Helstar: Heavy Metal Glory and Chaos!

One of the true legends of the US heavy metal underground, Helstar has just unleashed their eighth thrilling magnum opus entitled Glory Of Chaos.  Signed worldwide to AFM Records, Helstar features the dynamic vocals of James Rivera, who has also participated in noted bands such as Destinys End and Seven Witches.  With activity dating back to 1982, the Helstar of 2011 still sounds as amazing as ever, and are certainly ready to bring the metal to a whole new generation of head banging enthusiasts.  Here is a recent interview we conducted with guitarist  Larry Barragan to discuss the past, present, and future of this mighty entity known as Helstar.  Read on as the glory and the chaos ensues…

How did your reunion with Helstar come about and what has it been like working with Helstar again?
LB: We originally got back together to do one show for the 25th anniversary of “Remnants of War”. We were going to play a showcase for Robb’s Metal Works. I don’t think that any of us thought that much more would come of it, you know. But obviously we were wrong. We started getting offers to play festivals in Europe and it pretty much snowballed from there. It’s been 5 years now since we started playing together as a unit again and it’s been a great time. Being able to actually record again and tour Europe a couple of more times has been kick-ass. More than what I dreamed I’d be doing for sure.

Did you keep up with the bands that James Rivera was in after Helstar such as Destiny’s End and Seven Witches and what did you think of them?
LB: I had heard what James had been doing but I wasn’t really familiar with the work. I liked what he was doing but I didn’t really follow intently. I will say that after I heard what he did with Seven Witches I thought he had really improved as a vocalist.

What is your current music scene like in Houston, Texas and are there any bands you could recommend?
LB: There are a lot of bands doing it around here. I really like a band called Carry the Storm. Those guys are phenomenal.

How do you think Glory of Chaos compares to the classic Helstar releases?
LB: Well, it’s the absolute heaviest album we’ve ever done. It’s just a brutal piece of metal! We tried to be heavy on the other albums but I think we achieved it on this one.

Are you still involved with Eternity Black and how would an Eternity Black/Helstar tour sound?
LB: No, EB is basically no more. Rob and I really don’t have any interest in doing again. I think Helstar pretty much fulfills our artistic needs at this point in our careers.

Any chance of Helstar doing a tour in the States in this year?
LB: It’s kind of hard for us to do a 5 or 6 week tour but look for us to do more shows than we’ve done in the past around the States. We’re going to be doing more fly in shows around the States.

How did the European Chaos 2010 tour go and what were some of the highlights?
LB: It went well. We went over probably during the worst snow that Europe has seen in a long time but it didn’t deter people from coming out to see us. We had great turn outs and we had a lot of fun. But next time we’re gonna go over in the summer. I think the highlight for us was doing the Eindhoven Metal Meeting, very nice crowd.

There have been some issues with Jerry Abarca’s (Helstar’s long time bass player) health. How has he been lately and will be able to participate with Helstar again?
LB: Jerry’s health is better but still not where he needs to be. I don’t want to get into too much because I have to respect his privacy but we hope he’ll be able to get back to normal soon. He did tell us that for now he really won’t be able to fly with us. So we may do some shows without him but that will not mean that he’ll no longer be a member of the band. We’ll just have to be prepared to do a few shows without him if need be.

Many fans consider Nosferatu your band’s crowning achievement. What do you think of that album in retrospective and would you ever want to perform it in its entirety one day?
LB: I love that album. It’s a great piece of work. I’m very proud if it obviously. We were at a very high level of musicianship at that period. Would we ever do it in its entirety? Doubtful. At this point we’re lucky to play two songs off of that album. We have a lot of material to choose from and people want to hear songs from different albums. We’re at the point where we’re only doing one song off of the first 4 albums and concentrating more on the last two albums more.

What are your impressions of the Multiples of Black album when you look back on that period of Helstar’s career?
LB: I didn’t play or write anything for that album and I’ve probably only heard it two or three times. It’s a good album apart from the production but I don’t know if it really has that Helstar feel or attitude. We don’t do anything off of that album but I’m open to if James really wanted to do something from that album.

What made you decide to leave Helstar back in the day?
LB: Man, how much tape do you have left for this interview? It was a lot of things. But to be honest with you, the industry destroyed my love for music. It was probably the lowest point in my life musically, spiritually, mentally. I was very depressed and I just couldn’t see myself doing it anymore. I didn’t just leave the band, I left the art. I didn’t play guitar for a few years. But it’s something that you can only deny for a short time I think. In the end it’s in me. It’s a part of my being and there’s no denying it’s what I am. After my grandfather died I just felt like I need to get back into it. I needed that release again, you know. I had something to say but I had to say it with my music. All that anger and frustration had to come out some way.

Is there any place in the world you haven’t played at that you’d like to go to?
LB: Japan! I’d love for Helstar to play Japan. I guess it goes back to those old Deep Purple live albums. The culture and the fans there, I just think it would be a bad-ass place to play.

These days, what is your guitar of choice and why?
LB: I play Jacksons and not just ‘cause I’m endorsed by them. I’d still be playing them regardless. I play the RR24 models. It’s like they made that guitar for me. One pickup, one volume knob, it’s perfect for me. The feel of the neck and the sound just can’t be matched in my opinion. Jackson just makes great guitars, period.

What advice would you give a young musician looking to be in a metal band?
LB: Well, don’t give up for one. But don’t go into it without a backup plan. It’s a brutal, cutthroat business. Go to school. You can do school and do music. I wish I would have done it that way. It’s a young man’s game but you don’t want to become an old man and not have anything to make a living with after it’s all said and done.

What made you decide to cover Heavy Metal Thunder by Saxon and do you know if they’ve heard your version of it?
LB: I don’t know if Biff has heard it. I hope he has. That would be really cool. We usually do songs that we did as kids in the garage. That was one of them. That song just has so much energy.

Do you know of the Scorpions have heard your version of Animal Magnetism?
LB: I don’t know that they have. That song I’ve always loved. I thought it was just so heavy. We slowed it down and added a little bit of ourselves in our version. I think it came out really heavy. Someone told me our version creepy sounding. I’m going to take that as a compliment.

Do you have any messages for Helstar fans here in the Los Angeles area?
LB: Guys, I hope we will see you soon. Keep spreading the chaos! Thank you Ken, it was a fun interview man.

Helstar 2011 is James Rivera – voice, Larry Barragan – guitars, Rob Trevino – guitars, Jerry Abarca – bass, Mikey Lewis – drums.

(Interview by Kenneth Morton)

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