REVIEW: Helix – Long Way to Heaven (1985)

HELIX – Long Way to Heaven (1985 Capitol Records)

Helix’s fifth album was an important one.  They were following the “big hit” album (Walkin’ the Razor’s Edge) and there were expectations.  The band collected another batch of original material and hit the studio with producer Tom Treumuth again.

1985’s Long Way to Heaven is the second album with the “classic” Helix lineup:  Brian Vollmer, Brent “the Doctor” Doerner, Paul Hackman, Greg “Fritz” Hinz and Daryl Gray.  All but drummer Fritz contributed songs, with Vollmer, Hackman and Doerner leading the pack.

The two singles were the opening tracks.  “The Kids Are All Shakin’” is a catchy for American radio play.  It has always been a damn fine song.

Down in New York City,
All the way to L.A.,
Boys and girls are gonna shake it,
Yeah, each and every day.

There’s also a reference to a fan letter from Poland that was a big deal to the band at the time.  “Kids Are All Shakin’” is a great rock and roll celebration, but the single version with additional keyboards is better.

The other single was the hit acoustic/electric ballad “Deep Cuts the Knife” written by Hackman and Bob Halligan, Jr.  To this day it remains one of, if not the very best ballad Helix have done.  It has atmosphere and bite, and a killer vocal performance by Brian Vollmer.

There are good tracks after the first two, but nothing quite as memorable.  “Ride the Rocket” (Vollmer/Halligan) is fun but silly.  I’m sure you can guess what kind of rocket Brian is singing about when he says “Reach in the pocket”.  Other decent songs include the title track, which has a great chorus melody, and the heavy-as-fuck “House on Fire”.  There’s also another ballad called “Without You (Jasmine’s Song)” that is worthy of praise.

There is nothing wrong with any of the other tunes, and some have some pretty cool moments.  “Don’t Touch the Merchandise” has a nifty a cappella section that proves what great vocalists the band are.  It’s just that none of the other songs really have a lot of staying power in the brain.

Long Way to Heaven was one of those follow-ups that was good enough, but always remain in the shadow of the more successful predecessors.

3.25/5 stars


REVIEW: Helix – “The Devil is Having a Party Tonight” (2017 single)

HELIX – “The Devil is Having a Party Tonight” / “The Tequila Song” (2017 clear red picture single)

It’s been love for Helix and I since…many years!  Since Record Store Tales Part 2:  Gimme An R, at least.  As such, I may be a little biased when it comes to this band.  Maybe.  I truly believe their music deserves much more attention from the rock community, particularly the recent albums which are always excellent.  Helix mainman Brian Vollmer maintains a reputation as the hardest working man in Canadian heavy rock.  2017 sees the release of not just a new Helix single (and a lavish one at that), but also his second solo album Get Yer Hands Dirty.

Helix today is Vollmer on vox, Daryl Gray on bass, Fritz Hinz kickin’ the drums, and newer members Kaleb “Duckman” Duck and Chris Julke.  The inner sleeve is signed by all five members, which is just the kind of cool personal touch Helix are known for.  Also noteworthy, all but Hinz wrote the single A-side “The Devil is Having a Party Tonight”.  That makes it the first Helix song in years written solely by band members.  “The Tequila Song” on the B-side is composed by mainstay collaborators Gord Pryor, Steve Georgakopoulos and Vollmer.

Great tunes, these are, both party songs.  Each is a little heavier than you might usually expect from the Helix band.  “Devil” is possessed by a heavy-as-a-tombstone riff, and some exotic guitar noodlings that recall the good stuff from the metallic 80s.

I think “The Tequila Song” is even better.  I was known to drink tequila from time to time in my younger days, but I gotta say that Helix have written a better song about tequila than Sammy Hagar ever has.  Stomp to that riff as you “lick it, bang it, suck it, tequila!”  Even if you’re the designated driver, you’ll find the chorus infectious and party-ready.

Want a copy?  You know where to go – Planet Helix.

4.5/5 stars

REVIEW: Helix – Walkin’ the Razor’s Edge (1984, Rock Candy remaster)

HELIX – Walkin’ the Razor’s Edge (1984 Capitol, 2009 Rock Candy reissue)

If you’re from Canada, then chances are you already know how to properly respond when somebody requests of you to “Gimme an R!”

