Brent “The Doctor” Doerner

#983: Gimme Another R!

RECORD STORE TALES #983: Gimme Another R!

A sequel to Record Store Tales Part 2:  Gimme An R!

There’s a certain amount of pride that one takes in being a Helix fan.  Helix the band are almost as old as I am!  They formed in 1974 and put out their first independent album Breaking Loose in 1979.  And what a debut it was!  With a handful of road-tested songs, the band plied the waters of guitar rock, with a foot in sci-fi prog and another in boogie-woogie.  Just check out their first minor hit “Billy Oxygen” if you don’t believe me.  They’ve been releasing music steadily ever since, with Capitol Records and others, with only a minor five year gap between It’s a Business Doing Pleasure (1993) and half-ALIVE (1998).

In 2022, Helix are back with a new single called “Not My Circus, Not My Clowns”.  They’re getting ready to start gigging again after two years of Covid-induced hibernation.  The current lineup consists of founder Brian Vollmer, classic members Daryl Gray and Greg “Fritz” Hinz, and guitarists Chris Julke and Mark Chichkan.  Julke has already been in the band eight years, and Chichkan had countless gigs with Helix in the mid-90s.  These veterans absolutely know how to give ’em an R.  Then we have Sean Kelly helping out in the studio to boot, adding some nitro to the mix.  In other words:  Helix are still potent.

It’s fair to say we all miss Paul Hackman.  I never met Paul though I’ve met most of the others.  He sure was a talented writer, and many of his songs like “Heavy Metal Love” are beloved classics today.  Fritz Hinz has been through hell and back, making a stunning recovery after a coma-inducing fall from a roof.  In recent years we also lost original guitarist Ron Watson, keyboardist Don Simmons, and road warrior Brian Knight.  Brian Knight was a kid from our neighborhood, who went to do road work with Helix for many years.  We lost him in 2021.  Yet Helix keep on going, and going, and going.  Even former guitarist Brent “the Doctor” Doerner has a new album coming out called The Ashtray Sonatas.

Speaking of the good Doctor, I first befriended the guitarist in 2006 at a Helix gig.  I knew a guy named Shane Schedler, who was in his new solo band, and this led to an interview with Brent at his home.  It was the first of several visits.  A few months later, with a few gigs under his belt, Brent screened some live footage of the band and had some friends over to celebrate.  It was that night that I wrote up the official bios for his band.  I remember telling Brent I wanted to write the band member bios for his website and then running around the room getting quotes from all the members.  It was a lot of fun.  Definitely a personal highlight.

So for the first time since the first time, here are the Brent Doerner’s Decibel bios that I wrote.

Thanks to everyone who’s ever been in Helix for rocking us.


BRENT DOERNER’S DECIBEL

Band Bios and Fascinating Factoids

 

BRENT DOERNER (Lead Vocals, Lead & Rhythm Guitars)

“What’s right is what’s left after you’ve done everything else wrong.”

Not just every guitar slinger out there can claim to be a part of a Canadian rock institution.  Brent Doerner can:  He spent over 15 years in Helix playing guitar, writing, singing, blowing minds and winning fans the world over.  He has the battle scars and the gold records to prove it, but that’s not the end of the story.  A new chapter has just begun with Decibel, a new rock band of good-time tunes and unique lyrics that continues his legacy with pride and vision for the future.

CHICK (Rhythm Guitars)

“If you don’t have rhythm, stay at home.”

Ralph “Chick” Schumilas has been around the block once or thrice.  He has 40 years experience as a musician.   In the beginning, he was a drummer which gives him a rhythmic edge that’s tough to beat.  Formerly, he was the co-owner of  Buzz Marshall studios, and has played and written with such luminaries as Cheryl Lescom, Rob Juneau, and Keith Gallagher among others.  He brings his immense songwriting experience to Decibel’s solid live repertoire.

HILLS WALTER (Bass, Lead & Backing Vocals)

“I’m not working for road rash.”

