Helstar, one of the greatest US power/speed metal bands in history, has just released a double CD, “Clad in Black”, which includes some cover songs, some new songs and the “Vampiro” album in its entirety. As this historic band comes in the spotlight again, Myth of Rock had the opportunity to talk with Helstar’s frontman, the one and only James Rivera! It is always a pleasure and an honor to have a conversation with James Rivera, a true legend of metal, an incredible voice, a huge, well-respected metal personality! Below you can read all the interesting things that James Rivera told us, but beware ... James Rivera and his bandmates are ready to go for your throats!
by Dimitris Zacharopoulos
Hello James! In October 2020 Helstar released a 7” single, the amazing “Black Wings of Solitude”. Why did you decide to release a single back then?
We wanted to do something a little different, you know, something we never did before. We had never released a single before. And it was such a strong single that we decided it needed to get as much attention as possible. That was part of the reason. We also wanted to try something different on how we would release this new song. Instead of releasing everything at one time, we wanted to release things a little differently, so that way we could, hmmm … spread it out, I guess that’s the word.
You are releasing now a new double CD, “Clad in Black”. Which are your feelings for this release?
Well, we think it is a good thing ... Lot of people are loving it. We also felt that a lot of people didn’t know about “Vampiro”, such a traditional, classic Helstar record. We didn’t want the people who missed it, to not know about it. Because there are many people we talked with and they didn’t know that we had this album out. That’s the reason why we put it in “Clad in Black” as an extra, free record.
And why did you name this new release “Clad in Black”?
Basically it comes from the Bram Stoker novel “Dracula”. I have always liked that term, “clad in black”, which means “dressed in black” … when Jonathan Harker, one of the protagonists of the novel, described the first time he met Count Dracula, when he visited his castle in Transylvania, his exact words were, “... I opened the door and I saw a very strange looking man, standing there, all clad in black ...”. I had never heard that expression before, it stuck with me for a long time, I have always been thinking it was a cool expression, that’s why we decided to give that name to the new release.
In “Clad in Black” we can also find two new covers, to Accept (“Restless and Wild”) and Judas Priest (“Sinner”). Why did you decide to cover these certain songs instead of others?
We already do these covers in the Sabbath Judas Sabbath metal extravaganza, the tribute band that I have. In this tribute band you will find the entire line-up of Helstar. That’s why we chose that songs.
In “Clad in Black” two new Helstar songs are included, “Dark Incarnation (Mother of the Night)” and “Across the Raging Seas”. Who wrote the music and the lyrics of these two new Helstar songs?
The composers of “Dark Incarnation (Mother of the Night)” are Larry Barragan (guitars) and Andrew Atwood (guitars), and its lyrics were written by me and Larry. In “Across the Raging Seas” the composers were Larry and Andrew again – Larry wrote the lyrics for that too.
At which studios did you record these two new songs?
They were all record at Larry’s house. We have our own studios there, the Hombre Malo Studios in Houston, Texas. These songs were mixed and mastered in Germany, mixed by Martin Pfeiffer, who has worked with U.D.O., Accept, etc. and of course, mastered by Stefan Kaufmann of Accept, haha!
How do you feel that Stefan Kaufmann did the mastering for you?
Great! Amazing, he gave us a huge sound, a big sound. Basically, working with these guys gave Helstar the sound that we always deserved, after all these years.
Let’s go now to vampires! Your song lyrics refer to vampires, you have a vampire-inspired image both on stage and on your official photos. Why is that?
I was always a fan of vampires, since I was a young kid. Vampires are fascinating creatures, which have really existed, but we don’t know about that. I can’t tell for sure, because I have been reading some other stories about people who believed that there were true vampires, some unique stories that make you wonder and say. “That is strange!”, haha! I have always been fascinated more with the Hammer Films Dracula and vampire movies. Christopher Lee was the best Dracula ever.
Which is your favorite Dracula movie with Christopher Lee and Peter Cushing?
Oh, dude, “Dracula Has Risen from the Grave”, it has to be the ultimate Dracula movie!
I also like that movie very much!
Yes, haha, that’s the one where Dracula falls on the cross, haha!
You referred before to Bram Stoker’s “Dracula”. Do you read horror literature in general?
Yes, I do, I have read Bram Stoker’s “Dracula” a hundred times, starting from the days we were writing the “Nosferatu” album (1989)!
James, Helstar started its career in the early eighties. How different were things for heavy metal back then?
The metal thing was a huge thing, back in the early eighties. On the contrary, metal isn’t doing too bad today, hmm …
What’s your opinion about internet? Do you like it?
Yes and no. It just depends … what I don’t like nowadays is that you go to a live show and everybody has a mobile phone on his hand, and then they start posting videos and stuff. You can’t have a bad show, great, all the world will see that now, hahaha!
Which is your favorite Helstar album?
Oh, man, that’s too hard to answer, haha! Actually I can say that our latest full-length album, “Vampiro”, is our best album. Really.
What keeps Helstar alive until this day?
