'Remnants Of War' - James Rivera speak out.
"One of the greatest Power Metal bands of all time 'Helstar', along side Omen have influenced so many Power Metal bands from around the world. Texas born Power Metal act formed back in 82 when original line-up featuring James Rivera (vocals), Larry Barragan (guitar), Tom Rogers (guitar), Hector Pavon (drums) and Paul Medina (bass). The band released their debut album for Combat Records (A well established Metal label) back in the day when they released 'Burning Star' with the average age of the band been 19 years old. The bands debut album saw some success with the likes of Metal Forces, Kerrang taking hold of this impressive debut album and giving it a far if not excellent review. The band went onto record 'Remnants Of War', their 2nd awesome album which really saw the band making a massive improvement, this was the 1st time I had heard this band and I was impressed so much I had to have this album. Now the band were really making waves in the metal scene on a world-wide basis and by the time the band released their 3rd album 'A Distant Thunder' the band have the opportunity to play with some pretty big names as support to the likes of Megadeth, Anthrax, Fates Warning, Watchtower, The Scorpions, to name a few. Better things were still to come when the band released their finest release to date, thus been 'Nosferatu', based on Dracula, this album for me is fucking amazing. After this release the band broke up sadly, but shortly returned with their next offering 'Multiples In Black', which a pretty poor release sadly, but still the band tried to a make come back. It wasn't till 2007 when the band got back together after several mini tours in between to put this current release titled 'Sins Of The Past#, which was released on AFM Records. This awesome album is re-recorded old songs reworked with today's technology which sounds awesome. The album also features 2 new songs for what is yet to come in the near future. yes folks these songs are back on top form and sound like the 80's.
I managed to chat with James Rivera about the whole idea of getting back together and what the future holds for 1 of the finest Power Metal acts of all time. Here is what James had to say as I asked him the following and many more questions."
Hi James, thank's for your call, just want to say it's a pleasure speaking to you, Helstar are 1 of my all time favourite bands, So I'd like to start by asking you the following question. Lets start by asking you about your name back in the early years of the band, wasn't you called Bill, why did you change your name?
"Well I still use the name Bill, it's become my nick name now haha!! When we recorded the 'Burning Star' album the producer thought it was funny to call me Bill, so it kind of stayed with me for many years. I thought it was a cool name and it sound ok for s stage name. Over the years my family were kind of disappointed with me having that name and people would say to them 'We don't see no James Rivera on the record', we only see Bill. So when we did albums in the future people would say to me how did the band find you when Bill sounded just like you on the debut album? I said it was me haha!!"
Moving on, who are your influences as a singer, who inspired you in your up bringing? What about the bands that influenced you as well?
"Well for me it was, Claus from The Scorpions, Dio, Dickinson, Halford, Phil Mogg, people like that. As fir bands, there pretty much the same to be honest.
I understand what you are playing in a tribute band which plays Black Sabbath and Judas Priest covers in the same set, please tell me a little bit about that.
"Yeah I play in a tribute band called 'Sabbath Judas Sabbath'. I don't do half a set of Priest then Sabbath, I mix the songs up 'hence the name'. I usually start with 3 Judas Priest songs 1st, then 3 Sabbath songs, and so on... I tried to do show with half and half but it didn't work too well, because the early Sabbath stuff doesn't have the impact and energy that the early Priest stuff has, there's more energy in Priest material. When it comes to Sabbath we usually do the Ozzy and Dio era."
Lets talk about the debut Helstar album 'Burning Star', was that a success for the band which put you on the Heavy Metal map?
"Well it did pretty good, we got a lot of attention back then for that album. The odd thing is that the 'Burning Star' demo just led to record the album and it received the most attention in England believe it or not, before anywhere else!!! We didn't understand in such a short time span that we thought that England were no longer interested in bands like us. I've been all over the world, but never to the UK and I hear the scene is really picking up right now. The hype we got from the demo was awesome and we ended up been on the album called 'Hell Comes To Your House', which was released on Music For Nations, and featured Exciter, Metallica, Manowar, Anthrax and many more cool bands. Our demo became #1 in the Metal Forces demo chart, they just loved us!! I have just found out that we will be playing 1 show in the UK in late 2008 (ED: Fuck it I'm there bro!!). Hell yeah Jase, get our ass to the show!!"