Hilliard Walter’s résumé is impressive in its diversity and scope.  He’s been paying his dues in the clubs across Ontario for the better part of 30 years.  Rock, however, is only one part of Hills’ musical makeup:  He’s done punk, new wave, funk, soul, and every combination and isotope of those styles that is currently known to modern science.  He’s played with Soul Circus, Sthil, Dezmanhall, Ed Bertoli, and lots more.  He saw Helix make their big break and said, “I can do that too.”  Now, Decibel is the main focus of this talented bass player with the soulful voice.  When he sings, you listen.

SHANE SCHEDLER (Lead guitars, Lead & Backing Vocals)

“They tried to bury the double lead, but we’re going to rectify that.”

Shane’s history as a recording artist goes back to the mid-90’s when he was a member of the guitar-driven trio Martyrs of Melody.  With the Martyrs, he released two independent CDs and began honing his songwriting craft.  He’s been grinding his axe for “seven point something Olympic years” (you do the math).  He now writes, sings and plays for Decibel, a band that makes him beam with pride.  Shane is also proud that he hasn’t cut his hair since grade nine.

BRIAN DOERNER (Drums, Vocals)

“Some drummers think ‘time’ is a magazine, but they don’t have a subscription!”

Brent’s twin brother Brian Doerner is legend on the skins.  His discography reads like a “who’s-who” of rock:  Helix, Saga, Brian Vollmer, Ray Lyell, Refugee, Myles Hunter, and more.  He first picked up the sticks after seeing the Beatles on TV in ’65, and it’s been a love affair with music ever since.  A respected session man and teacher, Brian has inspired the others to new levels in their playing.  Now that the twins are back together, the chemistry onstage is infectious.


 

REVIEW: Brent Doerner’s Decibel (2006)

BRENT DOERNER’S DECIBEL – Bd=I0log(P₁/P₂)=dB (2006)

The Doctor, Brent Doerner, departed Helix in 1989.  His presence was missed by long time fans.  Although he rejoined in the 90s, it was only briefly.  Through the decade, he maintained his chops and took up country music in the clubs.  This added new dimensions to his playing when he inevitably returned to rock.  After spending a decade and a half as a “guitarpenter”, Brent decided he wanted to get back into music and make a statement on his own.  “I was bound and determined, come hell or high water, to make an album,” he said.  With a new band called Decibel consisting of Shane Schedler on lead guitar, the late Ralph “Chick” Schumilas on guitar, and Dan Laurin on drums, Brent did just that.  “If you don’t write good songs, it ain’t gonna fly baby,” says Brent.  Fortunately, the guys had a bunch of them.

The band lineup included three guitar players, two of them soloists.  On this disc, the triple axe attack is joined by future Helix guitarist Kaleb Duck on a couple tracks.

Opener “The Sum of 2 People” begins with a lethal riff and a slow, determined groove.  It then detours into a psychedelic, watery sound with Doener’s clever lyric contrasting love with math.  “X and y are the fractions, multiplied by nine!  Our love exceeds the math of the sum of two people.”  Good song, excellent set of words from the Doctor, showing off his underappreciated lyrical talents.  The track itself is quite varied, with a variety of connected parts and a classic sounding guitar solo.

Brent plays bass on most of the album, but Mike Benedictine guests on the wickedly choppy “A Body For You”.  “I’d hide a body for you, baby!” goes the chorus, but the riff is the real killer.  This is a challenging song, but check out the cool dual guitar bit in the middle.  Very vintage Helix.

The highlight track is third in line:  the pure boogie of “Takin the Color Right Outta Da Blooze”.  This is an upbeat, slide-laden track made for shaking asses.  Had there been a single, this is the clear choice.  It has the taste of twang, and unforgettable hooks.  It’s pure joy set to music.  “We’re getting bull-ridin’-ready!” sings the good doctor.  This is just a song about letting loose, and it’s the perfect accompaniment to doing just that.  Awesome track.

Another killer track, “On Bended Knee” has a vibe similar to early 80s Kim Mitchell – think songs like “Miss Demeanor”.  Simply excellent mid-tempo sentimental rock.  There’s something slightly majestic about the chorus guitar hook.