The passion for music. It is a way of living, for me. We know that we will never get rich, doing Helstar, that’s for sure, but it is our inner passion, our love we have for music. We want to continue to release good music, we are having our fans all over the world, who appreciate what we are doing, so it is always worth it, if you look it that way.
James, you keep your voice at a great shape. How do you manage that?
Oh, I don’t know, man, a lot of sleep, good Jägermeister and good wine, haha!
I would like to ask you about some other bands, in which you have participated, for example Destiny’s End, Distant Thunder, Seven Witches etc. Do you still like the albums that you have released with these bands?
Oh, yeah, of course! In a matter of fact, I am doing a new Seven Witches album these days!
Really? I always liked Seven Witches.
Yes, the classic Witches is getting back together, I and Jack Frost. And actually we are going to call the album “Back to the Other Side”. So, people will know right away that we will deliver the classic Seven Witches style and sound, because “Passage to the Other Side” was one of our best albums … “Passage to the Other Side” was the reason I got for the first time in Greece. I visited your country, because of that record! We did a show with Overkill!
You told me before Sabbath Judas Sabbath. I know that you have two other tribute bands, James Rivera’s Metal Asylum and James Rivera’s Metalwave. Can you give us some information about these projects of yours?
Basically James Rivera’s Metal Asylum is a tribute to myself! I have a band, with which, when we get an opening slot for a national act coming through, let’s say for example, for Lizzy Borden, for David Ellefson, stuff like that, I will perform songs from all the bands, with which I have played and recorded in my life, even some Helstar songs. So, we will do Flotsam and Jetsam, Destiny’s End, Distant Thunder, Killing Machine, Vicious Rumours, Malice, Shadow Keep, Seven Witches, songs from such bands. What happen is, that Metal Asylum will do a certain tribute, hmmm …, I call it a salute to a certain artist. So, right now we are doing a salute to Scorpions, you know, old Scorpions … but now I am changing that and I will do a salute to Alice Cooper. It is a tribute band to myself, but I do pick a certain character that I would like to do a full show with songs only from this artist. That allows me to do whatever I want.
And James Rivera’s Metalwave?
Metalwave is my new baby, and right now it is my pride and joy! And as odd as it sounds, because of the pandemic, because Sabbath Judas Sabbath has been around for twenty years and I feel I have done my fair share of saluting the metal icons, and now there are like a million tribute bands to the same artists, as far as metal is concerned, I decided to do something totally different and do a tribute to something that no one has ever done before. My other passion of music is dark wave and new wave, I am a major fanatic over bands like Depeche Mode, The Cure, Peter Murphy, Bauhaus, Echo & The Bunnymen, Tears for Fears, Siouxsie and the Banshees, all that stuff, all that good eighties new wave stuff. I thought that no one has ever done new wave heavy metal! So, I started putting this project together, I went to find the right people to join the band and it turned out right away that Larry and Garrick (Smith, bass) from Helstar were the first ones to step in the circle! They said, “Hey dude, I will do it!”. I and Larry have seen together Depeche Mode live in 1985 for the first time … So that’s basically what Metalwave is, we are doing new wave songs heavy metal style. You can listen to the clips, there’s two full songs on the website, and there’s also a trailer with two minutes from each song. We are not only learning and playing these songs live, but we also are recording songs, because there are already a few labels, who are interested in signing this thing! So I was excited, I said, “Wow, dude! You don’t have any idea how big this would get in Europe!”. It is funny, because I do know a lot of metalheads, who like this stuff, I would say that in certain countries like Germany, the Netherlands, I would think in Greece too, I know that at least 50% of the people that are really die-hard into metal, love this other music as well! I think that happens, because these two genres came about in the same time, also because some of this new wave bands are so dark that you can hear it! Wow, if these bands were doing their songs on guitars instead of keyboards, or whatever they used, …! It is a perfect world, you know, so …and the proof is there, because we just did our debut show in Austin, USA, this past Saturday and, man, the people just went insane and were saying, “Wow! This was so different and unique!”. I saw metalheads wearing Slayer T-shirts, dancing, when we played a Cure song! Haha!
Haha! As an epilogue, I would like you to tell us about the upcoming Helstar album!
Yes, our next full-length album will be probably be out in October 2021. So, you can see this way was a good way to do things, we gave the world a single for the first time in October 2020, and every time you put something out, your name comes to life again. Alright? That happens, now we have the “Clad in Black” double CD out and then we have a full album, coming out before the year is over, again. This keeps you in front of people’s faces, whereas if we released a full album, then toured and after two or three years released another new album, everybody would say, “What happened to these guys?!” That’s way we did things the way we did. We kind of wanted to keep the name alive out there, and give people a little bit at a time, not everything at one time.
OK, James, thank you very much for this interview! My best wishes!
OK, Dimitris, you know what, take care of yourself, stay safe, so that, whenever we are able to come back to Europe, and hopefully Greece will be on the map, we will get to see each other and have a little shot of ouzo, or something! Haha, bye!