Chris Julke

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: 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

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 – Bastard of the Blues (2014)

NEW RELEASE

HELIX – Bastard of the Blues (2014 Perris)

I’ve been a Helix fan a long time.  They were one of the first bands I’ve ever liked.  I’m pleased to report that their new album, Bastard of the Blues, is their strongest in years and possibly on a par with their best 80’s work.  It is their first album with Chris Julke of Cambridge Ontario on guitar, replacing John Claus (who replaced the Doctor, Brent Doerner).  This new lineup of the band (still featuring Kaleb Duck – guitar, Daryl Gray – bass, and Fritz Hinz – drums) is again working with Sean Kelly and Aaron Murray, producing one hell of a record.  It consists of 8 brand new songs, and 3 slightly older songs that you may have missed the first time.

BASTARD OF THE BLUES_0006The title track “Bastard of the Blues” is a mean, fully loaded soul-metal rock song.  Soul-metal?  Sure, why not?  Check out those backing vocals, and the smoking lead guitars.  Soul-metal!  Songwriting-wise, this is a top drawer.  Production-wise, performance…there is absolutely nothing that sucks about “Bastard of the Blues”.  Although this is a completely modern song, there are aspects of it that take me back to 1978’s Breaking Loose album, such as its experimental nature with different sections and so on.

It takes balls to name a song “Even Jesus (Wasn’t Loved in His Home Town)”. It’s heavier than the title track, and boasts a nasty little guitar riff to hook you.  Once again, Helix raised the bar.  Then they change gears:  “Winning is the Best Revenge” is solid pop rock that in a just world would be on the radio.  This one takes me right back to the mellower sounds on Helix’ 1993 classic It’s a Business Doing Pleasure.  Vollmer’s voice is in top shape.  Lyrically these two songs really seem pointed at those who may or may not have impeded Helix in the past!

“Screaming at the Moon” would be a cool song live, with it’s lyrics about fists pumping in the air.  My favourite song however is the next one, “Metal at Midnight”.  If it wasn’t for the modern production I’d swear this song was from 1984.  What a great hard rock chorus.  I’m absolutely nuts for this song.  What is it about bands like Judas Priest and Helix recently, that they have managed to tap into that vintage vibe?  I think part of the credit must go to co-writer Sean Kelly, who proved his metal credentials last year on his excellent Metal On Ice EP.

BASTARD OF THE BLUES_0007“Hellbound For a Heartbreak” is similar in direction to “Screaming at the Moon”, which is solid hard rock with hooky guitars.  But then, I was taken by surprise: “When All the Love is Gone” is an epic 70’s-sounding ballad with a voice singing that I’m not familiar with.  Turns out, it’s Daryl Gray!  He absolutely nails it.  This song could have been at home on Breaking Loose, alongside “You’re a Woman Now”.  I tend to like albums with multiple lead singers, so I enjoyed the change of pace.

From the compilation CD Best Of 1983-2012 comes “Axe to Grind”, getting a second life here.  Now here’s an interesting observation:  On the Best Of CD it didn’t make a huge impression on me.  Here, I’m enjoying it a lot more, particularly for the scathing lyrics.  Anybody who has read Brian’s Facebook page knows he’s not shy about sharing opinions, and “Axe to Grind” reminds us of that.  Then comes “Skin in the Game” from the EP of the same title.  This being an older song, you can hear the presence of the Doctor!  Also from that EP is “The Bitch is a Bullet”.  It boasts one of those memorable Helix choruses.

Album closer “Sticks and Stones” is another favourite.  It’s a fast-paced bluegrass-y metal shuffle!  Hey, I don’t know how to describe it better.  This is a great song, purely smoking, and showing off the musicianship of these five pros.  Much like “Metal at Midnight”, I just can’t get enough of this song!

