HELIX – Bastard of the Blues (2014 Perris)
I’ve been a Helix fan a long time. They were one of the first bands I’ve ever liked. I’m pleased to report that their new album, Bastard of the Blues, is their strongest in years and possibly on a par with their best 80’s work. It is their first album with Chris Julke of Cambridge Ontario on guitar, replacing John Claus (who replaced the Doctor, Brent Doerner). This new lineup of the band (still featuring Kaleb Duck – guitar, Daryl Gray – bass, and Fritz Hinz – drums) is again working with Sean Kelly and Aaron Murray, producing one hell of a record. It consists of 8 brand new songs, and 3 slightly older songs that you may have missed the first time.
The title track “Bastard of the Blues” is a mean, fully loaded soul-metal rock song. Soul-metal? Sure, why not? Check out those backing vocals, and the smoking lead guitars. Soul-metal! Songwriting-wise, this is a top drawer. Production-wise, performance…there is absolutely nothing that sucks about “Bastard of the Blues”. Although this is a completely modern song, there are aspects of it that take me back to 1978’s Breaking Loose album, such as its experimental nature with different sections and so on.
It takes balls to name a song “Even Jesus (Wasn’t Loved in His Home Town)”. It’s heavier than the title track, and boasts a nasty little guitar riff to hook you. Once again, Helix raised the bar. Then they change gears: “Winning is the Best Revenge” is solid pop rock that in a just world would be on the radio. This one takes me right back to the mellower sounds on Helix’ 1993 classic It’s a Business Doing Pleasure. Vollmer’s voice is in top shape. Lyrically these two songs really seem pointed at those who may or may not have impeded Helix in the past!
“Screaming at the Moon” would be a cool song live, with it’s lyrics about fists pumping in the air. My favourite song however is the next one, “Metal at Midnight”. If it wasn’t for the modern production I’d swear this song was from 1984. What a great hard rock chorus. I’m absolutely nuts for this song. What is it about bands like Judas Priest and Helix recently, that they have managed to tap into that vintage vibe? I think part of the credit must go to co-writer Sean Kelly, who proved his metal credentials last year on his excellent Metal On Ice EP.
“Hellbound For a Heartbreak” is similar in direction to “Screaming at the Moon”, which is solid hard rock with hooky guitars. But then, I was taken by surprise: “When All the Love is Gone” is an epic 70’s-sounding ballad with a voice singing that I’m not familiar with. Turns out, it’s Daryl Gray! He absolutely nails it. This song could have been at home on Breaking Loose, alongside “You’re a Woman Now”. I tend to like albums with multiple lead singers, so I enjoyed the change of pace.
From the compilation CD Best Of 1983-2012 comes “Axe to Grind”, getting a second life here. Now here’s an interesting observation: On the Best Of CD it didn’t make a huge impression on me. Here, I’m enjoying it a lot more, particularly for the scathing lyrics. Anybody who has read Brian’s Facebook page knows he’s not shy about sharing opinions, and “Axe to Grind” reminds us of that. Then comes “Skin in the Game” from the EP of the same title. This being an older song, you can hear the presence of the Doctor! Also from that EP is “The Bitch is a Bullet”. It boasts one of those memorable Helix choruses.
Album closer “Sticks and Stones” is another favourite. It’s a fast-paced bluegrass-y metal shuffle! Hey, I don’t know how to describe it better. This is a great song, purely smoking, and showing off the musicianship of these five pros. Much like “Metal at Midnight”, I just can’t get enough of this song!
As an album, Bastard of the Blues is more cohesive and consistent than some of the recent Helix discs, including The Power of Rock and Roll and Vagabond Bones. As good as those albums were, Bastard is better. It feels like a complete album, more so than before. It holds its own against classics like Back For Another Taste, a high-water mark.
I don’t often get preachy in my reviews here, but I will say this: Go out and get Bastard of the Blues. Order it online. Do what you have to do to purchase this album. You’ll be supporting a hard working band that have really earned your dollars. If there was one pleasant surprise of 2014 so far, it is that Helix came out with such an incredibly strong album. They have raised the bar for themselves again.