Helstar: Something 'Wicked' this way comes

Going inside the 'Nest' with guitarist Larry Barragan 
By Peter Lindblad

Helstar is James Rivera, Larry Barragan,
Rob Trevino and Michael Lewis
2006 saw the return of Helstar, and what a welcome sight it was. After an 11-year hiatus, the nucleus of the classic lineup of one of the finest power-metal bands the U.S. has ever produced decided it was time to saddle up and ride again.

Birthed in 1982, the raging Texans, fronted by venomous vocalist James Rivera (also formerly of Vicious Rumors), emerged from the womb kicking and screaming on 1984's Combat Records release Burning Star, which set the stage for the fury that was to be unleashed in classic LPs such as Distant Thunder and Nosferatu.

A heavy touring schedule supporting metal heavyweights W.A.S.P., Megadeth, Savatage, Keel, Yngwie Malmsteen and Fates Warning served to spread the fire-and-brimstone gospel of Helstar far and wide. Lineup shuffling killed their momentum, however, and after a series of break-ups, Helstar fell apart, only to be revived again eight year ago.

Since then, Helstar has brought forth an album of re-recorded classics, plus an intense and gripping concert retrospective titled 30 Years of Hel. Then came 2010's Glory of Chaos, a punishingly aggressive testimonial to the technical brilliance and savage passion of a band that still has plenty to say. Released earlier this year, the AFM Records product This Wicked Nest is its evil twin, harnessing the frenzied melodic storms of Helstar's revered '80s material, while packing all the thrashing intensity of Glory of Chaos into an even more volatile and violent cocktail.

In Helstar, guitarists Larry Barragan and Rob Trevino have teamed to whip up a career's worth of heavy, roiling riffs and searing leads, bombing listeners with an assortment of tricks and designs meant to scramble the senses. Barragan recently took time out to talk about the band's latest record, it's glory days of the '80s and what the future might have in store for Helstar in this interview:

With Glory Of Chaos, it's been said that Helstar won't go that extreme again. Was there a point at which it struck you that perhaps that record was a step beyond what Helstar was all about, or do you just feel that Helstar is more at home being more melodic?
Larry Barragan: Never, I never thought that Glory was too extreme. I still don't. I never want to be put in a box were people can dictate what we should or shouldn't sound like. The new album is heavy as f--k, but I wanted to try to expand what we could do with the thrash influence and use, and mean really use, more of James' range of vocals. I wrote a lot of the melodies with that intention. The songs that James wrote the lyrics and melodies to also had that approach.  I think it sets us apart from other bands.  The fact that we have someone that can sing the way James can sing over those heavy riffs.

How has the material on This Wicked Nest been received live, and what do you enjoy most about performing it?
LB: So far I think everyone likes it.  I enjoy it because you do get a little tired of doing the same set after a while.  It's nice to make things fresh.  There are a couple of songs that we haven't done from the new album live that I think we should introduce into the set at some point.

Helstar - This Wicked Nest 2014
This Wicked Nest is still a very aggressive and intense record, and you can really hear it on "It Has Risen." Was it difficult to maintain a balance between creating really punishing, fast, thrash-like material, such as "Defy the Swarm," and stuff that has a slower pace and a darker atmosphere, like "Cursed"?
LB: No actually, it flowed fairly well. I want to say "Cursed" may have been one of the last songs we wrote for the album. So I think by the time we got to it we knew we needed something to change the pace.

"Fall of Dominion" has more of a power-metal feel to it, with those twin-guitar duelings and a huge chorus. It's such a powerful song. Is it more indicative of where the band is at currently and where it wants to go on future recordings, or does it simply fit in perfectly with the band's progression to this point?
LB: I can't really tell you where we're going to be honestly. I don't know what we're going to write next. I think if you start thinking about where you want to take this it may begin to sound forced and unnatural. "Fall of Dominion" is a song that everything just fell into place as it was being written. 

Tell me about making the title track. It has a real sinister feel to it. Did you want This Wicked Nest, on the whole, to be especially unsettling and scary?
LB: Rob wrote the music to that song, and I wrote the lyrics and melodies. And as it was presented to me I thought it had a very chaotic sound to it. You're right in that it is unsettling. I like stuff that has a very dark sound to it. I think we accomplished that.

To your ears, what makes This Wicked Nest more in line with the band's work in the '80s than Glory Of Chaos?
LB: I think some of the more intricate passages in the song give it that nostalgic feel. Other than that I think it's just as balls out as Glory of Chaos.

The classic lineup of Helstar
reunited in 2006
With 30 Years of Hel, what was the most gratifying aspect of that project for the band?
LB: You know the thing about that recording was that it may have not been the best night for us as a band, but it was a special night for us. We had so many friends and family come to that show. It was actually quite moving. I looked out to the left, and I could see my mom pumping her fist in the air. So to me, the actual show was the most gratifying experience. To be able to play songs that we wrote 30 years ago and have people to this day sing along with them is such a special feeling.

In 2006, the core of the classic Helstar lineup reunited. What was it that got you guys back together, and in 2014, looking back, has it gone the way you'd hoped it would?
LB: We were only supposed to do one show to commemorate the 20th anniversary of Remnants of War. It took a life of it's own and it snowballed from there. The next thing I knew we were in the studio and signed again. I really didn't think it was going to go beyond the one show. We've done more that I could have imagined. It's been great.

Helstar toured with the likes of Megadeth, Keel, Savatage, Yngwie Malmsteen and others back in the day. What was your favorite tour and why?
LB: I'll never forget the tour we did with Anthrax. It was the most fun and those guys were so cool to hang with.  

What do you remember about Helstar's first-ever performance?
LB: I remember it was in a garage at a house party. And we were doing "Hallowed Be Thy Name" by Maiden and right at the end of the song, James started throwing up. He had like this mini heat stroke I guess, and he just started puking as the song ended. You couldn't write a better script. It was like, "Oh so you can spit blood, huh? Well our vocalist can vomit on cue!"    

As far as you are concerned, what's Helstar's greatest achievement? And where does This Wicked Nest rank in the entire Helstar catalog?
LB: I think our greatest achievement is just the fact that after 30 years we're still around, still playing, still writing. It's not an easy thing to do but we've done it. This Wicked Nest is a dagger thrown at the heart of all those who thought we couldn't do it. If we didn't do another album I would be happy with this as an ending. Let's hope that's not the case though. Ha!

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