Drummer brother Brian Doerner guests on “Fire in the Bedroom”, a suitably upbeat rocker.  Giddy up, says Brent.  Solid advice.  The excellent solo features some of that twang but this otherwise pure rock and roll smoke.  Just fun.  Brian on drums adds a different flavour; a little more sophisticated rhythm and brainy fills.

If you like bands with multiple lead vocalists, then you will be pleased to note that guitarist Shane Schedler takes the microphone on “Never Turn Yer Back”.  He has a higher tone to his voice, and he throws in a soulful twist.  The song itself has an early Van Halen kind of vibe.  Mike Benedictine is back on bass, but that’s not him on the impressively dexterous intro!  “I play that, says Brent.  “I play the intro and the exit on that.  That’s from me being a guitar player; it sounded cool on bass.”  He’s right!  Another album highlight.

“Breathe My Name” has a cool kick to it, and an unorthodox groove.  A lot of the tunes on this album are smarter than you’d think.  They’re not meat and potatoes rock.  They have different rhythms throughout, changing and shifting and then suddenly sounding like another genre.  “Breathe My Name” largely rocks, but not in a brick-headed way.

There are no ballads on this album, but “Stainless Steel Emotion” is the most laid back of the songs, and really emphasises a southern twang.  Again, the riff recalls early Kim Mitchell, which might be why it sounds so classic.  “Got up late, felt not so great, with alcohol blues.  She just laughed, turned on the gas and waited for the boom!”  A funny, quirky song about love gone sour.  You can’t particularly compare “Stainless Steel Emotion” to any single band.  Brent likes writing unique songs, and this one has the right fit to be second last on an album.

Hilliard Walter, who would later join the band on bass and vocals, sings lead on the unique “Dancing Frogs (The Zamboni Song)”.  The powerhouse soul-blues vocalist kicks the song up about eighteen notches with class and sass.  The vibe of the song evokes the classic image of the dancing frog from the Warner Brothers cartoon One Froggy Evening.  “You can just picture the dancing frog with the top hat and the cane,” Doerner explains.  Why “The Zamboni Song”?  Because Hills Walter drove one!  “We’ve got the best damn Zamboni operator/driver/singer/lead vocalist in the country, man!”  There’s an old automobile “ooga” horn in there too, as a final original touch.  Do Zambonis have horns?

It must be stated:  Brent Doerner did not create an “immediate” sounding album on his debut.  He didn’t set out to make simple music.  The songs have twists in them, but also great hooks that will get you in time.  You notice by second listen, the hooks have started to set in.  The running order could probably be improved by opening with something catchier like “A Body For You” instead of the menacing “The Sum of 2 People”, but your experience may vary.  If only the album had big-budget production.  Some of the songs could have had potential.

Must-haves:  “Takin the Color Right Outta Da Blooze”, “A Body For You”, “On Bended Knee”, “Never Turn Yer Back”, “Stainless Steel Emotion” and “The Zamboni Song”.

4.5/5 stars

#867: You Keep Me Rockin’

GETTING MORE TALE #867: You Keep Me Rockin’

I love Helix.  They were one of the first rock bands I ever heard.

There are a handful of Helix albums that I play less frequently today.  I tend to gravitate towards “underdog” albums besides the “big four” on Capitol Records.  I can usually be found spinning Breaking Loose, It’s a Business Doing Pleasure, B-Sides and other lesser-known classics.

As an ending to this past summer of 2020, I decided to change it up and spin some classic 80s Helix, the stuff I grew up with.  I chose Walkin’ The Razor’s Edge and Long Way to Heaven in the car.  As per usual, like an old movie, images, thoughts and feelings came flooding back with every song.

Razor’s Edge was my first Helix, and considered the “big one”, with hits like “Rock You”, “Gimme Gimme Good Lovin’” and “(Make Me Do) Anything You Want”.  The first memory that came back was how disappointed I was with that Capitol cassette when I got it as a gift as a kid of 13 years old.  In Canada at least, Capitol cassettes in the early 1980s were of awful quality.  They always seemed to play slow.  I undoubtedly heard the album play sluggish and warbly for years.

