Canadian rock

REVIEW: Kick Axe – Welcome to the Club (1985, 2016 remaster) – Kick Axe series Part Five

Part Five of a series on classic KICK AXE!

BONUS: Check out Superdeke’s concert review from this tour by clicking here!

KICK AXE – Welcome to the Club (1985, 2016 Rock Candy collector’s edition)

Kick Axe may have had a slight identity issue.

They certainly didn’t benefit at all when two of their songs (“Hunger” and “Nothing’s Gonna Stand In Our Way”) were released under another name on The Transformers soundtrack.  Nobody knew that “Spectre General” was in fact Kick Axe.  Unicron may have been defeated, and Rodimus named as the next Prime, but Kick Axe didn’t gather any of the spoils.  There’s also the issue of their critical second album.  Vices was clearly a metal album and the band had an obviously heavy image, complete with toothy mascot.  When the second album saw its release, the mascot was gone and the lead video was a ballad!

The twist in the tale is that Welcome to the Club is considered by many fans to be Kick Axe’s best album; and they may be right.

The record label Pasha was trying to steer Kick Axe in a lighter direction.  Producer Spencer Proffer couldn’t be there, so staffer Randy Bishop was sent to Toronto to write and record the next album with the band.  They did this at the legendary Metalworks, and then the album was sent to Proffer in California to mix.  You’d expect this kind of operation to be detrimental to the music.  You’d be wrong.

The songs are tighter than those on Vices.  Yes, opener “Welcome to the Club” lacks the full-fisted punch of “Heavy Metal Shuffle”, but they are traded in for a dusky, cleaner vibe.  This is an older, wiser band and the lyrics reflect that.  “If you’ve had your share of heartache…welcome to the club.”  The drums are still thunder on tape, and George Criston could bellow like few others, so the “softening” of Kick Axe was actually quite minor.

“Feels Good – Don’t Stop” lets the bass lead the way, for a bangin’ chorus that any band would have given their nuts to write.  Another flawess chorus is found on the powerful “Comin’ After You”, which may in fact be the perfect 1985 hard rock song.  Softer verses build up to the kick of the first chorus, with backing keyboards providing unobtrusive texture.  “Make Your Move” is another expertly written rock song, something like Bon Jovi circa 7800° Fahrenheit.  Did Sambora spend time studying this album?  Then a dramatic “Never Let Go” has a creeping, dark vibe that makes one wonder just what Black Sabbath would have sounded like with George Criston on lead vocals.  When Ian Gillan left to join Deep Purple, Criston was one of the singers that Tony Iommi was very interested in.  This song is a glimpse into what that might have sounded like.

The side two kick-off, “Hellraisers” is a cold steel classic.  A signature guitar lick and a chorus plumbed straight from the most melodic depths of hell is all it takes.  Well, the solo cooks pretty hot too.  “Hellraisers” is most likely the best tune on Welcome to the Club, which goes a long way to making it the best Kick Axe song, period.  By the next track, “Can’t Take It With You”, Kick Axe discovered a time machine and somehow came up with a cool wah-wah riff right out the 2000s.  There is no way we’ll ever know for sure, but it’s not out of the question that this riff was lifted by time travel from John Norum of Europe during the sessions for Start From the Dark.

Anyone who felt Welcome to the Club underdelivered in terms of heavy metal probably thought “Too Loud…Too Old” was the best song.  Heavy groove and speed co-mingle, and the result is one of the heaviest hard rock tracks in the history of the genre.  “Feel the Power” dials it back in terms of heavy, but is no slouch of a track, not with all those Brian Gillstrom drumquakes.  Guitarists Larry Gillstrom and Ray Harvey had a knack for harmony guitar solos, as heard on “Feel the Power”.  Not to mention the capable backing vocals by the entire band, rounded out by Victor Langen on bass.