You give them a fuckin’ R!

To quote Ricky from Trailer Park Boys, “Helix was a wicked concert. Fuck I sold a lot of dope at that concert. They had good lyrics, like ‘Gimme an R, O, C, K,’ and then the crowd yells ROCK really loud. Now that’s a fuckin’ concert.”

Bob Halligan Jr. wrote it, but Helix made it legendary.  In turn, “Rock You” put them on the map.  It’s pure arena rock:  “Don’t just sit there, come on get up and move!”  With a riff, a catchy tune and a shout-along chorus, “Rock You” was custom built for 1984.   The Pepsi Power Hour gave it regular play, and the boys toured relentlessly.  Helix’s rep as a down n’ dirty hard rocking band was secure.  The music video scared away my neighbor, David Dolph, a kid from across the street whose very Catholic parents wouldn’t let him listen to rock music or watch Dr. Who.   Instant street cred!

“Rock You” opened Walkin’ the Razor’s Edge (their fourth LP) with a punch.  “Young & Wreckless” followed with a kick in the ass.  This chugging rocker is all about a good time.  Strangely enough, this track somehow frequently ended up on Kiss bootleg CDs.  Bootleggers most likely confused it with Kiss’ own “Young and Wasted” from 1983’s Lick it Up.  Needless to say, if you find a Kiss bootleg claiming to have an unreleased song on it called “Young & Wreckless”, it’s not Kiss.  It’s Helix.  And it kicks ass.

“Animal House” is a Helix concert classic, a bar-bustin’ rocker with a sweet slide guitar licks from Brent “The Doctor” Doerner.  He and gui-partner-in-crime Paul Hackman formed a formidable and underrated duo.   They supplied Helix with a seemingly bottomless well of riffage and tasty guitar hooks.  Meanwhile lead howler Brian Vollmer was in peak voice, driving the whole thing home.  Next up is “Feel the Fire”, basically a re-write of “Heavy Metal Love” from 1983’s awesome No Rest for the Wicked LP.  Though the songs are similar, both kick equal amounts of ass, so we will allow some self-plagiarism.  The first side was finished off with a real sledge:  “When the Hammer Falls”.  It’s a real headbanger in the classic sense, fast and loud.

“Gimme Gimme Good Lovin'” kicked off the second side, a Crazy Elephant cover that became one of Helix’s most notorious music videos.  There was a TV version and a uncensored cut with full frontal nudity.  One of the girls in the video was an underage Tracy Lords.  Whoops!  Meanwhile, a 13-year-old me couldn’t take my eyes off the TV!  (A classmate of mine called Ian Johnson was known for his tall tales, and took credit for giving Helix the idea for the video!)  “Gimme Gimme Good Lovin'” was one of those instantly catchy songs that seemingly everyone dug, and check out Doerner’s killer solo.

The shot with Doctor Doerner kicking the lightbulbs is possibly the coolest of all time.

Helix want to tell you what turns them on in “My Kind of Rock”, but I think it’s the biting riffs.  Not a bad tune, but Helix have done better.  That’s just filler before the ballad “(Make Me Do) Anything You Want”, a cover of A Foot in Cold Water.  Helix’s take is remarkably true to the original.  It’s considerably softer than anything else on the album, but that’s the function of a ballad on a rock album.  Vollmer’s performance helped make it a Helix favourite that’s still played live in concert.  Another track called “Six Strings, Nine Lives” is the only tune that should have been excised.  Good chorus, but without a song to go with it.  One of the best Helix originals was saved for the closing position:  “You Keep Me Rockin'”.  Dark and edgy, it’s a heavy and memorable tune to end Helix’s best selling LP.

