Released in May 2019 (Perris Records)
Imagine recording a number of quality unreleased songs more than 30 years ago, “almost” forgetting about them and then stumbling upon them and realizing that you have enough material for a brand new studio album. Clearly, this doesn’t happen often but when you’ve been leading a band for more than 45 years and you were part of the ’80s hard rock golden era where bands released albums seemingly every year, this type of thing may just occur. That’s exactly what occurred with Helix when the Canadian group’s long-time frontman Brian Vollmer was cleaning out the basement closet of his (now former) home dubbed ‘Planet Helix.’ I’ve never been to Planet Helix myself but from the photos that I have seen and some of the videos that Vollmer has posted over the years, the place was a treasure trove for anything pertaining to Helix. The songs that eventually turned into the album Old School almost never made the light of day as they were on 2″ tapes that Vollmer was about to discard until his old friend Greg Godovitz suggested that Vollmer take a hard look at what he actually had on hand.
There’s something truly magical when you listen to Old School. First and foremost, some of the songs involve guitarist Paul Hackman who tragically passed away in a bus accident back in 1992. Old School contains three songs where Hackman actually played on and eight tracks that he co-wrote. For the uninitiated, Hackman has (arguably) played on the best ever Helix albums including No Rest For The Wicked (1983), Walkin’ The Razor’s Edge (1984), Long Way To Heaven (1985), Wild In The Streets (1987) and Back For Another Taste (1990). Accordingly, to hear unreleased material penned by and involving the talented guitarist and songwriter after all these years is very special. In addition, the songs on Old School were actually recorded during Helix’s ’80s heyday between 1983 to 1987 except for “Houng Dog Howlin’ Blues” which dates back to 1979.
Interestingly enough, when I first heard Old School, I wasn’t exactly smitten by it but didn’t hate it either. The reasons for that is the songs aren’t your straightforward rockers similar to what Airbourne or AC/DC might put out. There are layers of stuff to discover from some killer melodies to some tasteful guitar licks when you listen to the tracks off Old School. It kind of reminded me of an album like Alice Cooper‘s School’s Out that doesn’t jump out right at you (aside from the title track) when you first listen to it but the more you hear it, the more than you are sucked in and enjoy the nuances of all the songs. It’s the same thing with Old School. At first, it didn’t make much of an impression on me but the more I listened to it, the more I found myself singing along to the melodies and enjoying all of the ups and downs featured on all the songs.
Two songs really stick out. “Whiskey Bent & Hell Bound” is a simply killer track starting slow before Vollmer kicks it up a notch leading to an easy to sing to chorus, some memorable but brief guitar licks and a lot of varying tempos all in one song. It’s got a real classic Helix groove to it. “Coming Back With Bigger Guns” has some great melodies and Vollmer’s singing really carries the track through. I really enjoy the old school “Ooooohhhhh” background vocals and guitar harmonies throughout parts of the song. I could take you track by track for this record but I won’t. Every song is a good one. There are no songs that will stick out as an obvious anthem. There is no “Rock You” but all of the tracks are solid ones that could have easily fit on most of the classic Helix albums released in the ’80s. Maybe that’s why the songs that eventually became Old School were “almost” forgotten, unfinished and/or unreleased. I will note that the album closer “Cheers” is pretty different from what you might expect from Helix and almost closer to a Billy Joel piano based track than anything else.
Overall, Helix‘s Old School is a fun blast from the past where great melodies, quality guitar licks, some excellent background vocals and lots of nuances are at a premium. There is not one rock anthem on the record but simply a bunch of quality songs that totally deserved to see the light of day and be released to the public. I also give two thumbs up for the album covers (front and back) that makes you think Old School right away. If you’re looking for some “old school” Helix, you should be more than satisfied with Old School. It’s arguably the best Helix album since Back For Another Taste (which remains my favourite Helix record).
01. Coming Back With Bigger Guns
02. Whiskey Bent & Hell Bound
03. If Tears Could Talk
04. Your Turn To Cry
05. Tie Me Down
07. Games Mother Never Taught You
08. Southern Comfort
09. Hound Dog Howlin’ Blues
Brian Vollmer – vocals
Chris Julke – guitar, background vocals
Kaleb Duck – guitar, background vocals
Daryl Gray – bass, keyboards, additional guitars, background vocals
Greg ‘Fritz’ Hinz – drums, background vocals
Paul Hackman – guitar, background vocals
Sam Reid – piano
Executive producer: Brian Vollmer
Produced by Daryl Gray
Mixed by Siegfried Meier
Reviewed by Olivier for Sleaze Roxx, September 2019
Helix‘s “Whiskey Bent & Hell Bound” song:
This is another track from OLD SCHOOL in which Daryl and I played around with the arrangement. Produced by Daryl Gray, mixed by Siegfried Meier at Beach Road Studios in Goderich. Official release on Perris Records (out of Houston, Texas) for the U.S. & Europe.
Helix‘s “Coming Back With Bigger Guns” song:
This is the first track from Helix’s 18th studio release OLD SCHOOL. Produced by Daryl Gray and mixed by Juno award winning Siegfried Meier at Beach Road Studios in Goderich, Ontario. The CD was mastered by Harry Hess of the band Harem Scarem.
Helix‘s “Closer” song:
From the 18th Helix studio release OLD SCHOOL. Written by Vollmer/Hackman, produced by Daryl Gray, mixed by Siegfried Meier, and mastered by Harry Hess. Released on Perris Records in the U.S. and Europe. In Canada the CD is available at live gigs & through the Planet Helix website.