The oddball ballad goes last, and it really is a surprising one.  Continuing a tradition that would follow through on all their albums, Kick Axe did a cover.  This time it’s the Beatles’ “With A Little Help From My Friends”, but via the Joe Cocker arrangement.  The good news:  George Criston was more than capable of handling the difficult song without sounding like an asshole.  Not an easy task!  He is accompanied by Canadian stars like Alfie Zappacosta, Lee Aaron, Rik Emmett, and Andy Curran which gives the song some authenticity and serious star power.  Lee Aaron in particularly kicks the song right in the nuts when she steps up to the microphone.

It was this track that was chosen as the lead video, and immediately confused all the kids sitting at home watching MuchMusic.  This was the “On the Road to Rock” band, clearly, but they didn’t sound like that anymore.  The music video almost looked like a charity single, with everybody singing together in the studio.  We didn’t know what to make of it, and the clever but tame Hugh Syme cover artwork really didn’t speak like Vices did.

It is always a shame when a great album by a deserving band gets ignored.  Thanks to Rock Candy and their awesome CD reissues, it’s not too late to get into the Club.

5/5 stars

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REVIEW: Kick Axe as “Spectre General” – The Transformers soundtrack (1986) – Kick Axe series Part Four

KICK AXE as SPECTRE GENERAL – “Hunger” and “Nothing’s Gonna Stand In Our Way”
from Transformers: The Movie original motion picture soundtrack (1986 BMG)

Although the recordings were not released until 1986, it makes sense to talk about “Hunger” and “Nothing’s Gonna Stand In Our Way” now, in terms of storytelling.  After the Vices album was completed in 1984, Kick Axe were tasked to contribute to another project.  And it wasn’t a movie soundtrack.

Producer Spencer Proffer was scheduled to go into the studio with Black Sabbath — a Black Sabbath still fronted by Ian Gillan, though not for long.  Proffer felt that Sabbath needed fresh ideas and recruited Kick Axe to write some.  Though details are murky, we do know that Gillan left Black Sabbath abruptly to record Perfect Strangers with Deep Purple.  Kick Axe frontman George Criston was one of the singers that Tony Iommi was interested in as his replacement.  Whatever happened, no recordings of Sabbath with Criston have surfaced, but we do have the songs Kick Axe wrote for the sessions.

In a strange coincidence, they all first came out on November 9 1985, on two separate albums.  W.A.S.P.’s The Last Command (produced by Proffer) featured the Quiet Riot-like “Running Wild in the Streets”, though without proper writing credit.  Another album produced by Proffer was released the same day:  Ready to Strike by King Kobra.  “Piece of the Rock” and hit single “Hunger” were written by Kick Axe for the Sabbath project.

Ultimately, “Hunger” by Kick Axe did finally come out in the summer of 1986.  Too late, perhaps, considering people assumed it was a generic cover of a King Kobra song.  Especially since no one had ever heard of…Spectre General?

Who the hell is Spectre General?!

For reasons unknown but said to be contractual, Kick Axe couldn’t release their own song under their own name, so Proffer invented Spectre General, and that’s how they’re credited in Transformers: The Movie.  The band didn’t even know about it.  They had two songs on the original 10 track album:  “Hunger”, and a new song called “Nothing’s Gonna Stand In Our Way”, written for their next record Welcome to the Club.

Perhaps it’s the familiarity of the King Kobra recording, but this version of “Hunger” does stand in its shadow.  Both Mark (Marcie) Free and George Criston are stellar vocalists, and the Free version just had more…weight.  Kick Axe’s original is heavier and chunkier, so perhaps in that way it’s actually superior.  “Nothing’s Gonna Stand in Our Way” is an upbeat number, hook-laden, with the trademark Kick Axe “chug” and backing vocals.  It’s pretty essential to have both these tracks to augment a Kick Axe collection.

Besides not getting their real name in the album, other contributions by Weird Al Yankovic and Stan Bush were featured more prominently in the movie than the two “Spectre General” songs.  The band Lion got to do the movie theme song.  Those were some memorable movie moments to any kid in the theater, particularly the Stan Bush selections.

