Houston metal heroes Helstar's history dates back to the early '80s, but don’t think for a second they’re ready to write the concluding chapter. Far from it. With their latest release, Vampiro, Helstar not only promise a sequel to some of their best music but a secret surprise show this weekend in Houston.
Having toured Europe numerous times, Helstar have become favorites of many fans, and one in particular was the inspiration for this weekend’s performance.
“We have a particular fan who is deeply involved in the music scene in Germany," singer James Rivera says. "He helps organize these huge metal festivals, you know. He’s here in Texas and missed both of our Austin and Dallas gigs by two days. So we decided to do something special.”
Special indeed. Imagine your favorite band building a show around you — as a surprise. Billed under Sabbath Judas Sabbath, Rivera’s tribute to Black Sabbath and Judas Priest (which happens to include Helstar's entire lineup), Rivera says he plans on turning the show from covers to Helstar originals midway through the set.
All for the love of one fan.
Just back from the road supporting Vampiro, Rivera says the response to the group's long-awaited followup to 2014's This Wicked Nest has been more than they expected. “The reviews have been incredible. At the shows we’re seeing lots of old fans and plenty of new ones, too.” Pretty incredible for a band whose most notable record, Nosferatu, was written in 1986.
“I see kids at our shows in Cradle of Filth shirts," Rivera says. "They’re like, ‘Whoa, man, you guys are incredible. I’ve never heard of you.’ [Laughs] Of course not, you’re 15, kid.” Rivera laughs at the notion that metal is indeed cyclical, and while Helstar is experiencing a return to its roots, musically, it’s also progressing and keeping up with metal’s evolution.
Of course, there are naysayers. And while Rivera and the band have always appreciated the fans who have stayed the course through the years, there will always be haters who try to stifle any expansion of the band's sound. While purists play armchair quarterback to any new release, Rivera scoffs at any so-called follower who doesn’t appreciate Helstar’s growth.
“These guys…you know? [Laughs] I mean, if you want to pay my car note and my rent and buy my kitty litter, then hey, fine. I’ll play Burning Star for the next 20 years, but we all have bills, man.” While Rivera laughs about the type of fan who demands only one style of music, he concedes it’s unrealistic for any artist to remain stagnant.
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And finding a paycheck for any musician hasn’t been easy for the past 16 years. Rivera elaborates on the changes in the music industry and how they prompted him to search for other avenues of income. After metal was nearly drowned out under the alternative wave of the '90s, Rivera found a niche entertainment corner that he could easily dominate without succumbing to a dreaded day-job regimen. He began performing in tribute bands and was met with great success. While that paid the bills, he longed for Helstar.
“It was barely breathing,” he jokes. Yet in 2006, when metal had solidly returned to the charts and radio, Helstar re-formed with the (mostly) original lineup. Met with fan and label support, Helstar once again thrived and began playing shows. Now a part of the EMP Label Group, founded by Megadeth bassist Dave Ellefson, Helstar have returned to touring glory, to the delight of fans.
And, as per usual, Helstar shows are theatrical as well as musical. Drawing inspiration from classic horror, the power metal band wants to make sure that a Helstar show is performance art. “[We’re] not just a bunch of guys in black playing metal,” Rivera assures us.
Catch Helstar as Sabbath Judas Sabbath (or the other way around) Saturday, August 20 at Concert Pub North, 2470 Cypress Creek Parkway. Doors open at 9 p.m.