That wasn’t all.  I scanned through the credits and noticed something that I thought was peculiar.

“They didn’t write the only songs on here that I know!”  Even as a kid, I noticed!

“Rock You” was a Bob Halligan Jr. composition.  The other two songs were covers (Crazy Elephant and A Foot in Cold Water respectively).  For the first few listens, I had a hard time getting into Helix’s own originals.  I wondered if I even actually liked Helix at all!  But then as now, I didn’t just fast-forward to the songs I liked.  I played the whole tape front to back every time.  I’m not sure when I started doing that — listening to an album in full, and only in full.  It came later in childhood.  When I played my Styx and John Williams records I tended to just skip around to the tracks I liked.  It’s possible that the change to listening to full albums was a combination of the cassette format with my good ol’ OCD.

I was new to “heavy metal” music, and Helix were one of the heaviest bands I’d heard.  My young ears were not acclimated yet.  Only one Helix original jumped out at me on first listen, and  to me it was clearly the hit that wasn’t:  “Feel the Fire”.  It sounded like a rewrite of “Heavy Metal Love”, which wasn’t on the album.  I liked it because I didn’t have “Heavy Metal Love” (didn’t even know what album it was on), so “Feel the Fire” would do instead.

Time went on, and then suddenly another song clicked: the atmospheric and thumping closing track, “You Keep Me Rockin’”.  I enjoyed the dusky intro before the song kicked into gear.  I can remember listening to this in the family minivan.  Because my own Sony Walkman and Sanyo ghetto blaster couldn’t play Capitol tapes properly, I liked to give them a spin in a car tape deck, which usually had the power to play the tapes at the proper speed.  I cannot remember exactly where we were parked, but it was definitely on a cottage holiday.  It might have been in the parking lot of The Chapel in Underwood Ontario.  I would rather wait in the car listening to music while the parental units were in there browsing.  “You Keep Me Rockin’” came on and I distinctly remember thinking “I’ve never noticed this cool slow part before, but it’s good.”  As if it was the first time, I heard that thunderous riff.  I played it a couple times before I relinquished control of the tape deck back to the parents.

Long Way to Heaven came next into my life, probably Christmas of ’86.  I remember there was a flyer in the newspaper with cassettes on sale.  A&A Records, perhaps?  I circled Yngwie Malmsteen’s Trilogy and Long Way to Heaven by Helix.  Both tapes suffered from the slow warble that was a Capitol trademark in my collection.

Long Way to Heaven brings back fewer memories.  Though the album cover was better, the music is less memorable to me.  No cover tunes this time, though there were two Halligan co-writes.  I remember thinking the old-fashioned harmonies on “Don’t Touch the Merchandise” were cool, and they sound just as good today.  You can really hear the smooth voice of Doctor Doerner in there.

Two of my strongest memories of Long Way to Heaven had to do with the lyrics.  “School of Hard Knocks” confused me.  Was this about highschool?  Was this what I was in for?  A school of hard knocks?  “It’s a long long education” sang vocalist Brian Vollmer.  This caused a bit of a panic for me as I worried about the next year at school!  Then there was “Bangin’ Off-A-The Bricks”.   While the lyrics were about starting out in a rock and roll band, all I could think was “do these guys really beat their heads on brick walls?”  I couldn’t tell but it seemed like it.  “We were just getting our kicks,” sang Brian, but I couldn’t understand what was fun about it.  Any metaphors went right over my head.

I also wondered what my Catholic school teachers would have thought about lines like “It’s a long long way to heaven, but only three short steps to hell.”  But I also didn’t care what they thought.

Those cassettes were hard to listen to, but by 1989 came the answer:  Over 60 Minutes With… was the first Helix CD, compiling the best songs from the first three Capitol records.  There were even three unreleased songs, and they were great!  Finally I had the chance to appreciate deep cuts, by hearing them with the sonics they always deserved.  Fan favourites such as “Animal House” and “Young & Wreckless”.  New stuff like “Everybody Pays the Price”.  Songs I never heard before like “Does A Fool Ever Learn” from No Rest for the Wicked.