It’s pretty amazing that Kick Axe came up with “Hunger” but were never really recognized for it.  It’s a great song and their original version of it is the proof.  Also strong, “Nothing’s Gonna Stand in Our Way” would have made a fine addition to the next album.  Clearly, the Canadian quintet had big league talent the whole time.

4.5/5 stars

REVIEW: Kick Axe – Vices (1984, 2016 remaster) – Kick Axe series Part Three

Part Three of a series on classic KICK AXE!

KICK AXE – Vices (1984, 2016 Rock Candy collector’s edition)

The loud Canadian quintet from Saskatchewan, Kick Axe, went from indi to major label in 1983 when they signed with CBS Canada.  They also had a new singer in George Criston, a guy with incredible range and rock sensibilities.  Everything was in place.  With a couple solid metal releases already under their belts, they were about to go big league.  The next step after the record deal was a hookup with the American producer behind Quiet Riot, Spencer Proffer.  Spencer offered them the chance to write with him and record in his own studio, Pasha.  They would have been foolish to turn down the opportunity considering what happened with Quiet Riot in similar circumstances.

In fact, Kick Axe’s debut album Vices is so similar to Metal Health, you probably could have heard it was Spender Proffer at the desk without reading the credits.  The drum sound is exactly identical to that of Frankie Banali.  The backing vocal arrangements are also very similar, even though the singers are different.  The comparisons go further, but we’ll discuss them as we go.

“Heavy Metal Shuffle” sounds immediately like, who else, Quiet Riot!  That is until George Criston starts croonin’.  What a set of pipes on that man.  He could scream with the best, but there’s more to Criston than just high notes.  There’s a blue-eyed soulful trill in his screechin’, hard to pinpoint but there nonetheless.  Another part of the Kick Axe sound is bassist Victor Langen, who has a solid metal chunk but with creative, busy melodic accents.  Of course another major factor is the capable backing singers.  Langen, Ray Harvey, and brothers Brian and Larry Gillstrom created an 80s tapestry of metal harmony.  This is especially apparent on title track “Vices”.  It’s a pretty irresistible song even if it sounds exactly like the year 1984.  At least how I remember it sounding.  Big, echoey, mushy, loud!

By the third track, “Stay On Top”, we’re really cookin’.  You might cringe at the clichés, like the gang vocals or the big drum fills, or you could just chill out and rock with it.  Ballad “Dreaming About You” pours on the rock standards, but the problem is…it’s good.  It’s a great 80s ballad.  Helix could have done it.  Great White could have done it.  Dozens of bands had songs like this, but at least Kick Axe wrote a good one.  Up next, “Maneater” opens with some ferocious guitar wang-dang, although the song is more a slick rocker than a headbanger.  It’s the chorus that differentiates it from the average.

When side two opens with the “big hit”, hopefully you’ll say “Oh yeah, I remember this one!”  The memorable music video for “On the Road to Rock” introduced Kick Axe to a much larger audience.  Listen to that chug!  Langen had a killer sound, even with that huge axe bass that quickly became a symbol for the band.  “On the Road to Rock” delivered an anthem the kids could get behind.  The video also turned their cover art of the “Vices Guy” into a fully-fledged mascot.

My buddy Bob Schipper loved the music video.  Especially when “Vices Guy” yells “Stop that you wimp!” at one of the legendary composers.  Me, I liked that bass. I also liked that the drummer was a virtual hulk, who kicks down not one but two doors in the video. I didn’t understand why the singer was running around in bare feet.  You’re gonna stub a toe, or step on some door shrapnel, guy.

Next up, “Cause For Alarm” sounds at first exactly like the song “We Were Born to Rock” by Quiet Riot.  It soon becomes its own beast with a thunderous chorus.  Yep, Kick Axe could write a chorus.  They could also execute them via those thick backing vocals and the golden Criston pipes.  The tempo takes a step back into the pocket on “Alive & Kickin'”.  It’s another one of those choruses that the boys seemed to have an endless supply of, although a bit too heavy on the backing vocals this time.  Langen really lets the bass groove on “All the Right Moves”, boasting one of those shout-choruses that are perfect for the live concert setting.  It’s the kind of song Motley Crue would have given their nuts to be able to write at that time.

