Meet The Vampiro... James Rivera Speaks Out.
Cult classic metal act 'Helstar' are certainly no strangers to the world of Heavy Metal, having been around since the early 80's and having released their debut album 'Burning Star' through Music For Nations here in the UK back in 84 which was also released on Combat in the U.S. This was the stepping stone for the band that soon became an iconic masterpiece especially when the band released their 2nd album 'Remnants of War' in 86, in which this album shaped the bands style and music to what they have become now.
Having released 'Distant Thunder' & 'Nosferatu' their Metal Blade classic's saw them been one of the top bands of the 80's underground scene. More albums would be recorded in total 11 studio albums, The James Rivera Legacy and live album. Now the band are ready to record and in the very near future release their next masterpiece through Massacre Records. I managed to recently talk with James about the new single, future EP and album as well has his new project soon to be released also in the future. Here is what he had to say.
It's always great to speak to you and see you when we do, so 1st of all I'd like to ask you how the lock down has effected you?
"Yeah it's good to hear from you Jason, and to answer you're question we are trying to to get with our life's the best we can. I am beyond the numbness of not been able to do any shows and we have been busy recording and writing new songs. I am working on a new project that I am looking forward to and we have had an offer to put the record out. Some of the songs I have played to friends have just been blown away the the strength of the songs.
It's basically a tribute act with a twist that nobody else has ever done, and doing cover can also take you to new horizons but it's the way the whole thing has been constructed. It has 3 members of Helstar, and 2 guys from a band here called 'Blue Skin Roll' and a drummer who is from the Goth New Wave scene here in Houston."
So the last interview we did was for the album 'Glory of Chaos' album, just how successful was that album for you?
"Well that album had it's mixed feeling, you either loved it or hated, there was no in-between. There were the Helstar fas that would follow you regardless where you went and we had the fans that thought it was too thrashy, these are the guys who want to hear 'Burning Star' again and again, and it's not the way it rolls.
We were using a lot of the 'Eternity Black' project that we did for this album and it was not trying to be another Helstar, so it meant I had to put my vocals over the music and re write some of the melodies.
That is what made that album and basically it wasn't even Helstar. (Ed: I haven't even heard that project) I think it is 6 songs from the 'Glory to Chaos' album but with a different singer and nothing is the same as the Helstar version. It was a self released album and I am not sure if you can still get it."
So from the 'Glory of Chaos' album which songs stand out for you and why?
"It's hard to say really, I think if I can to pick one it would be 'Alma Nefra' just because I really went off at the deep end and people wouldn't expect that from James Rivera and a lot of people don't know that I am a big Black Metal fan. I had been incorporating the Black Metal vocals way back in Destiny's End. I remember when I was going to record the vocals for that song and I remember the band and the engineer in the studio almost fell off their seats when they hard me doing those vocals (laughing) and they loved it."
When you look back at the cult classic Helstar albums, which one is your favourite out of 'Burning Star' & 'Remnants of War'? Also the 'Nosferatu' and 'Distant Thunder' albums?
"I would have to say song wise maybe 'Remnants of War' just because of the production and direction we were going in and the edge made it the most loved album in Europe at that time for Helstar fans. Song wise any thing off 'Burning Star' as every song was very catchy and we love to play that album from start to finish live.
(Ed: What I 1st heard 'Burning Star' I though it was an ok album, but when I heard 'Remnants of War', it was like holy fuck this is awesome. It's like a new band and to hear how much you progressed was outstanding'). The 'Remnants...' was defiantly made the Helstar sound that's for sure.
As for the 'Nosferatu' and 'Distant Thunder' albums I would have to say 'Distant Thunder is the one for me. (Ed: Didn't 'Distant Thunder' album get re-released through some other labels?) It got released through a label in Brazil and they did some really cool cover artwork that was really nice and later on they got re-released several times."
Moving after the release of the 'Glory to Chaos' album you released 'This wicked Nest' released in 2014 also through AFM Records. How well did that album sell for the band?
"At a matter of fact it did really well, it reverted back to traditional Helstar so the old fans were happy again and the new fans were just as happy. It was not done intentionally, when we wrote 'King of Hell' that was all new Helstar stuff and when we did the 'Glory to Chaos' stuff we used 75% of 'Eternity Black' material, we really didn't cut corners, it was the fact that the music was that good we didn't want to let it go to waste. I think both Rob & Larry wanted the fans to hear that they had recorded was through Helstar.
So when we brought out the 'The Wicked Nest' album it brought out the writing style which was directed for a Helstar album. Our drummer Mick our drummer in a nice way is the blame for the music becoming more thrash sounding because it has become faster over the years and he is an extraordinary drummer, so how to you tell a drummer like that to tone it down (laughing).