I wasn’t able to listen to Helix properly until I had a CD player.  That happened, and it’s been true love ever since.  I’ve been a Helix supporter for many years now and I’m still proud to wear their shirts!

 

 

REVIEW: Helix – Eat Sleep Rock (2020)

HELIX – Eat Sleep Rock (2020 Perris)

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.

4/5 stars

REVIEW: Helix – Icon (2018)

HAPPY CANADA DAY from LeBrain and Superdekes! HELIX double feature!

HELIX – Icon (2018 Universal vinyl)

New Helix vinyl?  Yes please.

The Icon series of compilations used to be a budget CD line that you could pick up for $5 or under.  Now, you can even get ’em on vinyl.  Buy ’em direct from Helix mainman Brian Vollmer and he’ll sign it for you.  This copy is signed by all five current Helix members, including a pre-injury Fritz Hinz.

As far as Helix compilations go, you can’t do much with just 11 tracks.  Even so, Icon has some surprises and plenty of pleasers.  There’s also enough difference from 2016’s compilation Rock It Science to justify it.  Opening with the one-two punch of “Rock You” and “Heavy Metal Love”, Helix top loaded this thing with their best known songs.  Perfect for the newcomer, or just a great party.

From there it’s “The Dirty Dog”, a long time Helix concert favourite.  This is followed in quick succession by some great singles:  “Gimme Gimme Good Lovin'”, “Wild in the Streets” and the dark ballad “Deep Cuts the Knife”.  All three songs are considered to be Helix classics.  “Deep Cuts the Knife”, written by guitarist Paul Hackman, is a particularly powerful ballad.  The entire first side is from the Capitol Records years, featuring the best known Helix lineup:  Vollmer, Hinz, Hackman, Brent Doerner and Daryl Gray.

Side two has a different flavour.  Only the hit “The Kids are All Shakin'” originates in the 1980s.  This top Helix pop rock track is followed by the Helix of the 90s and today.  “Good to the Last Drop” is another ballad, but much brighter than “Deep Cuts the Knife”.  This is the original album mix, with minimal keyboards.  Then it’s “Runnin’ Wild in the 21st Century”, kicking your teeth in at lightspeed.  The last two songs feature some help from guitarist extraordinaire Sean Kelly.  A razor sharp “Even Jesus Wasn’t Loved in His Home Town” comes from 2014’s excellent Bastard of the Blues.  The aggressive rocker is based on the fact that Helix can’t even their new songs played on the radio in their home town of Kitchener, Ontario.  Finally, the 2016 single “Gene Simmons Says (Rock Is Dead)” tells the demon where it’s at!  Maybe Helix don’t get radio play in Canada but rock ain’t dead — not if Vollmer and Co. have anything to say about it!

When it comes to Helix compilations, they are so numerous that you can really take your pick.  If you really care about the band, then just buy ’em direct from Vollmer at Planet Helix.  There are loads to choose from, but only this one was ever made on vinyl.  Or, you can just go CD!  Either way, support the boys if you’re gonna buy some Helix.

4/5 stars

REVIEW(S): Helix – Breaking Loose, White Lace & Black Leather (2019 expanded editions)

HELIX –

  • Breaking Loose – 40th Anniversary Expanded Edition (originally 1979, 2019 Prog AOR)
  • White Lace & Black Leather – Classic Hard Rock Expanded Edition (originally 1981, 2019 Prog AOR)

Helix have really done it this year. They have a new album (Old School) made up of some pretty excellent songs that were never completed before. On top of that, you can also get brand new reissues of their first two indi albums, Breaking Loose and White Lace & Black Leather.  Those two albums have already been reviewed in full, so this time we will focus primarily on the perks of these new CD versions.