The final song on the standard album was a song with a certain epic “closing” quality.  “Just Passing Through” makes it sound like the album just might have been a concept record on the theme of vices.  Indeed, Spencer thought of it as such: “Living in our vices, we watch the rise and fall,” repeating some words from the title track.  Regardless, it just sounds like an album closer.  There’s a certain climactic quality to the melody and riff.

On CD (and strangely enough, also the original Canadian cassette) is the bonus track “30 Days in the Hole”, starting a custom of Kick Axe putting a cover song on every album.  Spencer Proffer wanted to do it, since he had so much success with “Cum On Feel the Noize” earlier with Quiet Riot.  It’s not the best version of “30 Days” that you’ve ever heard.  It sure does sound like they’re playing the same amps as Carlos Cavazo, though.

As per usual, Rock Candy deserve extra thanks for the brilliant liner notes featuring interviews with Proffer and Langen.  Also for including the bonus track, though we often take those for granted these days.  Of course, Kick Axe deserve the lion’s share, for writing and performing a “kick ass” Kick Axe debut.  Not an easy thing to accomplish, but with Proffer they had a good team.  It shouldn’t overshadow their innate talents, of course.

The proof of Kick Axe’s talent was their progression, album to album.  There were also some misadventures with Black Sabbath and giant transforming robots, but we’ll get there.  Vices would be a fine Kick Axe album to satisfy your curiosity, but be prepared to get hooked and want to go deeper.

4.5/5 stars

#773: Rock Candy + Internet = Kick Axe!

GETTING MORE TALE #773: Rock Candy + Internet = Kick Axe!

Like many things, it started with a story.

I have liked the music of Kick Axe since I first heard them back in 1984.  “On the Road to Rock” was a Power Hour (not yet the Pepsi Power Hour) staple.  I knew the video off by heart.  A Vices button was among the first handful I owned.  I think it was a birthday gift from my best friend Bob.  As it turns out, I never got the album, or any Kick Axe for that matter, until now.  So how did it turn out that I’m doing this Kick Axe review series?

I. ENCORE

In July, I scored two Kick Axe remastered CDs by Rock Candy records.  This occurred at the best Record Store in town, Encore, who had both Vices and Welcome to the Club in stock.  I had been looking for these in Toronto (“Taranna”) for years.  No luck.  The Encore visit was my first time finding them in store.  Vices has a bonus track.  I always intended to get the Rock Candy version for that reason.  Aaron and I found Kick Axe vinyl in Taranna before, but I was holding out.  The bonus track made the Rock Candy reissue my preferred version.

II. ROCK CANDY

Another thing about Rock Candy:  the liner are, shall we say, goddamn essential.  Featuring original interviews, untold stories, and assorted documented details, you will absolutely learn something from the liner notes in a Rock Candy CD.  One thing I learned before even opening the booklet was that the third Kick Axe album was also available from Rock Candy.  Already having the first two, it seemed dumb not to get the third.  Especially since the liner notes said that Rock the World was, in some regards, their strongest album.  As I read the notes, I recalled they did two songs for The Transformers soundtrack under the name Spectre General.  The notes confirmed that Spectre General was Kick Axe, not some side project.

Thanks to Rock Candy, light was shed on early Kick Axe history previously unknown to me.  I discovered they had an early 7″ single called “Weekend Ride”, with a singer earlier than George Criston.  They also had a live track on a compilation called Playboy Street Rock.  When Bob and I were kids, we used to be fascinated by the early history of bands.  Like finding out White Lion had an album before Pride, or that Iron Maiden had something called The Soundhouse Tapes before their first album.  I wanted to get the early Kick Axe stuff I just found out existed!

III. AMAZON and DISCOGS

If I knew about those early Kick Axe songs as a kid, it would have taken me decades to find them.  Today, I had most of them within a week.

