Perris records

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 – 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