Your next album 'Remnants Of War' was your 2nd release for Combat Records, that was a great album James, tell me more about that album please. What songs on that record stood out for you?
"That was a great album, we almost sounded like a completely different band on that record, with the music and vocals. We really did advance a lot from the debut album to that release. As for the songs, I really liked 'Suicidal', 'Angel Of Death', which is still my favourite song. I also like the song 'Destroyer' a lot because of all the time changes."
The next album to follow was your 1st album for new label Metal Blade/ Roadracer, titled 'Distant Thunder', tell me about that release. Why The Scorpions cover 'He's A Woman, She's A Man'.
"When we did the 'Remnants Of War' record we were picked up by some management who handled Talis, and they were based in New York and 1 of the main guys became our tour manager when we went on tour with Anthrax, Megadeth for that album and he got a job at Metal Blade and when he moved to L.A. he told us we had 2 choices. One was that he could still manage us, or 2, he would get us signed to Metal Blade when we were out of a deal. He told us that we would much prefer to have us signed to Metal Blade than be our manager. So we ended up signing to Metal Blade, thanx to Mike Faley and he still works for Metal Blade now. That is one of my favourite albums, because of my performance, but staying that 'Nosferatu' is my all time favourite album. (ED: I totally agree!!) With The Scorpions cover, we are all influenced by the bands music. We where living in L.A. at that time and we were totally blown away by the Glam Rock bullshit and we just got tired of it so we recorded that song as a joke in a way."
Did that album receive good reviews? I remember Metal Forces giving it an awesome review.
"Yeah it got some great
reviews what I remember of that album."
Moving on, the next album and to me is the bands best release to date, a cult classic titled 'Nosferatu', tell me about that album. It must of been hard basing the album on Dracula, and with all the intros and outros on the album. How long did that album take to record and get the ideas together?
"That album took the longest to record, because of the technicality, the time changes, intros etc.... We really took our time with that record and I think it paid off. We had to do a lot of reading about Dracula to get a better picture into writing the album based on him. We did a lot of research for that album. I think we watched every film based on him to help me write this perfect album. I love the Christopher Lee films, he is the best!!"
After that release, the band broke up, why?? That album surely most of been the bands most successful release to date and to throw it all away must of been madness!! Explain why you broke up at that point?
"At that time especially in America, the winds were blowing in a different way, meaning the times were changing. Grunge kind of killed the scene off for a long time so bands like us suffered quiet a lot back then. So it got to a point were the albums said you either change our we have to let you go!!! So in 89 that album came out & in 1990 the whole Grunge scene came out. (ED: That fuck its all dead and gone now haha!!) Haha Jason, I agree, we can all sleep in peace!!"
Later on you came back with the album titled 'Multiples In Black', which was released on Massacre Records and co-produced by Dave Ellefson former Megadeth. I have to say it wasn't the most strongest release, with so many people producing it and mixing it kind of lost it sound. Explain what happened with that album?
"Yeah I agree, it wasn't the best release. Dave tried to do the best thing by us back then and we appreciate what he did for us back then and still do. I think we was trying to make us sound interesting for a newer label in the 90's and it didn't work. We pretty much lost most of the technicality that we use to have. The songs suffered and it could of been anybody if people didn't know I was the singer. It didn't sell well at all to be honest. So we broke up again and I moved to San Diego."
Yeah I remember you sending me a demo tape of a band you joined in San Diego called 'Chaotic Order'. That was a pretty cool demo, shame you never did the album with them. What happened there?
"That was kind of different
for me back then from the Helstar stuff. It was a mixture of Pantera,
Queensryche kind of thing. The band didn't do anything after that release and
became nothing. After I left that band I hooked up with the 'Destiny
End's' guys, and we recorded 2 album for yet again Metal Blade. They were based
in L.A., so I stayed there for a while and then I ended moving back to Texas
because that was my roots and the cost of living was a lot cheaper."
