For every middle-aged hard rock fan from Sweden, Helix means one thing for the most part: “Rock You”! Back in 1984 we only had one TV show that played rock videos and that show – Bagen – broke Twisted Sister in Sweden alone by pumping their videos. It also made Canadian rockers Helix superstars for a couple of years in our country. I knew about Helix before that because they supported Kiss on their 1983 Lick It Up tour – a concert I missed – but musically I knew little about them. I had heard “Heavy Metal Love” from their second debut album (Helix had two independently released albums out, Breaking Loose (1979) and White Lace & Black Leather (1981)) No Rest For The Wicked (1983), their first album on a major label, Capitol, before and I thought the song was ok, but apparently not good enough to check out their album. But that night in front of my TV changed all that with a simple “Gimme a R!”. After that, the song was all over radio and in everyone’s Sony Walkman and even the people who wasn’t into hard rock and metal dug it. Of course, that made their album Walkin’ The Razor’s Edge (1984) sell shitloads of quantities. The follow up single “Gimme Gimme Good Lovin'” also became a hit, but not as big as “Rock You”! Me, I bought both that album and No Rest For Wicked the day after “Rock You” had premiered and I cursed myself for not picking up on the band before that. I mean, I was the one who spread the gospel of Twisted Sister at my school before no one – and I mean literary no one – knew who they were. Now they became superstars and I could say I was first – well one the first, anyway – Twisted Sister fans in Sweden (well, at least around where I lived…), but with Helix, I was simply one of those who found out about the band by the video that made them big. A follower. Oh, the shame! But the love affair between Sweden and Helix ended after the follow up, Long Way To Heaven (1985), a much stronger album than its predecessor, in my opinion and a successful tour. When Helix released Wild In The Streets in 1987 (my favourite Helix album), they were more or less forgotten, at least in Sweden and when the name Helix is mentioned today, the reply is always: “Do they still exist?”. Oh yes, they do. I own the follow up Back For Another Taste (1990) and I have heard all their studio releases up until now. It’s just that those albums has done nothing for me. I wouldn’t say they were bad, but I found them quite forgettable even though their last album Vagabond Bones (2009) raised an eyebrow with some really good songs on it. Five years later on, Brian Vollmer and his band shows no signs of calling it a day, performing gigs and now giving us a new album release.
When it comes to band members there has been an open door in the band for musicians to walk in and out of like an ever flowing stream and since the band’s start in 1974, no less than 38 band members has been in the band, the line-up today of lead singer Vollmer (only original member), bassist Daryl Gray, drummer Greg Hinz and guitarists Kaleb Duck and Chris Julke included. Neither Hinz or Gray are originals, but they are from their most popular era in the 80’s and they re-joined Vollmer in 2009. Of course the sad, sad passing of original guitarist Paul Hackman in 1992 makes a complete reunion impossible, but with this new, strong album out, it would be killer if guitarist Brent Doerner could make a return to the band once more (he’s been in and out of the band like a jojo) as I consider him an extremely important ingredient of Helix’s sound. Strong album, I just wrote and yes, that’s exactly what Helix has provided us with here. In fact, this album is surprisingly good. The title track opens the album and with its classic hard rock sound and bluesy groove, I could sense that Helix had something really cool going on here. The song definitely made me wanting more. “Even Jesus (Wasn’t Loved In His Hometown)” has one the coolest titles ever, but it is a brave one I must say. I certainly applaud it. They song is just as cool as its title and it too rocks with a bluesy groove and they have also thrown in some gospel influences underneath, to go with the title – brilliant! “Winning is The Best Revenge” is one of my favourites here. It’s a rocker, but with a really catchy melody and it reminds me a bit of Ian Hunter’s “Once Bitten Twice Shy”, but the Great White version, with some pop on top. “Metal At Midnight” isn’t metal at all, despite its title, but a great catchy rocker and “When All The Love Is Gone” is a heavy, dark and bluesy and had Aerosmith recorded this song, it would have been a big hit, no doubt. It really should give Helix one as well. “The Bitch Is A Bullet” is so awesome, a groovy funker with horns – what’s not to love about that? The album ends with “Sticks And Stones”, a good ole rawk n’ rowl tune, complete with a verse that reminds me a bit of Queen’s “Stone Cold Crazy”. I just love it when an album ends with a big kick in the butt and this sure does that.
The fact that a band like Helix can pull out such a killer like this in 2014 is insane. I mean, no disrespect, but most of the population that has any knowledge of this band at all are surprised that they are still alive and well and the fact that they can still write and recorded an album so full of great rockers is just impressing under the circumstances. Sure, there might be a filler or two here, but for the most part, this a great album full of classic rock tunes that would make any rocker out there happy. Also, by the age of 59, it’s crazy how well Vollmer’s voice has aged. The guy has always been a great singer, but his voice has lost little – or none – of its intensity and range and on this album, he sings like motherf**ker! The band is really good, the rhythm section of Hinz and Gray is solid as a rock and both guitarists Duck and Julke are really good, but a bit anonymous and yes, I must admit, I miss Doerner’s playing and sound at times. Or maybe it’s just because he was such a cool and nice guy when I met him after a record signing in Sweden back in 1985. This is easily Helix’s best effort since Wild In The Streets and for everyone who’s into solid, hard and rootsy classic hard rock music, this is not to be missed. There might be a long way to heaven, but it’s only a short click to your web shop. And there you can buy this album. Do it!
Jon Wilmenius (8/10)
01. Bastard of the Blues
02. Even Jesus (Wasn’t Loved In His Hometown)
03. Winning is the Best Revenge
04. Screaming at the Moon
05. Metal at Midnight
06. Hellbound for a Heartbreak
07. When All the Love is Gone
08. Axe to Grind
09. Skin in the Game
10. The Bitch is a Bullet
11. Sticks & Stones