Both discs feature lyrics, rare photos, and liner notes by Brian Vollmer.  All essential things for a reissue, so what else?  Unreleased tracks, that’s what else.  Good ones!  The hell, Brian?  Where have you been hiding this stuff?  If anyone assumed thought Helix cleared the vaults with their B-Sides album, they were mistaken.  Maybe Universal should have been storing their tapes at Planet Helix….

Too soon?

Breaking Loose features “Let Me Take You Dancin'” (not the Bryan Adams song), apparently the first song they ever recorded, at the behest of manager William Seip.  You can understand why they didn’t put it out, considering the Disco revolution going around.  It’s too dance-y for what Helix wanted to be:  a rock band.  With 40 years hindsight, it’s bloody brilliant.  Full-on horn section blasting away on a blatantly commercial rock song with just a whif of surf rock.  Nothing wrong with any of that in 2019.  “Sidewalk Sally” is the very first Brent Vollmer/Brian Doerner composition and you can tell by Dr. Doerner’s trademark chunky riff.  This song is strictly outtake quality, but it’s notable for historic reasons (and the pretty advanced drumming by Brian Doerner).

The second album, White Lace & Black Leather, has two interesting bonus cuts as well.  Brent Doerner wrote and sang a killer tune called “When the Fire is Hot”, which is one of the songs submitted to Capitol that got them signed.  It’s never been released.  It’s a very unpolished demo, but with a serious stomp and stunning guitar solo.  The final bonus track is an unreleased early version of “White Lace & Black Leather”, which was re-recorded for their third album No Rest for the Wicked.  See, for the first couple Helix albums, you had to wait until the next record to get the title track!

A brief talk about the albums themselves:  both are chock full of great, unpolished youthful rock.  Helix were just learning how to make records, but they had more than enough original material.  Between the key songwriters (Paul Hackman, Brian Vollmer & Brent Doerner), they had plenty of quality songs.  “Billy Oxygen”, “I Could Never Leave”, “Here I Go Again”, “You’re a Woman Now” and “Wish I Could Be There” from the first album alone are must-haves.  Nobody should be forced to live their life without hearing “Billy Oxygen”.  The second LP was almost as great as the first.  “It’s Too Late”, “Breaking Loose”, “Mainline”, and “It’s What I Wanted” stand with the best material from the first.  Sure, the band were rough around the edges, but they could already sing, play and write.  They were goin’ places!

As for the mastering job, the music is not brickwalled like the versions of some songs on the Rock It Science CD.  These discs are the versions to get; the expanded tracklist making them musts to the collecting fan who already own them all.  Best of all, Planet Helix is offering them and the new Helix album for just 40 bucks.  40 bucks for 3 CDs is a ridiculous deal.  I daresay these two albums have been steady companions to me over the years, and I look forward to re-enjoying them in this new form.

5/5 stars for Breaking Loose

4/5 stars for White Lace & Black Leather

 

REVIEW: Helix – Rockin’ in My Outer Space (2004)

ontario-bands-weekWelcome back to Ontario Bands Week, presented by BoppinsBlog,  Keeps Me Alive, Stick It In Your Ear, 1001 Albums in 10 Years, and mikeladano.com.  

KITCHENER.

scan_20161215HELIX – Rockin’ in My Outer Space (2004 Dirty Dog)

This album was a long time coming. The last “true” Helix studio album (eg: not live, greatest hits or previously unreleased songs) was the excellent It’s A Business Doing Pleasure, twelve years previous to this one. A lot happened in those twelve years, including member changes, management and record company splits, and even a Brian Vollmer solo album (When Pigs Fly). That Helix came out with an album this good with no warning was a pleasant surprise.

Almost every song here is quality stuff, with only the instrumental opener “Space Junk” and the jokey closer “Sunny Summer Daze” not fitting in with the serious rocking going on here. A couple of these recordings had previously appeared on Vollmer’s solo CD (with Brian Doerner on drums), but this sounds more like a proper Helix album. The title track features a killer chorus (reminded me of “Rock You” a bit) with those recognizable Helix backing vocals. It’s also the most “party” of all the new songs, some of them being a little darker.  Glen “Archie” Gamble (drums) utilizes some interesting cymbal work, a little different from what you usually hear on a Helix record.  His playing gives this version of Helix a different rhythm.

