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.:Interviews:.

16/11/2010 – Interview with HELSTAR

The US Metal band HELSTAR (official website) has been around since the 1980s, yet somehow never became as famous as e.g. TESTAMENT, KAMELOT, DREAM THEATER, MACHINE HEAD, FORBIDDEN, and many other American Metal bands. Their Power/Thrash Metal has been of high quality from one release to another. A split occured, but several years ago the band reunited and many classic songs were re-recorded for the release "Sins Of The Past", to which two new songs were added. These two would also be on the new studio album, "The King Of Hell" (2008). These releases were my first encounter with this band and its music, but it sure was a very nice encounter. Their gig at Alcatraz Metal Festival made the experience complete. Anno 2010 a new album is out under the title "Glory Of Chaos", on which HELSTAR sounds more aggressive and vicious than before. You can check out the review of this new release at this location.

While not done previously, I did ask guitarist Larry Barragan some questions this time about the new album, and how it relates to its predecessor. Furthermore, Metal Blade Records released a nice package earlier this year, so that too was part of the questioning. If you haven't done so, get "Glory Of Chaos", for a highlight it surely is!

Helstar logo

"Glory Of Chaos" is finally out. You guys seem very excited about it. How different does it feel compared to the release of "The King Of Hell"? Or are you excited each time you put out an album? :-)

LB: I'm always excited. You know that feeling when you can hold all that hard work in you hands and look at the cover and booklet. It's very, very rewarding. For me it's always followed by the feeling of, "ok , what are we gonna do next time?". It's a whole bunch of emotions really.

Once "The King Of Hell" was out, you obviously played many gigs in support of that release. How was this overall experience and did it influence the songwriting for "Glory Of Chaos"?

LB: I don't know if it really influenced us in any way musically. I think lyrically a couple of things happened during the shows that made me think of things. Like the lyrics for "Bone Crusher" are about the mosh pits during our shows. I kind of stored that away and reflected on it and was able to come up with those lyrics. Also the title of the album was conceived during a show. I remember looking out at the crowed and they were going nuts and I thought to myself, "This is the glory of chaos" and the title stayed with me.

Helstar bandYou also played at Alcatraz Metal Festival, which was great! You (the band) played one hell of a show. It was my first HELSTAR gig, but having had the chance to review "Sins Of The Past" and "The King Of Hell" sure made me a fan and the gig made it complete.

LB: Thanks man, yeah that was a great show. We were a bit jet lagged but, you know, once you hit the stage all that shit goes out the window. We actually made a lot of fans after that show. We had some people come up during the meet and greet saying they had never heard of us, but they were going to go out and buy our music, which is very cool.

"The King Of Hell" was recorded and mixed at Origin Sound, while Achim Köhler mastered it in Germany. Can the same be said about "Glory Of Chaos"?

LB: Yeah, it was the exact same game plan. We tried a few different things as far as recording goes, but for the most part all of the same people were involved for this album as well.

"Glory Of Chaos" sounds more powerful and vicious than "The King Of Hell". Is this because of the lyrical themes or due to other influences?

LB: I think we were just getting everybody primed up with "King of Hell". It was a stepping stone so to speak. When we started writing for this album we knew how we wanted to approach it. Having Mikey as our new drummer added a lot to our sound as well because he's a true Thrash drummer and we sound much more aggressive because of him and the beats he wrote for the songs. The lyrics, well, for me that's the easy part. We write those after the music always.

Helstar - Glory Of Chaos coverSpeaking of cover art: what's the idea behind the horned skull/demon? (it's the same as on the "Rising From The Grave" release, though)

LB: Yeah, that kind of becoming our little mascot. I don't think we'll dress him up different like IRON MAIDEN's Eddie, but I suspect we'll use him from here on out.

Who was given the task this time? (since Janne Pitkänen and Hiko Kramer worked on the "The King Of Hell" cover)

LB: It was Janne again. We had a couple of artists submit ideas, but Janne totally nailed what we were looking for. It's an amazing album cover. We love it.

Also the different symbols, they're not all religious ones, are they? If so, why focus on that aspect when not all songs on the album deal with this? Because religion in general is a cause for chaos? Or better, it's perhaps not the religions themselves, but the humans that use their religion in a wrong way, not adapting it to 2010, rather staying put in the middle ages, for example.

LB: The symbols are those of the Illuminati. Basically, saying hey this is an organization that controls the chaos. But it's all up to interpretation. It's art just like the music. Pull away from it what you like. Everyone should see and hear this in their own way.

About the songs themselves: a) as the Vatican is in deep trouble with all the abuses of children coming out, this was an excellent time for "Angels Fall To Hell", no? Even if this abuse has been going on for decades, if not longer.

