History & BiographyHelstar was a Texas-based US metal band formed by former tribute band members Barragan and Pavon. The band had a reasonable fan-base in the '80s, but never managed to quite make it.
Helstar was formed in 1982 and released a six-track demo in 1983. The demo attracted the attention of East Coast's Combat Records and the band hired Carl Canedy of label-mates The Rods to produce the well-received Burning Star. The band and Combat parted ways after Remnants Of War and the band moved to California in 1987. This period was difficult for the band with Larry Baragan leaving and returning to the band. The move to California resulted in a deal with Metal Blade, but Rivera would take the band back to Texas finding the state too expensive. The band had also changed managements at this time, partnering with Mike Faley of Starstruck Management later of Metal Blade. The singer had incidentally changed names following the debut to ostensibly escape the wrath of an ex-wife who was looking for monetary support. This was denounced as a rumour later with Rivera maintaining that it was a fluke decision made in conjunction with friends at Combat Records. Rivera would also explain elsewhere that his middle name is Lionell and 'Bill' is simply a Texan nickname! Nosferatu featured a slightly reworked Helstar with more technical music. It did not sell well. The band changed its moniker to Vigilante after Nosferatu, but would revert to Helstar soon enough.
Helstar would drift in and out of the scene's consciousness from then on and would only resurface in headlines upon Rivera's entry into another metal project.
Twas The Night Of A Hellish Xmas was a live album recorded in 1989. Helstar had reunited several times. A one-off Helstar show was arranged for 2000’s Bang Your Head festival in Germany. Featuring vocalist James Rivera and members of various incarnations of the band, the show was recorded for a live release.
In the autumn of 2004, Distant Thunder performed as Helstar at Germany's Keep It True Festival. Original bassist Jerry Abarca made himself available for touring should Distant Thunder bassist Mike Lepond be busy whilst recording with Symphony X.
Helstar issued a DVD called Burning Alive in early 2006 through Perris Records. The band was signed to Perris only for the video. The band then decided to reunite with the Remnants Of War album line-up. The band signed with AFM Records. The band’s first release for the label was announced as a rerecording of some of the group’s better-known songs. The albums was called Sins Of The Past. Helstar album The King Of Hell album was out in September through AFM Records. The band was touring alongside Samael, Dismember, Monstrosity and others in the autumn. Guitarist Mark Simpson of Flotsam And Jetsam and Beautiful Creatures and James Rivera were in Las Vegas’ Denim And Leather as of 2009. The band played metal cover versions. In early 2010, Helstar parted ways with drummer Russell DeLeon and replaced him with Mikey Lewis of Distant Thunder. The new man had already been playing with the band since the summer. Rivera also joined Malice in 2011. To support Glory Of Chaos Helstar was playing six US shows in June of 2011. Helstar would headline the Saturday night of the Warriors Of Metal Fest V Open Air on June 30th, 2012 at the Frontier Ranch in Pataskala, Ohio. On Saturday night, June 30th, Helstar would return to performing in Ohio after 26 years. Last time Helstar performed in Ohio was after the release of the Remnants Of War album in 1986! Helstar would release 30 Years Of Hel, a DVD featuring footage of the band's March 24, 2012 30-year-anniversary hometown show at Warehouse in Houston, on August 31st through AFM Records. Helstar would release a new album, This Wicked Nest, on April 25th, 2014 through AFM Records. Bassist Jerry Abarca was out due to health reasons and temporarily replaced for the band's shows by Mike LePond of Symphony X.
EMP Label Group, the label founded by Megadeth’s David Ellefson, announced the formation of EMP Underground imprint and signed Helstar among other bands. A debut single, called Black Cathedral, was out through the label on April 9th from an upcoming LP Vampiro, a continuation of the 1989 Metal Blade release Nosferatu. Helstar would tour the USA in November and December of 2016 with Flotsam And Jetsam and Hatchet. The band was to play at Metal Assault VII Festival, which would take place on February 18th 2017 at the Posthalle in Würzbug, Germany. The act signed with Massacre Records in 2020. The band was working on new songs and a new album was due later that year. The group would release a new album, entitled Clad In Black, through Massacre Records on 26.02.2021. Helstar was playing two concerts in Europe in the summer of 2023 including Eindhoven Dynamo on the Black Cathedral tour 2023.
HELSTAR - SINS OF THE PAST - AFM
Helstar is a band that for whatever reason never found its way into my music collection. The Texas power metal band never suffered from a lack of visibility or a dedicated fan base, but somehow the group’s many albums and this writer never crossed paths or reviewer swords. That is not to say that James Rivera’s voice was not heard here and there multiple times over the last few years. The singer has kept himself busy by fronting every US metal band possible. He has recently been with Flotsam And Jetsam, Killing Machine, Vicious Rumors and several more acts. Sins Of The Past is the product of reformation of the group’s 1986 line-up of Remnants Of War, but is mostly a compilation of rerecorded material of the group’s earlier works. “Oh no, another washed up band” will be the reaction in readerland of course and rightly so. Sure, it is true that everyone from Megadeth and Iron Maiden to Testament and Dimmu Borgir has been rerecording older material recently, but Sins Of The Past is just a tad different. Firstly. The album features two songs, Tormentor and Caress Of The Dead, which are new. These songs confirm that the line-up still has the goods and is in almost prime shape. Secondly, the tracks not only enjoy a good production and sound but also sound genuine. The band has not tried to sell out to x-core or whatever. Helstar is not about to repeat its own and many others’ past mistake and ”˜modernize’ or sell out. As you would expect, my unfamiliarity with the band’s original version likely helps with that little matter of enjoying these songs. Otherwise, rercordings rarely, if ever, match the power of the originals.
Helstar is still a viable band with good to great songs, a singer who can still hit the high notes (new song Caress Of The Dead sounds as if Rob Halford is on vocals), be heavy (Evil Reign is like Testament’s Legacy, but just a tad lighter) and excite metal guitar fans as heard on the solos on The King Is Dead. This might be the one reformation that will work. - Anna Tergel