
Indeed, Insurrection comes into its own in the second half of the record once they’ve dispensed with the Slayer worship. Early cuts like ‘Massacre the Suffering’ and ‘Dead Army’ appear to have no influences other than Kerry King and Jeff Hanneman. But ‘Breeding Hate’ offers a turning point with its transcendent choir atmospherics and epic lead guitar marathon. The death metal tremolo picking on ‘Raise the Flag’ follows the rapid thrash rhythms of ‘Harvest’ with the same poise as a fox tailing a stray hen. Hellgrind are high on energy and high on the adrenaline of violence, but they always give you the chance to raise a triumphant fist in the air like an Exodus concert from 1985.
The band’s debut demo goes by the name of Warriors of Steel, and that’s an apt description for the heroism and integrity of Helgrind’s brand of thrash metal. It’s not the most original album you’ll hear this year, but Insurrection should prove to be one of the most enjoyable.
Release Date: 22/10/2021
Record Label: Metal Rocka Recordings
Standout tracks: Dead Shall Rise, Breeding Hate, Raise the Flag
Suggested Further Listening: Slayer – Hell Awaits (1985), Dark Angel – Leave Scars (1989), Evile – Enter the Grave (2007)