Tell me about the Destiny's End albums, they were very much like Helstar, the albums that you could of recorded if the band stayed together, do you agree? Playing Wacken in 1999 must of been a blast for you as well!!
"Yeah I do agree Jason, they were very much like Helstar's music, that is why I liked their stuff they recorded and with my voice on the albums made it even better haha!! After the 2 albums we had a mutual thing and we broke up and I think they expected much more success that Helstar did and the wanted it to happen a lot quicker. I told them that in the short space of 2 albums they had done quiet a bit and you should be blessed with the whole situation. To them the whole music industry was just frustrating and they thought we should be as big as Iron Maiden or Iced Earth after the debut album. That wasn't going to happen. I'm still good friends with Brian and Dan from the band. Yeah playing Wacken was a blast, we had a lot of fun and it was a great year for some awesome bands that played that year."
After Destiny's End broke up you moved to Florida, what was happening there?
"I really didn't do anything musically when I moved there, I got a job and I fancied a change. After a sort time living there I pretty much got into the music scene there and did some projects with a few people out there. I did the stuff with Jack Owen, & Paul from Cannibal Corpse, and Richard from Nasty Savage and we did an Iron Maiden tribute band down there which was a lot of fun. I also did another band with Jack and Paul, which was 70's rock and we were called 'Pathoman'. So I met a lot of cool people down there. I lived here for 2 years."
How did you hook up with Jack Frost and become the front man for Seven (Bitches) Witches haha!!
"Haha, cool name bro!!, The whole idea came about when I was living in Florida (Tampa). We had a chat & when I moved back to Texas I was pretty much in the band. I recorded 2 albums with Seven Witches and they were cool albums, we had a lot of fun."
Why did you leave the band? Are you still friends?
"Well I think we all wanted something different, and what we had delivered with the band for 2 albums was at its peak for me and I knew if I did another record with the band it wouldn't of been my best work. So I thought it was best to move on whilst I recorded the best albums I could deliver for the band. So I left on a high note, and I also feel that Jack was doing too many projects that his concentration for Seven Witches was going to wonder. So by the time he had finished his projects he could of been all used up. So for me I am sure I left at the peak of the bands career. Yeah I'm still good friends with Jack, always will be."
I heard you got to singer for Flotsam & Jetsam, how did that come about? Shame you never recorded any albums for them.
"It was a very exciting time period for me, been asked to do the tour for them and I wasn't asked to do the next album, but I knew that anyway. I think they didn't have a record deal, but the wanted to tour so I agree to help them out. We had a blast!! That happened just before I moved to Tampa."
Moving on, after the Witches and Flotsam thing you ended up joining 'Vicious Rumors', how did you hook up with Geoff and the boys? Also why did you leave the band?
"Well in the beginning everything was going great, relaxed etc... and towards the end of the time with the band I started to realize what sort of a people I was dealing with. I didn't agree with their attitudes and the way of thinking. After they lost the great Carl Albert (R.I.P.), the band just didn't seem to be the same anymore. Geoff wanted me to sing the song 'Six Step Sisters', which I hated doing and there was 1 line in the song I refused to sing, but he made me do it in the set live. I had my own opinion and you should respect one another's opinions and as time went on it got worse. Till they got me in the band, they weren't doing anything, they couldn't even get a deal in Japan till I came into the band, so that must tell you something. I felt the band because, Geoff started to get an attitude towards other people, especially Agent Steel, we could kick them off stage early, especially in Athens (Greece) after 20 minutes because they went on stage a little late and this was a co-headlining tour. Vicious Rumors are not even on the same level as Nevermore in fan bases and Vicious Rumors were lucking to be playing in front of 100 people!! We ended up having a fight on the tour bus which got out of hand, I got hit with a bottle on the head by Geoff, so I hit him back and left the band. That album I recorded with the band was a great release and that could of been the new beginning for the band, a new era, but thanks to Geoff he throw it all away!!"