“Six Feet Underground” has some nice acoustic work, and is extremely catchy. “Panic” has some irresistible vocals. “It’s Hard To Feel the Sunshine When Your Heart is Filled With Rain” might have an overly long title, but the song is amazing, as heard live in concert.  A wicked harmonica solo fills the spot with a guitar solo might normally fit.  “The Ballad Of Sam & Mary” is a jokey lyric as Helix have done before, but with some serious kick behind it. (Listen for a cameo by Brian’s wife Lynda Vollmer.)  It’s only when you get to the closer with its Hawiian guitar that you feel like the album just hit a speedbump. The final track’s saving grace is a guest appearance by former member “Doctor” Doerner on guitar.

This album represented a muscular return for Helix, one that kicked off a stream of new Helix records.  The band seemed revitalized even as lineups changed, as they continued to follow through with more quality rock and roll.  Rockin’ in My Outer Space is a pleasure for fans because it’s different. This is not party music. There are audible dark clouds and angry riffs.  The changes in heavy metal over the previous decade are obvious here.  The guitars are chunkier and dirtier, and no song has a party-hardy chorus like the days of old, though the title track comes close.  Helix are known for a certain brand of rock, and it’s nice when they choose to stretch out.

Fear not Helix fans. Brian Vollmer and his gang of little-known but excellent players did not disappoint when they finally decided to release a new album under the Helix Band banner. Aside from the first and last tracks, this is one you’ll be playing all the way through.

And heck, you get used to the the first and last tracks after a while.

4/5 stars

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Bonus:  In 2005, Helix returned to Sweden to play Sweden Rock.  iTunes have one song from their set available for download: “Rock You”  This track features the short-lived but very cool six-piece lineup of Brian Vollmer, Archie Gamble, Jeff Fountain (bass), Jim Lawson (guitar), Rainer Wiechmann (guitar and producer) and Cindy Wiechmann (vocals and other instruments). This is the version of Helix that supported this album, and fortunately it was captured live. Check it out for an idea of what this great lineup sounded like live.

Gallery: HELIX guitar picks

These.  Are.  COOL.

To promote their new album Rock It Science, Helix released this set of five custom guitar picks.  It is available at their site for only $10, and they feature the excellent album art (by Brent Doerner) on the front.  On the back, each pick has a photo of a band member:  Brian Vollmer, Daryl Gray, Greg “Fritz” Hinz, Kaleb “Duckman” Duck and Chris Julke.

Guitar picks are great to collect and here at LeBrain HQ, we can always appreciate a cool set of custom plectrums.  They’re fun, they don’t take up a lot of space (I’ll be storing mine inside the CD case) and they just look cool.  Feast your eyes upon these beauties and if you decide to go for a set, don’t forget to order the Rock It Science CD to go with ’em!

REVIEW: Helix – Rock It Science (2016)

NEW RELEASE


scan_20160930HELIX – Rock It Science (2016 Perris)

Helix just don’t stop!  Never have, never will.  They have been an ongoing property since 1974, steadily releasing albums with only minor gaps between.  They keep playing live, year after year.  They keep recording new music, ensuring there is always fresh product for fans to pick up at one of their unflagging shows.  The latest is a new “greatest hits” CD called Rock It Science, featuring a smattering of tracks from all over their career and one new song.

Bands and record labels are often guilty of exploiting their fans for one or two new tracks and a whole bunch of stuff they already own.  Helix fans generally don’t feel that way.  They want to support the band (“the hardest working band in Canada”), and it’s worth noting that most past Helix “hits” CDs are out of print now, and there is very little overlap in songs.  What overlap exists is usually limited to the “big hits” – songs like “Rock You” and “Heavy Metal Love”.  Incidentally, the hits from the Capitol years included here are the re-recorded versions from Best Of 1983-2012.  Fear not, they are very authentic remakes.  You gotta do what you gotta do to get paid!

