Part two of a Helix three-fer!
HELIX – White Lace & Black Leather (1981 H&S)
Having already done it once themselves, why not do it again? Once again Helix with manager Bill Seip raised the funds to record an independent album. Drummer Brian Doerner was gone, replaced by Leo Niebudek. On bass, Keith “Bert” Zurbrigg hung around long enough to record one new song (“It’s Too Late”). He was replaced by the young, talented and troubled Mike Uzelac. He was only 17 when he first joined Helix. He told them he was 19.
Sticking to the same formula as Breaking Loose, there is really no deviation in sound. Some members have changed but little else. The band still managed to come up with enough good material to fill an album to follow the first. I don’t know if the track “Breaking Loose” was a leftover from the first album or not, but quality-wise there is nothing “leftover” about it. I would call it a typical Helix party rocker: a fast one, often used back in the day to open their sets. The lyrics are the kind of thing that Helix were about: the weekend!
“4 O’clock Friday afternoon,
Punch that time clock, now you’ll be home soon,
Your week’s all done, now it’s time to roll,
You’re like a time bomb about to explode.”
Vollmer reminds us “You only got two days, so make it last,” a philosophy I heartily agree with. Brent Doerner and Paul Hackman lay down a pair of ripping guitar solos for the icing on the cake. Then “It’s Too Late” is the kind of melodic mid-tempo rocker that their first album was loaded with. Surely something like “It’s Too Late” could have worked on the radio, and I think that was the intent. That takes away nothing from the song, which is classy with quality.
“Long Distance Heartbreak” at almost seven minutes is Helix’s longest song ever. In the early days they tended to experiment with their songwriting, coming up with the odd mini-epic. Like many Helix classics, this one reads as a road song. Thin Lizzy they were not, but Vollmer captures the heartbreak in their lyrics while Doerner and Hackman take care of the guitar drama.
Helix get even more serious for a moment with “Time For a Change”, and “Hangman’s Tree” also brings a few issues to the table. “Time For a Change” is sadly even more valid today.
“Everyday there’s a new headline,
Another war and another lie,
When will we learn to stop this killing while we can?”
It’s interesting that Helix didn’t seem to know their direction yet, but still infused every song with their bare honesty. They were riding a line between a party band and a more serious, more experimental rock band. In the end they chose the route that they were intended for, but that takes nothing away from these early songs. “Time For a Change” and “Hangman’s Tree” are unexpectedly ambitious for a young bar band from Canada. In each case, it is the guitar work that elevates the songs.
“It’s What I Wanted” lightens the mood, a mid-tempo rocker with a great melody. I don’t know why it is, but these melodic rock songs really sound like home to me. They conjure images of a more innocent time, when the world seemed smaller to me. They capture and bring back hazy, happy pictures of Kitchener in the late 70’s.
Brent Doener comes back with his only lead vocal on the track “Mainline”. Sounds like Brent was having no trouble getting satisfaction back then. “She keeps me happy, what can I say?” he sings, lamenting that his lady keeps him up all night and late for work in the morning! “Pick up my cheque at the end of the day, I find I’m down a couple hours’ pay.” So in essence, “Mainline” is about choices. You can either have tons and tons of sex at all hours of the day, or get to work on time. It’s your choice, people!
“Women, Whiskey & Sin” is pretty simple in its message. This smoking track is more like Helix would evolve on later albums like No Rest For the Wicked. “Ain’t no laws to hold us back on a Saturday night,” sings Brian Vollmer. (Hate to tell ya Brian, there actually are laws about some of the things you boys were doing back in the day!) Then “Thoughts That Bleed” is a proggy, slow closer with lots of dynamics, similar to how Helix ended the first album with “Wish I Could Be There”.
Ultimately there is no question that Helix made the right move to drop some of these softer, more progressive moments and focus on the heavy metal side of their sound. It got them signed to Capitol Records and secured their biggest hits. That leaves these first two albums as evidence of an earlier, more naive Helix willing to stretch out a bit more.