Walkin’ the Razor’s Edge is a good record, but as is so often the case with the “big hit” albums, it’s not their best.  No Rest for the Wicked is the one to seek out for the “all killer, no filler” experience.  Razor’s Edge has some essential cuts, but a couple fillers too.  If you’re thinking about picking this up, the wisest purchase would be the 2009 reissue by Rock Candy.  This remastered disc contains rare photos and liner notes including an interview with Brian Vollmer.  It also has three must-have bonus tracks:  Live versions of “Young & Wreckless”, “Rock You” and “Animal House” from the uber-rare promo EP Live at the Marquee.  Since Helix were (and are) known for their blitzkrieg live shows, these tracks are well worth having on CD.

3.5/5 stars

REVIEW: Helix – Live at the Marquee (1985 promo EP)

HELIX – Live at the Marquee (1985 Capitol promo exclusive EP)

Gratuity goes to two people:  Helix associate John Hockey who initially hooked me up with an mp3 rip of his copy of this Holy Grail rarity, and to Boppin for finding this original copy on vinyl!  Helix’s Live at the Marquee EP is one of those releases that lots of people have heard of, but few have heard.  First of all, it’s a promo, which means it was only distributed within the industry and never made available for sale to the public.  Promos can be very desirable collectibles, especially when they contain exclusive music.  Live at the Marquee was nothing but!  In 1985, Helix had released nothing in terms of live product, not even a live single B-side.  Live at the Marquee was the only one, and before the internet, few fans even knew about it.

For full disclosure, there is a rare Rock Candy reissue of 1984’s Walkin’ the Razor’s Edge, an unauthorized but valuable release that does contain three of the six Marquee tracks.  That 2009 release includes “Young & Wreckless”, “Rock You”, and “Animal House” from this EP.  The other three songs have yet to be reissued anywhere, so half of Live at the Marquee is still exclusive to the EP.

What you need to know about Live at the Marquee is that this is Helix at their prime.  The classic lineup was in full swing:  Brian Vollmer (vocals), Brent “Doctor” Doerner & Paul Hackman (guitars), Greg “Fritz” Hinz (drums), and Daryl Gray (bass).  They were performing their most popular tracks from the Razor’s Edge and No Rest for the Wicked LPs.  Starting with “Young & Reckless” and “Rock You”, it’s full octane in the tank and pedal to the metal.  Helix were and are known as a loud band, and this EP sure sounds like it.  They take a step back on the hit ballad “(Make Me Do) Anything You Want”.  Helix could do love songs like that without sounding wimpy.

Side two continues with the single “Gimme Gimme Good Lovin'” (Crazy Elephant cover) which sounds like a blast.  Helix do not get recognition for the dual guitar alliance of Doerner and Hackman as perhaps they should.  Check out “Animal House” for more of their stellar interplay including a bit of slide.  Finally “Heavy Metal Love” closes the record, an enduring favourite today that sounds fantastic performed by the classic band.

Over the years, fans became widely aware of the existence of this release.  It would be listed and pictured among official discographies, but never found in stores.  Until/unless those final three recordings become available on CD, this record should be sought after by every serious Helix fan.  I’m happy to have a copy signed by Fritz Hinz.  Also awesome?  John Hockley hooked me up with a CD copy of the Rock Candy release of Razor’s Edge, signed by all four surviving members of the classic Helix band.  Thank you John, and rest in peace Paul Hackman.

4.5/5 stars

REVIEW: Harem Scarem – Live and Acoustic (1994 EP)

Part 1 of a Harem Scarem triple play!

live-and-acousticHAREM SCAREM – Live and Acoustic (1994 Warner EP, autographed cover pictured above)

Nothing wrong with releasing an EP in between albums, right?  Certainly not.  In Harem Scarem’s case, they collected some rare stuff and released it as an EP to tide fans over until album #3.  A strong album like Mood Swings deserved a little follow-up, to present some of its material live.  Recorded in Toronto, “No Justice”, “Hard to Love” and the instrumental “Mandy” kick it hard.  Here is the proof that Harem Scarem could pull of their thick harmonies live.  Having four singers in the band didn’t hurt, and Pete Lesperance’s guitar flourishes add the necessary pyrotechnics.  His solo spot on “Mandy” is a nice moment to spotlight a very under appreciated player.  Accompanied by drummer Darren Smith, “Mandy” is transformed live into something a little bigger.  “Hard to Love” is beefier than the version from the band’s first album, thanks in no small part to Smith’s ample backup singing.