Brian Vollmer has been good about including deeper cuts on his compilations.  “Billy Oxygen” and “You’re a Woman Now” from the first album are brilliant.  These are two of their best songs, period, and they commence Rock It Science brilliantly.  Any Helix CD that includes “Billy Oxygen” is better for it.  This jazzy little rocker is one of their more complex arrangements, written and sung by the “Doctor” Brent Doerner.  Speaking of Brent, he designed the artwork for the CD and directed the music video for “(Gene Simmons Says) Rock is Dead“.  That’s the new track on this CD (click the link for a review of the song) and a damn fine one it is.  Brian co-wrote it with his partner in crime, Sean Kelly, a brilliant musician in his own right.

A few other treasures worth mentioning are the lava-hot “Get Up!” from 2006, and the ballad “Good to the Last Drop” from 1990.  This is the single remix version of the song, which tips the scales as the slightly superior (and more rare) mix.  “Shock City Psycho Rock” (1998) is a pleasant surprise.  This is a track written by bassist Mike Uzelac in the early 1980’s but not recorded until the 90’s.  (When they recorded it, Uzelac was actually a missing person.  He has since returned to the land of the living, but I can remember meeting his brother back in the Record Store days and that is when I first heard the story that Mike hadn’t been seen by family or friends in years.)  Mike Uzelac was a talented writer and contributed lots of material to Helix.  “Shock City” is one of the fastest and most destructive tracks in their catalogue.  Finally, “Even Jesus (Wasn’t Loved in His Home Town)” is a favourite, notable for its biting lyrics and brain-searing chorus.

So go ahead and give them an R.  The band is like an institution, a hard working gang of rockers that aim to please each and every time.  Buy the CD direct from the band and you’ll get a signed copy with some great liner notes detailing some rare band history.  Rock It Science would make a fine first Helix album for any collection.

4/5 stars

REVIEW: Helix – “(Gene Simmons Says) Rock is Dead” (2016 music video)

HELIX – “(Gene Simmons Says) Rock is Dead” (2016 music video from the forthcoming album Rock It Science)

“I don’t need no god of thunder to tell me what is great.” — Brian Vollmer

Helix are back once more, with a new greatest hits album called Rock It Science.*  You gotta have a new song on a new greatest hits (teased previously as “Mystery Track”), and this new song is timely and sharp.  Gene Simmons does indeed say that rock is dead.  In fact he’s been saying that for over 25 years.  I have a M.E.A.T Magazine interview with Gene from 1990 where he professes that rock is indeed dead.  And he’s still saying it now.  But Brian Vollmer retorts, “Don’t believe it when Gene Simmons says rock is dead!”

Sure, lots has changed, but Helix keeps going.  It’s not the 80’s anymore.  Very few can sell 2,000,000 copies of an album today.  It’s hard to make a living just by selling records.  You have to diversify.  Everything has changed — but like many things, the more they change the more they stay the same.  Rock is not dead.  In many respects, rock is more popular than ever.  Helix are still producing great quality music, and “Gene Simmons Says) Rock is Dead” is one more gem for their rock crown.  Daryl Gray and “Fritz” Hinz are still there on the rhythm section.  Chris Julke and Kaleb Duck handle the axes just fine.  This could have been on an album like Back for Another Taste.

As far as the video goes, Brent Doerner directed this one.  The Gene impersonator is bang-on — I hope Helix don’t get sued for this!  The video celebrates the old school.  It’s performed at Speed City Records in London, Ontario.  (Look for cool posters of bands such as Gob and VoiVod, who Gene slammed in the 1990 M.E.A.T interview.)  I really dig Daryl Gray’s Helix logo bass guitar.  That looks like a bitch to play.  Brent captured the fun side of the band in the video.  It’s not glossy, but I think it does the trick.

There’s no release date yet, but Rock It Science should be available to purchase soon.  Check out the CD cover, also designed by Brent Doerner.

Rock is dead?  Hardly.  Gene’s been wrong before, and he’s wrong again.

4/5 stars

ROCK IT

*The title It’s ROCK Science, Not Rocket Science was a working title for 2009’s Vagabond Bones.