Tuesday, July 1, 2014

The Hardest Working Band in Canada Returns!

Ahhhhh Helix!  This Canadian band holds a special place deep in my heart alongside many other Canuck rockers.  I've seen them perform many times in different venues, from little bars to festivals
 to Cruise Ships and they have never disappointed no matter which version of the line up was on stage.  Frontman Brian Vollmer has remained the sole constant throughout the thirty plus years that Helix has been rocking the world with their impressive thirteen studio and many more live and compilation album discography. Their energetic "in your face" rocking live shows have won the band fans all over the world.  Vollmer is currently joined by drummer Greg "Fritz" Heinz and bassist Daryl Gray, both members of "the classic era" lineup, having rejoined the outfit in 2009.  Also in the fold is young guitar wizard Kaleb "Duckman" Duck since 2009 and newcomer Chris Julke who stepped in for John Claus in 2014.

Once known as the hardest working band in Canada, Helix has returned with their first full length issue since 2009's Vagabond bones.  Like that album Sean Kelly (Metal on Ice) had a hand with Vollmer in the song writing for Bastard of the Blues.  It's nice to see a new Helix album 35 years into their career, the cover art looking bad-ass and I anxiously cued it up expecting a heavy "in-your face" attitude metal album, like the Helix of the 80's.  Well I guess you shouldn't really judge a book by its cover and I guess the word "blues" in the album's title should have been a tip-off as well.  Don't get me wrong Bastard of the Blues is a great album, just not what I was hoping for.

The title track gets things underway and is the longest contained on the release at near six minutes.  A great bluesy riff and Vollmer's gravel-raked, throaty vocals fit perfectly together.  "Even Jesus (Wasn't Loved In His Hometown)" follows, switching pace a little with its funky beat, another great riff and catchy chorus.  I don't particularly enjoy "Winning Is The Best Revenge", finding it a little soft and weak, flaccid one might say.  On the other hand "Screaming At The Moon" (with Nick Walsh of  Slik Toxik/Famous Underground on background vocals) picks it up again with more balls.  While "Metal At Midnight" may be a little cliche it does contain elements that somehow remind me of Helix's 80's hit "Heavy Metal Love""Hell Bound For A Heartbreak" and the bluesy ballad "When All The Love Is Gone" lead us through to another "classic Helix" sounding cut of "Axe To Grind".  The next two tracks, "Skin In The Game" and "The Bitch Is A Bullet" originally appeared on the Skin In The Game EP from 2011 and, I feel, capture the Helix spirit.  Bastard of the Blues wraps up with "Sticks & Stones", a blues infused, boogie rock song that'll get your toe tapping for sure.  Over all the recording and production seem a little dull or muted, but that may just be the download copy that I received.

Bastard of the Blues definitely grows on you with each listen and while I have a healthy appreciation for the blues and direction of the band, I certainly miss the "heavy metal" Helix days of old.  In any case I'm happy to have a new selection of songs from one of my cherished bands at this stage of their career, hopefully there's still more gas in the tank!

Helix are embarking on a tour of Europe with stops in places such as Spain, Sweden, Finland, Norway and Denmark in the fall.  Helix appeared at Sweden Rock Festival in 2005, but they haven't done a full tour in Europe since the late 80's.

The Meister

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