The three live tracks and the included single edit of the ballad “If There Was a Time” are all taken from the CD single for that song.  “If There Was a Time” is one of the band’s most complex ballads, so an edit probably made it a bit more digestible to the masses.  For added value, two acoustic versions and one more single edit “Something to Say” from the first album) are also included.  The single for “If There Was a Time” is much rarer, so it was nice of Warner to release these things on something with better distribution, according to the back cover, this seems to have been done in collaboration with Warner Music Japan, which would explain why the it looks like a Japanese import from the side.

The acoustic tracks are fantastic:  “Jealousy” always seemed like it would be great in the fully-acoustic format.  It’s a great little acoustic jam, with Harry Hess showing off his impressive pipes much more so than the album version.  The other acoustic version is “Honestly”, which is cool, because that hit ballad was original arranged for piano and keyboards.  This version is done for acoustic guitars, which makes it less lush but more (pardon the pun) honest.

Looking back to 1994, it was reassuring to see new Harem Scarem product on the shelves at a time when there was no certainty for bands of their ilk.  Live and Acoustic was no exploit EP, as was unfortunately common.  It presented a smattering of rarities collected together in one easy package.  The single edits are not crucial, but it’s a seven song EP so it’s easy to look at these as just an added bonus.

4/5 stars

REVIEW: Sword – Live Hammersmith (2016)

scan_20170103SWORD – Live Hammersmith (2016)

30 years ago, there was a heavy metal band from Quebec named Sword.  They only released two albums (Metalized and the more ambitious Sweet Dreams) before disbanding at the end of the 1980s.  Lead singer Rick Hughes is one talented guy though, and he gave it another shot with a hard rock band called Saints & Sinners in 1992, who were produced by Aldo Nova.

Hughes has remained active in Canada, though Sword are now long gone.  Fortunately the internet has given old metal bands like Sword a way to get back in touch with their fans.  Thanks to the web, you can now buy a live CD recorded in 1987 on Sword’s opening tour with Motorhead.  Lemmy took the band under his wing early on and fortunately this live tape survived.  They played two nights at Hammersmith Odeon and recorded them to 4-track tape.  The liner notes do not state which gig the CD is from, or if it is a mixture of both.  Considering the age of the tapes, Sword’s Live Hammersmith CD stands up remarkably well.  There is a real sense of “being there” at Hammersmith, in spite of (or because of) the sonics.

Ripping through all 10 tracks from their debut album, Sword made the most of their opening slot.  Even so, they still had time for a brand new song too, “Prepare to Die” (later released on Sweet Dreams).  With 11 songs and only 36 minutes, Sword’s already thrashy material seemed faster live.  Sword’s songs had the goods, too.  These blazing aggressive tunes weren’t simple or easy.  Most importantly, Rick Hughes’ incredible metal shrieks were 100% intact in the live setting.  Hughes’ voice was critical to the Sword sound, being their most unique characteristic.  It is always disappointing when you hear a band live, and the singer can’t scream like the album.  Not a problem with Sword.

The singles “F.T.W.” (“Follow the Wheels”) and “Stoned Again” are the immediate highlights.  The gallop of “F.T.W.” sounds like a heavier Iron Maiden, while “Stoned Again” goes for the groove.  If anything, the songs have more impact in the live CD setting.  It is quite possible that Sword were one of those bands who were better live than on album.  They were, at the very least, flawless live.  Rick Hughes didn’t miss a note, word or scream.  Dan Hughes (drums) was also bang-on.  You can’t get a live album like this without the rhythm section doing it right.  Dan Hughes and bassist Mike Larock were right there, locked in, and driving the machine forward.  Larock had the groove, and also a knack for throwing in catchy bass runs.  As for the lead work, Sword were a one-guitar band, so Mike Plant had to switch from rhythm to lead seamlessly, and he made it all sound easy.

Inhabiting the fine line between metal and straight-up thrash, perhaps Sword were not unique out there in the 80s trying to make it.  This CD proves that they did have the talent.  As Henry Rollins says, live is “the only way to know for sure”.  A soundboard recording like this is as close as you will get.