LB: Yeah, I wrote those lyrics because I wanted to say something. That situation angers me and like most artists when something makes me feel a certain way I put pen to paper. It just so happens that yes, the timing was good on this particular subject. I just think that sometimes someone needs to be a voice for the voiceless.

b) "Pandemonium", about the media blowing up the negativity in the world. I have to say I'm glad you made a song about it. I don't follow CNN or similar, but we've got the same problem here. Albeit a little different. TV news is mostly about bombings here, floodings there, accidents, people starving in Africa, Haiti, ... of course it's something to be happy about and people must be helped, but in the end it feels like you want to throw out your tv and focus on the positive things in life. And now the question :-) : if you could be chief editor for the news (newspapers, television, ...), what would you do to turn the situation around?

LB: Well, first of all I don't pretend to know more than any of the journalists on any of these major news networks. Those guys are all college educated and are much more studied than me. But to me, from a layman's stand point, I just want to be told the truth. I don't need anything sensationalized. I don't want half the truth. I want both sides of the story. I don't want, "These guys blew up this building and they promise more, and it looks like WWIII and it's the end of the world" and so on. I want to know why they blew it up. I want an interview with these guys. They condemn and they spread fear and oh, by the way, buy this new shampoo, it will keep your hair looking great during the bombings. And you can just tell that it's controlled. It's bought. You only get what they are allowed to give by the faction that's controlling the media. Who that is? Your guess is as good as mine.

c) "Summer Of Hate", about Charles Manson. I had never heard of him until your song. Whose idea was it to write a song about it?

LB: Seriously, you've never heard of Charles Manson? He's notorius! He's an icon to some people. I happened to be watching a show about him on the History Channel and I just thought it was something I wanted to write about because I remember when all that shit was going down as boy. It was pretty scary stuff because it was real. There is a movie called "Helter Skelter", it's a little sensationalized but it's pretty good. You should watch it.

d) In "Trinity Of Heresy" there's a sudden acoustic break with James singing in a soft way. I found it out of place, compared to the heavy music that preceded. What's the idea behind it?

LB: That particular part of the song we wanted to break down at that point because it was a part in the story that we wanted a feeling of sorrow, of lament. The song is basically about the Devil and how powerful he is but at that point of the song he's talking to God and basically saying, "hey, I was you right hand man, and you cast me down because I wanted what should have been mine". And you know, he's bummed. I mean, how would you feel? You've given everything to one person and then they turn around and leave with someone else. You would be angry for sure but at some point sorrow would creep in. We could have made the song all go, go, go, but I think those lyrics would have sounded silly over something fast and heavy. Sometimes you have to set the mood for the lyrics and that is one of those instances. I think if you listen to it in that context, that is of the lyrics, then it makes perfect sense.

e) "Zero One" is, as James said in the video interview (track-by-track), an introduction to the follow-up of "Glory Of Chaos". Does this mean there's already material (incl. rough ideas) ready for this still-to-be-made album?

LB: There are ideas, but nothing concrete. We'll just have to play it by ear and see how this one does first.

Helstar bandJames outdid himself on this album, in my opinion. Well, each of you did a terrific job. A great voice, delivering cleans, screams and power. Compared to previous releases, did he practice more or has his throat developed over the years into such a state? ;-)

LB: No, that's all natural. He's just gotten better at understanding what he can do with his voice. He has so much experience and so many characters to his voice. He was able to use many of the characters this time around.

You've got a new drummer: Russel DeLeon was replaced by Michael Lewis. How come? And how did Mike come into the picture?

LB: Russel just had some things that were more of a priority to him. There were somethings that happened businesswise that I'd rather not get into, but we just felt it was best to move on without him. We love Russ and we wish him the best. Mikey, we've known for a very long time. He came in with 3 days to rehearse when we did the Headbanger's Open Air. When the time came we knew he was the drummer we needed to have in this band.

Metal Blade recently released "Rising From The Grave", which contains the albums "A Distant Thunder" and "Nosferatu" and a bonus DVD, "Twas The Night Of A Hellish Xmas". Was this Metal Blade's idea or did you have something to say in this?

LB: This was all Metal Blade's doing. They asked us to do the liner notes but that's about it. It's not a bad thing. I mean, it's putting product out there for us so we're please they decided to to do it.

You'll be doing a small European tour in December. Are there plans for more dates (in Europe) or will most gigs be played in the States?

LB: There will be some US dates, but I think the plan is to go back to Europe next summer and do some of the festivals.

That's it from me. Thanks for taking the time to do this interview. Any final words are yours to add. In the meantime, all the best to you and the band and fingers crossed for a gig on Belgian soil. ;-)

LB: Oh, we'd love to play in Belgium again. Thanks, for the interview, Tim. To all of our Belgian fans, keep spreading the "Chaos" and we'll see you soon. Cheers!



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