If there’s one thing you can count on, even in 2020, it’s that Helix keep on keeping on. 46 years running, and a new compilation CD on the shelves called Eat Sleep Rock. Sounds a bit like Brian Vollmer’s life story! Helix have given us two new songs and nine previously released numbers. As has been the case recently, the cover art is by former guitarist Brent “The Doctor” Doerner.
We love Helix, but opening with “The Story of Helix” is a bit of a misfire. I get that it would be a great opener for Helix’s acoustic gigs (it even has band member intros), but it’s a sluggish start to an album. On this track, Brian Vollmer takes us through Helix history, with the odd musical segues through “Billy Oxygen”, “She Loves You”, “Heavy Metal Love”, and “Lick It Up” among others as the story progresses. Even “Teen Spirit” in the 90s, “when everything went to shit”. But what didn’t kill them made Helix stronger and they’ve certainly made great albums since. Some of their best in fact. Eat Sleep Rock contains shining gems aplenty of post-grunge-era Helix rawk. But “The Story of Helix” should have been left for the last track on the album.
The good news is that Vollmer proudly proclaims he will “NEVER” retire! And if the second song, “Eat – Sleep – Rock” is any indication, that’s a good thing. This is a HEAVY Helix. Produced by Daryl Gray, with guitars aided and abetted by Sean Kelly, this one smokes. There ain’t no rest for the wicked, as “Eat – Sleep – Rock” resoundingly demonstrates. Long-time Helix fans are going to love this newbie that recalls the fire and fury of 1984 all over again.
As mentioned in “The Story of Helix”, the 90s were not kind to Kitchener’s favourite band. That said, they still put out three excellent albums in that decade, the last of which was 1998’s half-ALIVE. It was the first Helix release in five years and included some new material to go with the live side. “Shock City Psycho Rock” and “Wrecking Ball” (both heavy hitters) are two of the best. “Shock City” is an upbeat boogie, and “Wrecking Ball” just slams. Giving these two songs fresh attention is a good thing.
Brian Vollmer’s solo album When Pigs Fly (1999) is a Helix album in all but name, so “I’m A Live Frankenstein” is a valid addition. This grinder has a hint of industrial rock and Helix alumnus Brian Doerner on drums. It sounds a little out of place, but as Vollmer alluded, the 90s were a weird time.
“Even Jesus (Wasn’t Loved In His Hometown)” is a scorcher originally from the excellent Bastard of the Blues (2014). That album is criminally forgotten, and it’s actually under-represented here. The guitar hook and chorus melody will gnaw away at you until it’s right in your brain. “Cyber Space Girl” (from 2007’s The Power of Rock and Roll) hasn’t been on a compilation before. It’s another great tune from a tragically forgotten album. The Power of Rock and Roll was loaded with heavy melodic tunes, and “Cyber Space Girl” definitely deserves a revisit. Even better though is “When the Bitters Get the Better of You” from the superb Vagabond Bones (2009). That was the first Helix album to feature Daryl Gray, Greg “Fritz” Hinz, and Doctor Doerner since the 90s. They loaded it with top-notch songs and “Bitters” is just one of many. It’s another boogie, so get down!
Later, in 2017, Helix issued a bitchin’ 12″ single for “The Devil is Having a Party Tonight” and “The Tequila Song”. Both those songs resurface here. I’ve said it before, but Helix have written a better song about tequila than Sammy Hagar ever has or will. As for the classic metal sounds of “Devil”, it has a positively beastly bass groove. These are both great tunes. Now you can get them affordably on CD. And of course, “(Gene Simmons Says) Rock Is Dead” (from 2016’s Rock-It Science) still stands up. It ran the risk of being a novelty, but holds up in the present. Gene did proclaim rock to be dead, many times. I’m glad he was wrong. If he wasn’t, then Brian Vollmer couldn’t still Eat Sleep Rock today! But he can, and so the Helix band keep putting out worthwhile new material.
The track listing for this CD was well chosen as there is minimal overlap with other compilations (with three in common with Rock-It Science). It spotlights songs that haven’t have their rightful day in the sun. The only thing I’d do is move “The Story of Helix” to the end. Minor quibble aside, if you haven’t bought a new Helix album in a while then now’s the time.