Amazon had Rock the World in stock, and it was at the house two days later. Discogs had “Weekend Ride”, The Transformers, and Playboy Street Rock from different sellers.  I hesitated on Transformers but pulled the trigger on the other two.  I would have preferred a remastered Transformers CD with bonus tracks.  They were way too rich for me.  I couldn’t get one for much less than $50.  Even the reissued vinyl without the bonus tracks was pricey.  Ultimately, I settled on an original CD, which was still not cheap.

“Weekend Ride” and Playboy Street Rock arrived within a few days.  Wonders of the modern world.  What would have taken years before happened in under a week.

IV. KICK AXE

Fortunately, it turns out that I quite like my Kick Axe purchases.  So much so, that I was inspired to do a Kick Axe review series.

Kick Axe have a fourth album (Kick Axe IV) from a Criston-less reunion.  I’m undecided if I’ll go that far, but in the mean time you can look forward to learning more about Canada’s own metal proponents.  I’m delighted to discover a band that could really sing, and play like big leaguers.  I hope you’ll enjoy them too.

REVIEW: Kick Axe – “Weekend Ride” (1981 single) – Kick Axe series Part Two

Part Two of a series on classic KICK AXE!

KICK AXE – “Weekend Ride” / “One More Time” (1981 Swyne Song single)

When we last met Kick Axe, it was on the surprisingly great live track “Reality is the Nightmare“, from a very obscure compilation by Playboy magazine.  It seems the guys at Playboy thought they should get into the music business too.  They put out an album featuring recordings by unsigned bands, and among them was Kick Axe.  At roughly the same time the live track was recorded, Kick Axe were also working independently on a single.

This early Kick Axe lineup still featured Charles McNary on lead vocals, a capable singer.  The rest of the classic band was set:  Victor Langen (bass), brothers Larry (guitar) and Brian (drums) Gillstrom, and guitarist Raymond Harvey.  Recording in Vancouver, they managed to get the late Brian “Too Loud” MacLeod to co-produce, he of Headpins and Chilliwack fame.

“Weekend Ride” was the A-side, a slick track that already had the trademark Kick Axe rhythm.  It’s largely based on Victor Langen’s thrumming bass.  Solid chorus, interesting guitar hooks, and a screamin’ lead vocal — the essential stuff — are all present.  There’s even some wild, prototypical metal soloing.  The band were also fortunate enough to have capable backing vocalists, not fully exploited until their major label debut.  On “Weekend Ride”, you can hear the start of that.

The interesting thing is the B-side, “One More Time”, a song written by Ray Harvey.  This sounds like a different singer from the A-side, and it’s probably Harvey.  It also features extensive keyboard solos, something they never did again.  It sounds like a different band.  Suffice to say, Kick Axe pursued the sound of the A-side when they made an album.  “One More Time” sounds like a poor man’s Styx!

A few more years of hard work and a critical lineup change would prove to be the key for Kick Axe.  Spencer Proffer of Pasha records was about to change their fortunes in a big way.

If not for this small handful of early Kick Axe recordings, we’d have no record of what they sounded like before Spencer stepped in and added his own ingredients to the stew.  As it turns out, they were already good.  They didn’t need a big namer to write good songs.  They even had a good singer, before the lineup change that would bring George Criston’s golden pipes to the fore.  They were on their way…for a “Weekend Ride”.

3.5/5 stars

 

REVIEW: Kick Axe – “Reality is the Nightmate” (1981) – Kick Axe series Part One

Part One of a series on classic KICK AXE!

KICK AXE – “Reality is the Nightmare” (1981, from Playboy Street Rock on Nightlife Records)

They were originally called Hobbit.  Formed in Regina Saskatchewan, the core was Larry Gillstrom and the Langen brothers, Victor and Gary.  They were playing mostly covers, but by mid-1976 they changed their name to Kick Axe.  What is a “Kick Axe”?  The name represented rock band instruments – kick drums and axes.  Members came and went, including Gary Langen, until they settled on a five member lineup:  Larry Gillstrom (guitar), his brother Brian (drums), Victor Langen (bass), Raymond Harvey (guitar) and Charles McNary (vocals).