Moving on, the new Helstar album, which features all old material, re-recorded with today's technology , re-vamped, why did you decide to redo those songs and tell me about the 2 new songs on that album. They sound awesome, back to the old school bro!! Why do this album as a comeback album and not a whole new album with new songs?
"Well we wanted to be save with the new material. Secondly, a lot of the songs lacked production back in the day & now there's a whole new ball game of new technology in today's society. So we thought what would the old songs sound like with today's technology? We realized how heavy as shit they would sound with today's equipment. We knew we had to re-record them. I also think with the younger generation that they get a heavy as hell album to show just how heavy we can be and the songs as well. They can relate them to the new Nevermore etc... The 2 new songs are samples to show just how heavy we can be and what the future holds for the band, were back and bader then ever bro!!! We have progressed and we can't go back to 86, 89 and our tasty' and interested have broadened since we recorded those albums back in the day. People so far that have heard the 2 new songs are blown away by them, so 2008 + s going be a great time for us. The 2 new songs 'Tormentor' and 'Carcass Of The Dead' are new songs and there not too far from where we use to be back in the day."
So why the title for the new album 'Sins Of The Past', were there any other titles for this album? Also was it hard to pick the best songs of previous songs for this album to re-record them?
"Well it was a little hard, we had to pick the hits and we had to pick songs like 'The King Is Dead', 'Baptized In Blood', but we also wanted to pick songs like 'Face The Wicked One', which is has never been re-done. It was a song that didn't really fit back then, but fits more so now, so we put that song on the record. We wanted to give that song some justice it never had back then. We also picked a lot of songs from the 'Burning...' and then 'Remnants...' albums because those were the albums that suffered the most with the production. We should of picked more songs from the 'Burning Star' album, but it is the 'Remnants Of War' line-up that has recorded this new album 'Sins Of The Past'. The title was the only title we had for this album, it was Larry that came up wit the title of the album."
Tell me about the cover, it's very basic, didn't you have any covers in mind?
"Well for one thing, the logo might be the only thing on the cover, but the logo has been re-worked and we are proud of the new logo and we have had a lot of great response for that logo. I think it looks more aggressive!! The new logo has horns on it and the old one has gone forever!! As we were making a big comeback, we basically wanted the name to stick out for once and we wanted the name to shine!!"
So when will the next album see the light of day?
"Well we are writing songs for the album now and we should have it out in August 2008, we will record it in May and the 2 new songs will be on the new forthcoming album. We have 7 songs already wrote for the new album, & the title of the record which is also a song is going to be called 'The King Of Hell', this will be the opening song for the record."
Why the title 'The King Of Hell' for the new album?
"It was one song that we came up with and it became the whole idea of the master of evil, princes of darkness, the father of lairs. We are really starting to get into the whole Lucifer idea and his whole life before he became a cost down."
How well is the Sins Of The Past' selling for the band?
"Well AFM Rcords, say there more than happy with the sales and the band. The label printed so many copies and they had to re-stock because the sales have been awesome!!"
"You're about to play the 'Keep It True' festival in April with Omen, Cage, Jag Panzer so many other cool acts tell me more about how you became to play this festival?
"Well Jason, I'm surprised you're not going? (ED: I tried to get passes but they have none left - shit!!). We're playing the 'Play It Loud' festival in Italy and then we are doing the Rock Hard in May and maybe Wacken."
Right James, thanx for doing this interview, you guys fucking rule, love you're music. Do you have anything to say before we finish the interview? Good luck my friend and I hope we catch up somewhere in 2008 for a beer or 2 haha!! Helstar & Omen fucking rule the Power Metal scene!!
"Yeah, thank you for taking your time out and doing the interview Jason, I hope we meet again soon, it's been a while bro!! To our fans, thanx for your support over the years, check out the new album and the forthcoming release later in 2008. Without you're support we'd be nothing, thank you!!!"
Thanx to AFM & MIke Exley for setting this interview up, cheers.
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