Helion Prime
Question Everything

I’m pretty sure everyone goes through some degree of a dinosaur phase during their childhood, right? I know I sure as shit went through a pretty big one. Look around long enough in my parents’ house and you’ll probably still stumble across some plastic dinosaur figurines, dinosaur bed sheets, probably a few books. Then at some point, as if giant prehistoric reptiles weren’t enough to demand kids’ interests, the Power Rangers came along and brought dinosaurs to space along with fucking ninjas and wizards and robots and wove it all together into a sort of intergalactic fever dream that captured the imaginations of countless kids all over the planet.

It’s 2020, the Power Rangers are still a thing, and it’s clear to see how far-reaching the franchise’s influence has been – appearing in no small portion in the world of Power Metal. Victorius, Gloryhammer, Powerglove, even Power Metal megaforce Dragonforce probably couldn’t look you in the eye and tell you the Power Rangers never came up as a source of inspiration at some point in their career. But one of my favorite bands to ride the intergalactic dino theme through their career has been Sacramento’s Helion Prime, and their new album Question Everything was quietly one of my more personally anticipated albums of the year.

One of the things I’ve always liked about the band is their somewhat burlier, not-at-all-traditional take on Power Metal – really good, robust riffs that have a little more gruff appeal to them than some of their more neoclassical counterparts (think along a similar vein to Unleash The Archers – undoubtedly Power Metal, but with a good dose of Melodeath and even a touch of Metalcore thrown in to give things a bit of a kick). The band certainly doesn’t stray from that path on this record, but this time rides into battle without a label backing, and now with singer Mary Zimmer (ex-White Empress, ex Luna Mortis) at the helm after the amicable departure of the excellent Sozos Michael, who left behind no small shoes to fill.

To be expected, the production of Question Everything doesn’t quite match the robust AFM-backed Terror of the Cybernetic Space Monster, which in a genre as meticulous and detail-oriented as power metal, can make a big difference. And indeed, the biggest issue with this album is the vocal mix. Make no mistake, Mary Zimmer does not turn in a poor performance here at all, there’s just an uneven mix at times throughout the record that sees her vocals sort of awkwardly sitting apart  the rest of the band and it just sounds, I dunno, off? I don’t really know another way to put it besides it’s just… off.

The good news? That’s pretty much the only bad news! Not-quite-perfect production aside, this album is chock full of the catchy, balanced songwriting and fun, upbeat energy that drew me to the band from first listen on. In fact, this album is reminding me a lot of their self-titled debut in a lot of (very good) ways. The first couple tracks “The Final Theory” and “Madame Mercury” do a nice job of assuring listeners that despite the band’s recent issues, things are still humming along just fine – but it’s on third track “Prof” that the band really kicks things into gear and hits its stride. Bouncy, harmonized riffs backed busy drumming and textured synth overlays lead some intricate vocal runs and melodies that are as impressive as they are infectious, and sets the tone for an album that, as it turns out, keeps building and getting better as it goes on (always the mark of a really good album).

The galloping tracks like “Photo 51” and “Words of the Abbot” really get the fists pumping, and feature some vocal harmonies that REALLY remind me a lot of so much of original vocalist Heather Michele’s (Graveshadow) work on the band’s first LP, while also adding plenty of her own flavor on the songs. Standout track “E Pur Si Muove” brings a good deal more heft to the table, and serves as a nice little change of pace and tone on the record. It also serves as another example of guitarists Chad Anderson and Jason Ashcraft’s ability to nicely layer harmonies and little backing flourishes that help provide for a fuller, more intricate listening experience. Also, I don’t know who provides the harsh screams on the chorus here, but I’d love to hear some more of that, please! Doesn’t have to be all the time, but it can definitely be a badass addition to the band’s sound.

The band does also manage to throw in a more straight up, Dragonforce-inspired Power Metal song on the album’s title track, complete with folky vocal lines, blistering guitars and drums, and features a fucking cool, hefty break midway through that really gets heads banging, and a SUPER impressive solo section that serves as one of the album’s best. I believe the track also features a cool vocal appearance from Sozos Michael – and somewhere on the record Heather Michele also makes an appearance, though it’s less clear where and the press info doesn’t clarify on either front. Either way, it’s really cool that the band has stuck so close with their former members and are able to get them involved here. After an epic finish on proper album closer “Awakening,” the band even gives listeners an unexpected little bonus with a super fun cover of The Misfits “Kong at the Gates,” which sees the band cleverly mixing some bouncy punk into their power metal core – is the track necessary? Eh. Is it fun? Yes. I’ll take fun over necessity.

This isn’t a perfect record. If Mary Zimmer sticks around, I’d love to hear some more standout moments from her on their next effort – I kept waiting for that one big “OH SHIT” moment, and I’m confident she’s more than capable, but it never really manifested. And unfortunately, I can’t help but wonder what this album might have sounded like had it gotten a similarly deep and thorough production job as they had on their last, but alas, the band made the best out of the cars they were dealt. This is a quality album from a group of super talented musicians, and I hope it serves as a new beginning for even bigger things to come. Like, you know, dinosaur-sized things. Dinosaurs with laser cannons.

[Visit the band's website]
Written by Steve K
September 25th, 2020

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