As an added bonus (always appreciated in these frugal days), the Sword CD is signed by all four members and comes in a jewel case.  A very nice reward for the devoted fan.  You can buy Live Hammersmith from the Sword Facebook page.

4/5 stars



REVIEW: The Four Horsemen – Left For Dead (1988-1992) (CD/DVD set)

“You know, Sean Connery was the best Roger Moore they ever had.” — Frank C. Starr

THE FOUR HORSEMEN – Left For Dead (1988-1992) (2005 CD/DVD set)

“Nobody said it was easy…and they were fucking right!”

The final review in this Four Horsemen series is a valuable live album/DVD set.  The CD was put together from “a box of old tapes”, all from 1992 gigs (one of which was Toronto), and there are ample liner notes discussing the band’s history and the songs herein.  It’s a brilliant live set, loaded with energy and Frank C. Starr’s unmistakable charisma.  Every track sweats whiskey.  With an opening one-two punch of “’75 Again” and “Moonshine”, you know you’re in for an action packed ride.  “Moonshine” is particularly cool, because the album version featured an authentic over-the-phone lead vocal, but the live one is full-on.  Throwing in a couple extra screams, Frankie added the icing on the cake.  Man, we so miss Frank C. Starr.

It’s a noisy affair, which actually suits this band just fine.  It’s appropriate that a Four Horsemen live album isn’t an overdubbed and glossed collection.  What it sounds like is a live band in a tiny club.  All three of the Horsemen’s singles are included in live form.  The slide-drenched “Tired Wings” goes down a treat.  “Nobody Said it Was Easy” and “Rockin’ is Ma Business” are both electrifying; the latter especially so.  You don’t hear a singer with a voice like Frank’s very often.  He had the grit, the power and the ability, wrapped up in a rock star-sized bottle of Jack.  Frank Starr has to be one of the greatest unsung losses in modern rock.

And what a band behind him!  There is a constant and very hard-hitting beat at the back, courtesy of the man-mountain Ken “Dimwit” Montgomery.  According to the liner notes, Dimwit was a psychiatric nurse in addition to being a hell of a punk rock drummer.  The name Dimwit was clearly a joke, but there is a dark side.  The rigors of his work and the amount of care and emotion that went into it may have contributed to the depression and substance abuse that eventually took his life.  It’s sad really, but thankfully these live recordings exist.

One non-album cut is included in this set, a slow raunchy one called “Can’t Get Next To You”.  The AC/DC influences are obvious as this one is clearly in the musical mode of “The Jack”.   The fans wouldn’t have known this song, but Frank wants to see how many people know the album.  Introducing “Hot Head” he announces, “Let’s see if some of you fuckers actually went out and bought this shit!”…right before an equipment breakdown!  And it’s all there, documented for history.  Leaving in things like amp troubles makes for a more authentic listening experience.

All told, only two songs from the legendary first Four Horsemen record are not on the live CD:  “Can’t Stop Rockin'” and “Homesick Blues”.  Although unlisted, “I Need a Thrill” does contain the “Something Good” coda, just like the album.  It’s even longer, with some absolutely consummate playing from lead guitarist Dave Lizmi.  The low grade sound quality perhaps enhances the overall experience.  This was a dirty rock and roll band and that’s how the live CD sounds.  That seems right.  With almost the entire first album plus an unreleased song, any Horsemen fan worth his or her salt should probably get their ears on this.  But there is still the DVD to feast our eyes upon!


Interspersed with rare footage and interviews, you get all the original Horsemen music videos, starting with “Rockin’ is Ma Business”.   The stark music video for “Nobody Said it Was Easy” is a previously unseen version with some risque shots.  An interesting clip from MTV has the band mistakenly called “Four Horseman”.  (Apparently it was Riki Rachtman’s first show.  But then MTV got the name wrong on a later episode too!  MuchMusic got it right though.)  A rare live bootleg of “Hard Lovin’ Man” is audio garbage but video gold.  “High School Rock and Roller” is a blast to watch, especially the moving mountain that was Dimwit on drums.  There is big stage action from October ’91, opening for Lynyrd Skynyrd (“’75 Again” and “Rockin’ in Ma Business”).   Perhaps most interesting are some rejected music videos that didn’t see the light of day.  An early version of “Tired Wings” (with a pre-fame Kate Moss) is pretty crap and rightfully hated by the band.  Better than this is a rare “Mexican version” of “Nobody Said it Was Easy”.  The intro borrows liberally from “The Old Man Down the Road” by John Fogerty, but it’s cool watching the band mime in a hot dusty town in Mexico.  Then there is a never before seen $2000 budget video for “Welfare Boogie” from the original EP.  This video was rejected by MTV because the band were “too ugly”.