As an album, Bastard of the Blues is more cohesive and consistent than some of the recent Helix discs, including The Power of Rock and Roll and Vagabond Bones.  As good as those albums were, Bastard is better.  It feels like a complete album, more so than before.  It holds its own against classics like Back For Another Taste, a high-water mark.

I don’t often get preachy in my reviews here, but I will say this:  Go out and get Bastard of the Blues.  Order it online.  Do what you have to do to purchase this album.  You’ll be supporting a hard working band that have really earned your dollars.  If there was one pleasant surprise of 2014 so far, it is that Helix came out with such an incredibly strong album.  They have raised the bar for themselves again.

5/5 stars

 

BOOK REVIEW: Brian Vollmer – Gimme An R! (2005)

BRIAN VOLLMER – Gimme An R!
The story of Brian Vollmer, lead vocalist of Helix
(2005)

Forget all those books by the mega stars like Slash and Sammy Hagar that have come out in recent years. Those books have one thing in common — they were written (or co-written, anyway) by guys who are rock superstars! Megastars! It’s hard for me as a reader to relate to a guy who hasn’t had to hold down a job in 30 years. Not that there’s anything wrong with stardom, it’s just an observation.  I can’t relate to the human beings.   Not so with this book!

Brian Vollmer, lead vocalist of the hardest working band in Canada (that would be Helix), comes across as a pretty regular guy.  (I’ve met him a number of times, and he’s about as regular as anybody you’d know.)  Yes, he’s traveled the world in a rock band and played for thousands of people, but at the end of the day the book is something I can still relate to. Through crappy jobs in crappy convenience stores, crappy apartments, getting mugged, it doesn’t seem like a rock star’s life.  There are parallels in the story similar to other bands such as Anvil (another hard-working Canadian band). While Vollmer always manages to scrape by and continue to Rock Us, nothing comes easy.  Incredibly through it all Brian Vollmer never really stopped being an artist.  He seemed to always keep music, and Helix in his life even after dozens of lineup changes and band members.  (Approximately 35 people have been in Helix since 1974.  The newest member is Cambridge’s Chris Julke, replacing John Claus.)

From humble beginnings in Listowel Ontario to playing in Sweden, England and Trinidad, Vollmer’s tome has plenty of rock and roll stories. As one of the first Canadian bands to release independent albums in the 1970’s, he was a bit of a pioneer. Gimme An R! is loaded with rock star encounters one after the other, from Eddie Van Halen (on stage!) to Gene Simmons.  Vollmer remains himself through it all, even after Helix signed their big deal with Capitol and released “Rock You”.  The tragic death of primary co-writer Paul Hackman nearly derailed the band.  Even after the departures of longtime partners Brent Doerner, Fritz Hinz, and finally Daryl Gray, Brian kept going.  He kept the Helix name alive, finding success on the internet which was a brand new way for him to make contact, and sell albums directly to his fans.  Then, a little TV show called Trailer Park Boys helped expose Helix to a new audience.


Included between the covers are dozens of black and white photos of the band over the years.  From small-town Ontario to meeting superstars like Richard Pryor and Robin Williams, it’s a pretty cool collection of snaps. Unfortunately while reading I found myself distracted by spelling errors — “Atlantis Morissette” for example.  I would like to see a second printing that corrects these mistakes.  (A new chapter on the last decade would be cool too Brian!)

Vollmer’s prose is not frilly or poetic, but it’s conversational and descriptive.  There’s no ghost writer, so the pictures that Brian paints of all those seedy bars in the dead of winter come straight from his memory to the page.  He’s a great storyteller.  The bottom line is that the story of Helix keeps you hooked.  I’ve had friends come over and pick up the book, and they just get entranced. It’s a really different side of the rock and roll tales.  It shows what old fashioned determination and hard work can accomplish.

I have to knock off half a star for the spelling errors. It’s just one of those pet peeves — nothing personal, Brian!  I do highly recommend it Gimme An R! to rock fans world wide who’d like a different, more humble angle on the whole rock star thing.

4.5/5 stars