So we build a lot of songs around his playing and he is basically Gene Holgan in a brother skin. So basically we just let him do his won thing and it works really well for the band.
Also over the years our musically tastes have evolved and because we are from the 80's and I don't even listen to bands like Iron Maiden or Judas Priest in my car. We have started to listen too different style of music now, and it has developed over the years.
So when you have over 40yrs of metal in the blood a lot of that music is going to mix into you're writing and that you have adapted to likes other bands out there that are not only all classic metal bands and so we are trying to keep the band having a fresh input and ideas. We can mix new stuff with the old stuff and as long as we get 80% of the classic sound it will work for us.
When we did the last album 'Vampiro' it was back to were we where and or where we are now and it was the album that was loved it hell and we knew we were back on the right track again."
What happened with the deal with AFM? Did it run out or were you not happy with them?
"Well the deal was done and we were in a position were we could renew the deal or try something different, so we tried something different that's all it was. I kind of think we should of stayed with AFM, but we are back with them anyways, and when I knew the EMP deal wasn't going to work out I and we knew we weren't going to be doing another record for that label and so AFM had told me if we wanted to come back at any time we could.
I had met with Nils the mean guy at AFM in Hamburg and later on they made a lot of changes and 'Soulfood' bought had bought 'Massacre Record's' and Massacre Records is AFM's little cousin and all the promotion teams are working for both labels now.
So it's like been on AFM but having to deal with Thomas from Massacre Records as the main man. I think AFM know that Thomas will do the best he can by the band, as AFM have a lot of bands that are way bigger than us and we won't sell as many albums as they do, so it's in their interests to have us with Massacre. The deal that Massacre made for the band was way better than AFM gave us the 1st time around."
So what happened with EMP?
"Well they had some good ideas but the problem was that Dave Ellfeson has his hands into too many things, like a coffee company and he's also in 'Megadeth', so he started it and he had some passion for it in the beginning but he's like an octopus and he has all 8 arms into lots of stuff and all his arms are full with something. He had another running the label who really wasn't a metal head sort of speak as far as our kind of metal. He was a one man operation and he was overloaded with a lot of stuff and Korn was his favourite band (laughing). We felt like they weren't doing enough for the band and for the album, so we tried something different which ended up even worse and I think the label has crumbled now. Don't get me wrong they did there best and they did get some promotion in Europe."
Ok Moving that do you think of 'The Headbangers Open Air' festival in Germany? Have you played there before besides 2019?
"Yeah we have played there before, I like the festival because it directed towards classic metal bands and fans."
Moving on now, you have recently released a new single 'Black wings of Solitude' which I was really excited about as I thought and like many fans it would be a song from the new album, which it isn't only a 2 song release. Why was that?
"Well you could say that Massacre Records gave us a sort of speak 'hug & a kiss', but the plan was and I love this was to release a single and to see how the fans would react as well as the labels. I knew we were never going to get rich and I could accept that, but what I could not accept was to have a trophy on my wall, what I mean is that I wanted to release a single as a lot of bands are doing this now, it's like the old school way. So we both agreed that it keeps the fans eyes alert and ears hungry for the album to be released.
A life expectancy for an album is about 2-3 months if you are lucky, so you will release it tour for it and then its put on the shelf until the next record comes out.
In the meantime people will say 'Whatever happened to those guys?', out of sight out of mind. It's like been in the 60's were a band would put out a single and it was on the radio and the single we had is already 2 years old, so we had this killer ballad and we had a flip side to it which contains the Sabbath classic 'After All (The Dead) and we did a video the the song, which is rather graphic and the next step was to put out an EP with 2 more Helstar new songs, and 2 killer cover tunes which will be 'Lights Out' by UFO & 'Sinner' by Judas Priest and the re-release of 'Vampiro' as a double CD digi pack. We also thought of doing maybe some songs from our project that we are doing.
The reason for doing this is because we felt that 'Vampiro' did not get enough promotion and they didn't produce enough copies for the fans to buy. There are tons of fans that are still trying to get a copy of this, so we talked with Massacre about re-releasing it as a digi pack with the bonus material in the very near future. It is sad that it was our best album in 35 yrs and the fans can't even get a copy of it. So the label agreed with the idea. Then we will record and release the next album, the plan is to keep things out there and remind the fans we are still around."
Before we move on, do you still keep in touch with Jerry and Rob?
"There both doing well I see them every now and then."
Moving on now James, why did you decide to do the b side of the single as a Black Sabbath cover been 'After All (The Dead)?