DVD special features are sparse but cool.  There is an exclusive acoustic demo version of “Tired Wings”.  What a different spin this is!  In demo form it was a slow acoustic drawl, laid back with angelic band harmonies.  The lyrics and melodies are identical but the arrangement is completely different.  This is set to a nostalgic slide show of rare band photos.  There is also a band commentary track for the main feature (Haggis, Dave Lizmi and Ben Pape). Lots of laughs, memories and anecdotes.  And making fun of “Dave Lizmo’s” hockey stick-style guitar neck.   Mostly they poke fun of each other’s clothes.  It’s a lot of fun to hang out with the Horsemen.  The audio commentary track is a highly recommended shambles.

The CD/DVD set can be ordered straight from the band, and it comes autographed.  I think mine is signed by Haggis but I cannot be sure!

4/5 stars

REVIEW: Helix – Vagabond Bones (2009)


Welcome back to Canadian Rawk Week!

Scan_20160210HELIX – Vagabond Bones (2009 Universal)

2009 was an exciting time to be a Helix fan.  15-odd years of rotating lineups kept the band alive and in the clubs, but it was hard to grow attached to any band members when they only stayed for a couple years and were off elsewhere.  Helix main man Brian Vollmer had always maintained strong ties with former members, and guys like Brent Doerner often showed up on albums, or in the audience at local Helix shows.  It was still a surprise when Doerner, drummer Greg “Fritz” Hinz, and bassist Daryl Gray all returned to the Helix lineup.  This completed the classic 80’s version of the band, or at least the surviving members thereof.  Paul Hackman was killed in 1993 in a tragic auto accident.  Replacing him in the lineup was Kaleb “Duckman” Duck, who had previously worked with Brent.

Vollmer was working on a new album (originally called It’s Rock Science, NOT Rocket Science!), writing with his partners Sean Kelly and Moe Berg (The Pursuit of Happiness).   The final product entitled Vagabond Bones has a variety of different players on it.  Former Helix members Brent “Ned” Niemi and Rob MacEachern play drums, and guitar maestro Kelly (also briefly a Helix member) contributed to guitar and bass.  Also on the CD is Steve Georgakopoulos who played on a few past Helix albums.  You’d think it would be a case of “too many cooks” in the kitchen.  That’s not the case; Vollmer and Co. brewed a potent mixture of songs, with all the attitude and quality that you have come to expect from this band.

Immediately you’re hit over the head by the slick production work by Vollmer, Kelly and Aaron Murray. “The Animal Inside (Won’t Be Denied)” has the stamps of both Helix and Sean Kelly all over it, from the absurdly catchy chorus to the shredding solos. Vollmer sings powerfully, but his voice has so much depth character from years of training and road work.  Very few singers from the 70’s still sound the same, but Brian Vollmer is damn close!  “Go Hard or Go Home” has another powerful chorus, plus great catchy riff, and fun lyrics.  “Go hard, or go home, take your little whiny candy ass and go.”  Considering all that Helix has been through, Vollmer surely knows only the strong survive.  “No short cuts, no sweet deals,” he sings and he knows it!  The title track “Vagabond Bones” makes it three great songs in a row. It’s an instantly likeable good time hard rock boogie.

Helix really developed a knack for melody as they grew. One of the most pop moments is “Monday Morning Meltdown”, a song that Brian compared to Cheap Trick in terms of style.  You can hear it in the choruses, but it’s just a great pop rock song with another great Sean Kelly riff holding down the fort.  Very different for Helix, and very good.