It was this lineup that recorded the first Kick Axe releases.  (Though not the very first Kick Axe recordings — an earlier album was scrapped and has never been heard.)  The first two records that were available were a single called “Weekend Ride” (to be reviewed next time) and a live song called “Reality is the Nightmare”.  This was recorded in Vancouver and released in April 1981 on a most peculiar LP.

Street Rock was a compilation by Playboy Magazine of new, unsigned bands.  Kick Axe were one of two Canadian bands to make the cut, the other being a group called The Remedials.  According to the back cover, which prominently features the “rabbit head” logo, these are the bands that won a Playboy “music poll talent search”.  It appears Kick Axe were the only group here who went on to bigger things.  I’ve never heard of Snake Rock.  Have you?  The singer’s name was Snake Rock (no relation to Kid or The), and he had a snake tattoo and a snakeskin vest.

Kick Axe clearly had talent even back in 1981.  “Reality is the Nightmare” boasts a solid riff and accompanying groove.  Charles McNary was a decent singer, too.  Kick Axe got lucky later on when they landed the golden pipes of George Criston, but McNary could hold his own.  He could scream and carry a melody.  The guitar soloing and drumming on this track is quite exceptional.  The track was written by McNary and Larry Gillstrom, and whadayaknow? — they could write a good song!  It’s a well constructed heavy rock song, not breaking any new ground, but doesn’t have to.  Listening to the individual instruments, it’s clear that Kick Axe could always play and always write melodically.  Victor Langen is a melodic bassist and combined with Brian Gillstrom’s almost tribal drums, you get a song that is more than the sum of its parts.  That’s pretty impressive for such early material.

With a quality track like this right from the start, Kick Axe were off to the races.

4/5 stars

 

 

REVIEW: I Mother Earth – No One (1993 promo cassette)

“No one leaves the caravan.” – IME

I MOTHER EARTH – No One (1993 EMI promo cassette)

M.E.A.T Magazine was such an awesome resource for Canadians.  Their exclusive metal content really was second to none.  M.E.A.T was on top of virtually every new Canadian band on the scene.  Thanks to them, we knew all about I Mother Earth well before they were signed to EMI.

Then one day in early ’93, M.E.A.T arrived in the mailbox slightly thicker than usual.  Inside the envelope was a free cassette tape, a promo provided by EMI.  Time to see what this I Mother Earth band sounded like.  Would they live up to the hype that M.E.A.T was creating?

The full length album Dig was not released until later that summer.  Even the music video for “Rain Will Fall” hadn’t come out yet.  This EP, titled No One, was all brand new to me.  It received a lot of play.  Out walking with the Walkman, in the car, at home or at the lake:  I Mother Earth swiftly consumed me.  I felt pretty cool hearing all this music before the masses did.  They were gonna love I Mother Earth.

The cassette (repeated both sides) wisely opened with the chiming guitars of “The Mothers”.  Softer and more psychedelic than I expected.

“Listen…to the Mothers…” sings Edwin.  The track meanders on a little bit, not quite a full song but also more than just an intro.  “A surreal sound of eight-legged groove, a serving of today’s psycadellicasy.”  The clever words were written by drummer Christian Tanna, although I certainly couldn’t make them out on my own.

After a long 10 second gap, the uberfunk of “Basketball” crushes the speakers.  It’s almost too fast, but surely demonstrated that these Torontonians could play.  It’s more than just rock music.  The exotic percussion coupled with the tribal-sounding drums really took it all to another level, whether they were playing funky or psychedelic.  There’s always room for exotic percussion.

