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.
Mikey,I remember you telling me in a previous review to check this out as it was awesome but for u to drop a 5/5 it must really be!
You already know my endless Helix Thunder Bay stories so I won’t go there but man since I’m a lazy bones and iTunes a lot of my music this purchase I will buy a physical copy of.
As I have said numerous times before Vollmer deserves RESPECT!
Deke, with this sucker, Helix have an opportunity to make my Top 5 of 2014 list. I made sure I included that I am a long time fan in this review, so everybody can take it with a grain of salt. But this is an AWESOME CD. You would love it…Jon would love it…ANY Helix fan would love it.
Well Mikey were 9 months into 2014. So the chances of this being in your top 5 I think are good,it’s funny you brought it up cuz up until recently I was thinking what the hell is in my top 5 for this yr? But now with Priest,Nuge,California Breed and from what your saying Helix the future is looking bright for this yr!
I’m going to have to get California Breed before the end of the year. Flying Colors will almost certainly make my list, I’m anticipating. Flying Colors 2 will be out soon…
I used to work with a guy that is a drummer in a Country band. He said he walked in on Brian Vollmer singing opera and his vocal range is amazing. Brian stopped as soon as he knew someone else was in the room, as if he was embarrassed. I am sure that training helped him in the same way it helped Geoff Tate.
Thanks for the review on this album. When I saw the list of albums coming out in 2014, I knew it wouldn`t be long until you did this review. I will have to get this, especially if it`s on vinyl.
But, just for the regard, I`m not giving anybody a f*cking R.
LOL! I’m going to challenge you to come up with a Trailer Park Boys reference to every review :)
I am sure that is true about Brian. He seems very humble.
Unfortunately I don’t think this is out on vinyl.
Just for the record, not regard. I wish there was a way to edit our posts.
WordPress are you listening? Let readers edit their posts!
I think the TPB should put out an album, similar to The Great White North and have Canadian Musicians as guests. Helix, Rush, Sebastian Bach, Tragically Hip. Bubbles could sing a few songs. I would buy it.
Damn I would dig that.
Wow. 5/5. I need to check this one out (and review it, of course). I really dig it when you review new stuff as well. I have always had a soft spot for Helix even though their albums have been a roller coaster quality wise after Wild In The Streets (my fave Helix record).
If Doerner reads this – re-join Helix please. In my world, Brian and Brent are Helix.
You missed him, Brent read it this morning.
My fave is probably Breaking Loose, followed by Back For Another Taste. (Both those albums have Brent on them.)
Two words for this:
Yeah man. I’m glad Helix are rocking 40 years with integrity intact.
Oh man I am the same age as Helix!
After one listen all I can say that I probably won’t give 10/10 in my coming review, but the album sure was a pleasant surprise – what a great record! I’m gonna check it out more closely on Monday when I’m back at work, but as for now I say this album is their best since Wild In The Streets. Thumbs up!
Glad you liked it man, and looking forward to your review!
For everybody interested, go to Jon’s site and check out his excellent review of the new Quiet Riot album, 10! Which sucks, apparently!
Listened to it again today in my headphones. It’s really, really good, this one. A couple of fillers, but no bad songs and Brian Vollmer really sings the hell out of it. I’m really impressed. I’m buying this!
Glad you liked it. They announced a bunch of Sweden dates, I hope you get to check out the new lineup.
BTW I have a hunch that there will be some kind of Helix 40th Anniversary event, and Brent will be a involved.
Some of the Swedish dates are too far away from where I live, but if all goes to plan, I’ll check out their Stockholm gig and maybe the Rockboat. That would be cool.
Will Brent do the European tour, you think?
No I strongly doubt it. You should ask him!
Mikey I bought this today! Thanks for the review,I was lazy about getting it but your review made me move to get it. Also check out my site tomorrow ( never thought I would say that) you will read sumthin that u will like……
No Deke thank YOU for supporting a great band.
Heading over to your site momentarily.
For all those interested, Deke can be found at:
Thanks for the link and props…..
Upon first listen The album is excellent like you called it,almost sounds like a grown up Helix sound wise and I hear some Alice Cooper influence in Axe To Grind….but yeah it’s a good rock n roll album and it could be in the top 5 for me as well this year!? The top 5s this yr may shock some just due to the fact that some acts you wouldn’t necessarily consider anymore for a top 5 list..BUT….hey,who am I to judge?!