Album Review: Helion Prime — “Question Everything”

Helion Prime - Question Everything cover

We’ve been doing a fair bit of talking about dinosaurs on this website as of late, so perhaps the only logical place to go from there is dinosaurs…IN SPACE.  Well, sort of.  You see, while Marc Whisnant’s incredibly kick-ass cover art for Helion Prime‘s newest release Question Everything draws you in with the promise of giant cybernetic alien sauropods, the album itself deals with subject matter that is arguably more kick-ass than even that could be.  What’s cooler than dinosaurs in space, you ask?  Let me explain. 

Helion Prime 2020

What lies beneath the sci-fi exterior of Question Everything is a lot of ‘sci’ and significantly less ‘fi’ than one might expect, so to speak.  This album, at its core, is a concept album with songs based around the lives of real people in the world of scientific history (the only exception being “The Forbidden Zone” which draws inspiration from The Planet of the Apes). Through the sharp lyricism of the band’s previous vocalist Heather Michele, Helion Prime use the stories of people who faced off against systemic societal barriers, as well as outright persecution, to draw parallels to modern social issues.  “Madame Mercury,” as an example, is an anthemic ode to the empowerment of the next generation of women in STEM fields as told through the story of Katherine Johnson, an African-American mathematician whose work applying geometric laws to space travel allowed NASA to successfully navigate both missions around the Earth’s orbit and eventually to the Moon and back.  “Prof” is a decrying of societal homophobia through the lens of the life of computer scientist and philosopher Alan Turing, who was prosecuted for ‘gross indecency’ under Britain’s archaic Labouchere Amendment after admitting to being in a homosexual relationship.  “E Pur Si Muove” is a classic tale of the battle between scientific discovery and religious conservatism revolving around Galileo Galilei, famously persecuted by the Italian Catholic church for proposing the heliocentric theory of the solar system.  These are songs that are blunt in their delivery of how far we still have to go towards building a more just and tolerant society, but are also full of a kind of righteous, burning hope that is deeply inspiring, never lost in doom-and-gloom but always looking towards the future.

This same righteousness is echoed strongly in the music that backs up these lyrical themes.  The songs on here are classic, fist-pumping power metal anthems, replete with shiny keyboard embellishments to keep with the scientific themes and borrowing musical motifs from everything from melodic death metal to some Metallica-esque acoustic song introductions a la classics like “Fade to Black.”  There’s even the occasional orchestral blast because, hey, what’s a good power metal album without one?  Songwriter and guitarist Jason Ashcraft clearly had a ball making this album, as the sheer sense of fun exudes from his every musical choice, giving an incredible energy to the progression of the album.  Of course, for my money, a power metal band is only as good as their vocalist, and in this case Question Everything features the talents of new vocalist Mary Zimmer, who steps into the role with ease, proving herself to be a capable voice for the stories being told here, her slight grit and edge emphasizing the underlying urgency of the message, and showing just how expansive her range is on moments like the massive ending to “The Gadfly.”  Joined at times by Helion Prime’s previous vocalists Sozos Michael and Heather Michelle and even Judicator’s John Yellend, the vocals on Question Everything are the icing on an already superbly delicious cake.

Question Everything is a case where an album managed to subvert my expectations in a good way, like having the rug pulled out from under you and falling back into a pile of pillows.  The modus operandi for power metal is usually fantasy and fiction, and there certainly isn’t anything wrong with a little Lord of the Rings-based escapism every now and then, but it’s so refreshing to see a power metal band take a bold look at modern, real-world issues, and Helion Prime manage to treat their subject matter with a care and conviction that is truly uplifting in every sense of the word.  I learned so much from researching the subjects of this album, even the stories I was already familiar with, and every listen gives me more and more hope about where the future of our world might lie, if we only just reach out a little farther beyond our own understanding.  In an age where hope seems to be a scarce commodity, I can’t think of a more fitting way to say ‘listen to this album right now’ than that.

And through the persecution
And all the devastation
We chose to fight
For the day shining on the new horizon

– Vincent

Question Everything was released digitally and on CD via Saibot Reigns October 5, with an additional CD version released by Ward Records October 28.  For more information on Helion Prime, and to purchase the album, please visit the band’s website.

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