I called “No One” the centrepiece of the album, and so it is also the highlight of this tape.  Rather than hyperspeed funk, this one is built around guitar riffs.  There are two riffs in particular on this song that just steamroll.  When joined with the full-on groove of I Mother Earth, the riffs dominate your brain.  Then it gets quiet as Edwin chants “No one leaves the caravan…”, and this serves as a reset before the song comes back full strength for the kill.  Listening today, it seems almost impossible for a band to have a song this advanced on their first album.  It’s seven minutes of riff, percussion and melody yet there’s no fat to trim out.  You’d expect something like this on a third album, not a debut.

Interestingly, none of the songs on this EP were singles.  Dig ended up producing four singles.  Consider the strength of this promo tape, and you can extrapolate that Dig is probably a really strong album.  You would be correct.

5/5 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: Raw M.E.A.T 3 – Various Artists (1992)

RAW M.E.A.T 3 (1992 M.E.A.T Magazine)

It took a while to be able to review this CD for technical reasons.  From day one, this disc would not play smoothly in any computer.  Most CD players could handle it, but no PC could without skipping horribly.  Independent CD production had iffy quality in the early 90s.  Now using external components I’ve finally been able to rip the album to PC.  I have not played some of these songs in decades!

Raw M.E.A.T 3 was different from the first two volumes.  The first focused on hard rock, the second on thrash.  One band from Raw M.E.A.T 2 went on to big things, that being Varga.  Volume 3 combined all genres of heavy music together on one disc.  From the heaviest of bands (Mindrape, Sinister Fiend, Hanker, Vertical After) to pop rock hooks (Deadline, Raw Trixx, Tryton) and progressive (Destiny, Justin Sane), all bases are covered.  The bands span several provinces from British Columbia to Quebec, whereas the first CD only had groups from southern Ontario.

Highlights are numerous.  Perhaps Russian Blue came in strongest with opener “Mama’s Love”, a modern twist on hard rock.  Deadline were right up there too, with a re-recording of “Friction Addiction” from their excellent first CD.  Raw M.E.A.T 3 is the only place you can get the re-recording, which is slicker and punchier than the original.  Tryton, the only female-fronted band, kicks serious ass on “Burning the Cradle”.  Singer Nina Zzo had the lungs for it!  (They later made an album as Loudshine.)  “A Wonderful Day” by Tempted Fate is another genius track, sounding a bit like “When Death Calls” by Black Sabbath before exploding into a punk rock chorus.

It’s a very diverse CD.  The bands Raw Trixx and Stone Valley both put in strong entries with “Time” and “Forever Gone” respectively.  These groups employ older hard rock sounds in spite of the changing tides of rock.  Slam Glory’s “Say It Like You Mean It” also fits that mold.  Fans of early Queensryche and Scorpions might enjoy Destiny’s “Man Alone” which brings to mind the trademark sounds of those bands.  Old-school thrash fans will dig the traditional speedy chug of Hanker and Vertical After.  The Cult-like No Morals had an enjoyable, unconventional 90s edge.  For Faith No More funkiness, it’s Sinister Fiend.  Overlord’s “Never Enough” has a tough metal punch but with punk-like recklessness.  “And if I sound bitter, it’s because I am!”  Even Christian rock makes an appearance.  Thunder Rider’s “For Christ’s Sake” isn’t bad, but the Quebec band had an early unfortunate image including swords, shields and hammers.

My favourite track of them all is “Illusion” by Justin Sane, which should have become a massive hit in 1992.  The four piece band combined modern metal grooves with quality lead vocals and musicianship to create a nearly seven-minute behemoth of a song.  It was recorded (like several of the songs here) at the renowned Metalworks Studios in Mississauga.  Shame the band had a jokey name, as it does not accurately depict their music.  There is a Justin Sane EP out there, reissued in 2006 as a split album with a band called Native Tongue, but it’s impossible to find.

I also approve of the names of the members of Vertical After:  Kick, Stu, Rhys and Odd.  I definitely want to be friends with anyone named Odd.

For the variety of quality hard rock, heavy metal and miscellaneous good stuff, Raw M.E.A.T 3 serves as an enjoyable listen and gateway to some bands you’ve never heard of before.  Off to Discogs to look for more!

4/5 stars