“Ain’t no rest for the Helix band!” – Brian Vollmer
HELIX – half-ALIVE (1998 DeRock)
The 90’s weren’t a kind decade to Helix. Longtime guitarist Paul Hackman was killed in a 1992 auto accident. Without any Helix tracks written for a new album, Brian Vollmer chose to reconceive his in-the-works solo album as a Helix one, It’s a Business Doing Pleasure. The largely acoustic leanings of that (excellent) album didn’t fit with the overall Helix sound, and the album was tragically ignored. It would be five years before half-ALIVE finally followed it.
With their original heavy rock sound intact, Helix came roaring back with this mostly live, partly studio recording. With some live gigs recorded, as well as a handful of unreleased and unfinished new songs, half-ALIVE maybe should have been called one-third-ALIVE. Either way, it rocks. If you’ve seen this band live, then you know how much they kick it on stage.
After the death of Paul Hackman, it seemed like Helix became more a “project” than a band, with rotating members around the nucleus of Brian Vollmer (vocals) and Daryl Gray (bass). On half-ALIVE, you will hear appearances from members such as Greg “Fritz” Hinz (drums), Paul Hackman and Dr. Doerner (guitars), and even a song written by Mike Uzelac, their bass player when they signed to Capitol Records (who was actually a missing person for a long time). In addition, newer members like drummer Glen “Archie” Gamble and guitarists Denny Balicki, Gary Borden, Rick Mead and Mark Chichkan all contribute. These guys helped keep Helix going as a touring entity in the 90’s. Gamble in particular, since he was in the band for almost a whole decade.
Could the Helix of the 90’s cut it as much as the classic 80’s band? The five studio tracks roar “yes”! A far cry from the acoustic rock of It’s a Business Doing Pleasure, this is a return to the hard rock/metal sounds of Walkin’ the Razor’s Edge. Best tracks among the studio crop are “Wrecking Ball”, Steppenwolf’s “The Pusher” and a ballad called “The Same Room” (the single). “Big Bang Boom” is the only one I do not care for. The rest are decent songs, not necessarily career highlights, but solid. Of course, Vollmer’s voice is in fine form. It always is. No matter what Helix do on an album, you can count on Brian’s vocals sounding as they always has. That’s his Bel Canto training.
Video shoot for the unreleased “The Same Room” clip
From there we go to the live material. Virtually all the hits are present (“Rock You”, “Running Wild In The 21st Century”, “Good To The Last Drop”, “Heavy Metal Love”, “Wild In The Streets”, etc.) There’s also a new acoustic composition called “Smile”, written and performed by Gary Borden. What really sets this live stuff apart from their studio albums is Vollmer’s friendly on-stage banter. As he relates a tale of staying in a hotel in Seaforth Ontario (population at the time: less than 2000), you’ll laugh along, especially if you’ve been there! Equally good is Brian’s mid-song speech in “No Rest for the Wicked”. (Hits that are missing include “The Kids are all Shakin'”.)
The live songs were taken from various tours, 1992-1997, so there are a variety of material and band members (as noted above). Yet there’s a cohesiveness that similar live albums lack. The songs are mixed together and flow seamlessly, and you really can’t hear the five years passing. The sound is hard, clear, and rocking, and begs the question: “What took them five years to release this stuff?” I guess it was circumstance. It had nothing to do with quality, that’s for sure. The performances are raw though, and it doesn’t sound like much in terms of overdubs was done to the recordings.
My only real complaint about this otherwise competent live album is the cheesy cover art. Up close, it kind of looks cheap and crappy. And Brian’s haircut…I’m sorry man! I’ve met Brian and he was so cool and kind, so I hate to say bad things, but yeah…I’m glad you grew your hair back man!