Onto a fast vintage Van Halen style shuffle, “When The Bitter’s Got The Better Of You” is the fifth straight up great song in a row.  It too is very different for Helix.  It continues a theme of “down on your luck” songs, but always with a message to keep on givin’ ‘er.  That holds true on “Hung Over But Still Hanging In”, a sleeze rock duet with Russ Dwarf of Killer Dwarfs.  If you need a hard rocking party song, then this is what you want. It has the groove, the fun, and the lyrics so just hoist them wobbly-pops and rock on!

My personal favourite song has always been “Best Mistake I Never Made”. It has a classic 70’s rock aura, an acoustic guitar, and if I had to compare it to something else it would be Helix’s excellent 1992 single “That Day Is Gonna Come”.  That’s a trip down memory lane that I don’t mind taking.  “Make ‘Em Dance” is a fast stomper with a beat that strikes me as almost Disco.  It just rages though, I wouldn’t try dancing to it until you want to break your neck!

Ending the album on a funky rock vibe is “Jack it Up”. This is a really interesting song, because I used to hate it. You may have to let it grow on you because, like much of this album, it’s forging new territory for Helix. It’s still great party rock, but just a little laid back.

With sharp production, Vagabond Bones was certainly the best sounding Helix album, and the best overall in many a year. And that’s saying something, because 2007’s The Power Of Rock And Roll was very, very strong.  Hearing this album for the first time, I just smiled.  I had to.  Helix were back and pretty much better than ever.

5/5 stars

REVIEW: Helix – B-Sides (1999)

Scan_20150918 (5)HELIX – B-Sides (1999 Beak Records)

The occasion:  It was Helix’s 25th anniversary.  How about an album, and some classic returning band members, for a good time?

The title B-Sides here is misleading; a B-side is a track that appears on the flipside of a single, and is often not on the album. No tracks on this album appeared on the flipside of any singles, at least not these versions. However, the misleading title does not mar the excellent music contained within.

B-Sides contains songs written and/or demo’d for various Helix albums from 1990 onwards. Some of these have been re-recorded, such as “Love Is A Crazy Game”, which appeared as an acoustic version on the Business Doing Pleasure CD. This version is electric and is much heavier. I could imagine this version fitting right in on an Aerosmith album. “S.E.X. Rated” has also been re-recorded. It’s the only song that actually appeared as a B-side, but it’s not the same version as on that single.

Various versions of the Helix band appear on this album, but most interesting is the lineup on the bonus tracks. “Like Taking Candy From A Baby” and “Thinking It Over” are both from the sessions from Helix’s excellent first album (Breaking Loose), left unreleased until now. “Thinking It Over”, a terrific pop rock song, is a Del Shannon cover.  Helix worked as Shannon’s backing band during an early 70’s Canadian tour. There are also three songs by a reunited “80’s Helix”, and it’s great to hear that version of the band again.

In a way, it’s a shame that this album was given the title and terrible album cover that it has. Brian Vollmer and Co. could have simply put this out as the next Helix album, which may have given it the respect it deserves. From the ballads to the heavy stuff, this Helix CD has a bit of everything you already liked about the band, with a modern edge. Every song kicks, there’s not a weak track in the bunch. By the time you get to the bonus tracks, Helix have already pummelled your eardrums.

Helix fans absolutely need to hear this music; not B-sides but in fact some of Helix’s best stuff. Along the way, there are appearances from pretty much every major Helix member from the indi days to the mid-90’s. You will even hear songs written and performed by Paul Hackman, the late Helix guitarist who was tragically killed in a 1992 auto accident.  The major selling point of the disc was that three songs featured a reunion of the surviving members of the classic 80’s Helix.  With Hackman gone, that consisted of leader singer Brian Vollmer, guitarist Brent “the Doctor” Doerner, bassist Daryl Gray, and drummer Greg “Fritz” Hinz.

Personal faves:

  • “Thinking It Over” which my wife thinks sounds like Sloan.
  • “Devil’s Gate”, hard and hammering.
  • “You Got Me Chained”, with killer horn section.
  • “Take It Or Leave It”, moody and dark but catchy as hell.

Final bonus:  a booklet absolutely chock full of never before seen photos.  A real treat!

