I’ve long held that French musicians know their way around metal. Whether it’s Gojira, Hypno5e, The Great Old Ones, or Blut Aus Nord, I’m still waiting for contrary evidence. Based on the strength of their latest work, we need to add Helioss to the list of great French metal exports, as their elegant take on symphonic black/death metal finds a way to skirt a lot of the problems of the style, resulting in an engaging and captivating listen. Just like a lot of their fellow countrymen, Helioss take a style and execute it masterfully, avoiding a lot of the pitfalls of their peers.
Similar in tone and texture to fellow countrymen Anorexia Nervosa, Helioss’ style often feels like a more restrained version of Fleshgod Apocalypse’s Baroque death metal. Sure, there are many instances (like the gregarious opener “The World Is Ours”) where things get a tad too busy and boisterous, but, more often than not, Nicolas Muller’s compositions feel like actual, well, compositions, rather than simply 180 beats-per-minute death metal orchestrations. Also, the mix of black and death metal feels quite balanced here. This isn’t death metal with blackened blast beats; it’s all well-integrated into the overall formula. Ultimately, and this becomes much more clear as Antumbra finds its groove, Helioss’ real strength lies in their ability as musical mixologists. Much like Ovid’s Withering (remember them?), there is a lot going on in any individual track, not to mention all the different genre elements at play, but aside from a few instances, everything on the record feels masterfully laid out and carefully constructed. Antumbra comes across like an honest-to-God metallic orchestra. Riffs and sections are introduced and repeated (the extended riff in “Santhara” is particularly noteworthy), and it gives a nice depth and replayability to the record. Of note is the impressive mix and master, which gives the songs a surprising warmth and makes Antumbra easy on the ears (please take note Fleshgod Apocalypse).
This is one of those records that’s easy to make assumptions about: an hour-long symphonic extreme metal album out of Europe; we can only assume the worst. However, as the French are wont to do, metal is in their blood (other than iron, naturally), and Helioss have proven themselves to be rising masters of the style. This symphony is well worth the time and effort to engage in all the beauty it has to offer.