"It's a song we do in our set for 'Sabbath Judas Sabbath', and we thought that the mood and tempo of the song and we thought it would fit the mood to the b side of 'Black wings of Solitude'."
Was it easy to make a video for 'Black wings of Solitude'?
"We had a lot of fun doing it, it was done in 3 sections that's why they took there time on it and it was like shooting a movie. I didn't want just some band been shot live and that kind of thing is boring, so we wanted it to be very theatrical and very time consuming. (Ed: I heard it was suppose to be a sound track for a movie, is that correct?). Yes that is correct, originally it was suppose to be a sound track for a guy who did a horror movie and about 3 - 4 years ago and now he has finally released it online (laughing) called 'Shotgun Hair metal Zombies' or something of that nature. We wrote a couple of songs for the movie and the band are suppose to be a glam band in the movie and he wanted a heavy metal ballad, so he asked us and we didn't spend much time writing that song.
In time Larry took the song re mixed it and said we should use it for Helstar and that is what we did in the end. I did the vocals in one hour for the song and we gave it to Massacre Records who were blown away by it they knew we had to release it as a single. If we had released this song back in 86/ 87 we would of been huge just like Metallica."
Moving on now, just how many project do you have? I know of 'Sabbath Judas Sabbath' as I saw you touring in the UK a few years ago, what other acts are you involved with?
"Well 'Sabbath Judas Sabbath' is a world-wide thing now, I have a Dutch, German and more chapters I have out. I am now also in 'Seven Witches' with Jack Frost and we are working on a new album. This Covic-19 thing has really changed everybody's life's that we can't record or tour like we use to. After March 2020 the year was over for me, I don't even have a birthday. The other big project I have is a unique tribute act and nobody has done this, so this is a New Wave Dark Wave Goth outfit. I love Black Metal and I also love the dark Goth stuff too.
You give me 'Black Celebration' by Depeche Mode over Iron Maiden 'Piece of Mind' any day of the week. I listen too a lot of stuff like The Cure, Sisters of Mercy, Theater of Tragedy, tons of that stuff. So when I started thinking about doing this, I was thinking who can I have in the band who loves both styles of music?
There were 2 reason why i wanted to do this, Firstly it was the image... Black so that's metal!! Secondly that was the last good style of music that was around in the 80's and if you talk to most musicians from the 80's the loved the Goth New Wave stuff too If I could take both style of music and make it metal it would sound incredible so I started to compose a lot of stuff and it's working out really well.
The 90's sucked and the new wave of metal with bands like Iced Earth, Hammerfall really have made it comeback and you have a lot of people who love both Gothic and Metal and it hit me like a tone of bricks and so I called the band 'Metal Wave', a great name I think. We are writing and recording songs and we can't wait to play live as most band are too. I think this could be as big as bands like Steel Panther if it is done correctly."
Moving on let's briefly talk about your other band you are involved with 'Shadowkeep' what's happening with those guy?
"Well there has been happening with the band, the band were treated not so good by the label, me and the band members really worked hard at the record which is fantastic by the way. That label made EMP look like Warner Brothers (laughing). I love that record and I was hoping the label would of done more the band."
I remember see in you with Helstar and filming the show at 'The Purple Turtle' in London, great show. Will you ever becoming back to the UK?
"Well it very hard for bands from the U.S. to play the UK sadly, sadly we said at customs we were working and really we should of said we were sight seeing. So we got fucked in the arse sort of speak (laughing)."
So you're hoping to play 'Keep It True' festival in Germany in 2021?
"Yes we are hoping to headline 'Keep It True' festival in Germany next year. We are doing 'Burning Star' and 'Remnants of War' back to back live, we can't wait to do this."
So a new Helstar album in the works of course?
"Yeah we have the single out now, then an EP which will follow by the album later on. I think the album is going to be killer because you get a taste of the single and then the EP, we have 6 songs for the EP but we have to pick 2 more songs, we don't want to have too many songs on it, we really want to save the best for later on, sort of pump peoples spirits up. I think we will pick the 2 strongest songs so it makes people take notice of the band and the music for the forthcoming album. My vocals won't be as Black Metal as with the previous stuff, it will be classic James Rivera vocals."
Well James I want to thank you as always for doing interview for Friday 13th, do you have anything to say too you're fans reading this?
"Yeah thanks for the interview Jason, always a pleasure speaking to you and meeting you when we can. To the fans thank you for you're support over the years, you won't be disappointed with the new EP and album. Also my other project which I think you'll love too. Be safe all."
Thank's to Anja @ Massacre records and of course James Rivera.