5/5 stars

REVIEW: Helix – No Rest For the Wicked (1983)

Part 3 of 3 in this week’s Helix miniseries.  The original review was posted in August 2012, but this is completely new and improved!

HELIX – No Rest For the Wicked (1983 EMI)

Finally!  The big break came, after nearly 10 years of hard work.  The trick was re-branding Helix as a “metal band” instead of a plain old bar rock band.  An early video for “Heavy Metal Love” was filmed in T-shirts and jeans.  It was only after they switched to leather clothing and a more “metal” image, did people start to take notice.  “Heavy Metal Love” was re-filmed for a more metallic music video, and Helix were more or less off to the races. They had a boost from CanCon rules, which meant the video went into rotation on MuchMusic.

“Heavy Metal Love”, written in a crummy hotel room in Seaforth Ontario, is an ode to Joan Jett; or rather a fantasy about  Joan Jett.  It remains as fun now as it was then. Helix re-recorded the tune in 2006 for their Get Up EP, but it is this version produced by Tom Treumuth that has become timeless.  Indeed, it was chosen for the wedding scene in the Trailer Park Boys movie that same year.  It’s still a great groove, and a whole lot of fun.

“Fun” is a great word to describe Helix’s music in general, and No Rest For the Wicked is perhaps their strongest effort, at least from their years on Capitol Records.  It is true that I gave Breaking Loose (1979) high praise and a 5/5 star rating, but No Rest is easier to sink your teeth into on just one listen.

Helix in 1983 consisted of:

  • Brian Vollmer – lead vocals
  • Brent “the Doctor” Doerner – guitar
  • Paul Hackman – guitar
  • Mike Uzelac – bass
  • Greg “Fritz” Hinz –  drums

The only lineup change this time was the drum seat.  Leo Niebudek departed, and was replaced by Fritz Hinz, ex-Starchild.  (Starchild’s claim to history is an early single produced by some unknown guy named Daniel Lanois.  Fritz played on their later, uber-rare Children of the Stars album.)  With Hinz, the band had acquired an easy-to-love showman who had the chops required.  I shall never forget the sight of Fritz’s buttless chaps, giving us the moon at a 1987 concert.

Even though I hold Breaking Loose in very high esteem, No Rest For the Wicked is probably just as good, but in a different way.  The new heavier direction didn’t alienate their old fans, but it did gain them plenty of new ones.  It seemed a lot of kids on my street had a copy of this LP or cassette.  It’s more than just the one song — every track is great, every single one of ’em.  The title track still serves as Helix’ show opener.  Live, they change part of the lyrics to “Ain’t no rest for the Helix band!”  It’s true!  It’s an unrelenting and cool metal assault.  But again…plenty fun.

Need some party rock?  Look no further than “Let’s All Do It Tonight”.  Listen to that one, and then try to forget the chorus!   If you like that kind of melodic hard rock, then you’ll probably also dig “Don’t Get Mad Get Even”, the second (much less seen) video made for the album.

Need some sleeze?  Then “Check Out the Love”, before you do the “Dirty Dog”.  Both songs are killer grooves.    “Dirty Dog” never fails to make the setlists today.  It is suspended by a killer riff and Vollmer’s shredded vocal cords. And let’s not forget “White Lace and Black Leather”. (Like they did with the track “Breaking Loose”, Helix put the title song on the next album!) This is about as dirty as they get, and I love it.

Need a ballad? Naw, didn’t think so. But just in case, Helix put on a ballsy one, in “Never Want To Lose You”. Sounds wimpy, yes, but it has the guitars and heavy chorus necessary to keep you from losing your cool.

Need a boost of adrenaline? Then the doctor prescribes “Ain’t No High Like Rock ‘N’ Roll”. Kicking up the pace a few notches, it still retains that Helix knack for melody.

Also recommended, chase this with the live album called Live In Buffalo, which was  recorded for radio shortly afterwards.  It has high-octane live versions of most of these tracks as well as a sneak preview of the next album, Walkin’ the Razor’s Edge.

I think this one sounds particularly good on vinyl. Gimme an R!

5/5 R’s