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In Words: Helstar

- James Rivera - Sept. 2008 - Claudia Ehrhardt -
- James Rivera - Jan. 2010 - Jody Hickman -
- James Rivera - Sept. 2010 - Claudia Ehrhardt -
- James Rivera - April 2012 - Jody Hickman -

James Rivera - live in Essen 2009
© Claudia Ehrhardt

James Rivera - April 14th 2012 - Houston (TX, USA)e

James Rivera is one of metal's hardest working singers. I caught up with him a few weeks after Helstar's DVD shoot, at his birthday show. We discussed Helstar, Malice and his tribute bands.

I'm here with James Rivera. We're here for his birthday bash, a few weeks removed from Helstar's big 30th anniversary show and DVD shoot. First of all, the show. I thought it was the best Helstar show I've seen, what do you think?

Oh, by far. Don't ask me how it happened, because of all the pressure of knowing we were recording a live album and a DVD. We actually rehearsed a lot harder than we usually do, because sometimes we don't play that often. We'll get together once or twice, but for this show we got together a total of six times. It made a difference ya know. But the pressure of all the songs, how long the show was gonna be, and there was some responsibility involved, because a lot of times I will party a little more that I need to before a show. That day I only had one beer before I went on and sipped Jäger throughout the night instead of doing shots, ya know, and everybody was great. It proved... it was like being in a football game that night. It was like the Super Bowl or we don't go.

Being the 30th anniversary, you played music from every Helstar album. How difficult was that picking the songs?

It was very difficult, but in the end, it started to make sense with the ones we picked. Like some you just have to do, no matter what, even if we've been doing them for 30 years. Some we haven't done in a while since this line-up's been back, and one that's never been done since, I don't know, 1995.

I'm sure you've had a chance to see some of the footage by now. How does it look?

Fuckin' amazing!!

Yeah, I have your other DVD from Bang-Your-Head Festival.

It's just as good as that, the quality, but the sounds gonna be better because we're not using the audio from the video. We're using the audio from the recording that's gonna be matched up to the video.

So when's it coming out?

This fall. They're shooting for September, when we go on tour to support it in Europe.

What's the title of it?

To be honest, I think right now, don't hold me to this, but it looks like it will be called just 30 Years Of Hel, very simple.

You said you're gonna tour Europe?

Yes, all the dates are getting put together now. But they're not getting the 20 song, two hour show... (laughs) They may think they are, but that was a one time occasion. (laughs)

Tonight you're doing your birthday show. You're actually playing with two bands, Sabbath Judas Sabbath and Metal Asylum. Is there any reason you have two cover bands?

The original plan was to have Jason McMaster (Dangerous Toys, Broken Teeth, Evil United) come down, which would've been really cool. Then there would've been four bands. Then they tossed out a couple of names and I came up with a name that would've been good, but they weren't available, Holister Fracas, I like to kinda mix up the styles. After a while, so many names were tossed my way, I thought "what are they gonna bring?" At this point, let me just go ahead and do a double whammy on this one... and I was right. It's working out fine. Of course, Metal Asylum is having their premier show in Houston. Because of the fact I didn't want to take away from Metal Asylum, Metal Asylum is going on first and doing the longer set and SJS is only gonna do seven songs or something like that. We were going to have the SJS guys come up as special guests anyway, so now it's just turning into them doing more than a couple songs.

Metal Asylum being you new band, is there any plans to franchise that like Sabbath Judas Sabbath?

Hey, You never know... You know what, now that you mentioned it; there's already some Europeans going "dude, we're down and we'd love to see that show" you know how that goes. You know, I'm already kinda doing it over there with the SJS from Slovenia. What we did is call it James Rivera with Metal Steel. They are their own band, so it's the same concept. It's just we're not doing all the cool stuff Metal Asylum is doing, just yet. We're sticking to Seven Witches, Distant Thunder, Helstar and some of their originals, and then throw in the Priest and the Sabbath. We haven't gone to that point of Metal Church and the rest of it, so. It's already there. They just have to learn the other thing to become Metal Asylum. It was years before I took it overseas with SJS anyway. I'd rather Metal Asylum kinda build itself first. What caused it was SJS got so popular that it took time and one started here and one started in Utah and so on, because then it's in demand. It's too soon to go "I'm gonna try this one over there..." it's like hey slow down you've got Malice to worry about, right? We'll wait for that over here.

You'll be doing a special song tonight with SJS, Winds Of Death. Why is that a special song?

Yeah, it was written for Leticia Alt whose birthday we're celebrating tonight along with mine. We'd do that all the time and she passed away. When she passed away, we all took it pretty hard. I was given this music from Killing Machine, that was supposed to start again, and he just happens to send me three new songs, like here's some new material to work on. One of them was the Winds Of Death song, so when I opened this file I listened to the other two, which were great Killing Machine songs and then that one was in there. The minute I started listening to it, the melody came to my head, and my hands just started typing, and the song was fuckin' written in ten minutes, pretty much. Through the whole process, the whole time, I'm crying my eyes out because this whole melody is coming to me and I'm freaking. It's almost like I'm feeling it, then it didn't happen (the Killing Machine project). So when the whole Malice thing got back together, I wrote the guy from Killing Machine. I said "I wrote a killer melody to that, killer words that have a special meaning, I'm sorry to tell you, but I'm taking that and going to rearrange it, but I'm not letting go of that song." He said "Dude, go ahead. Have it. I'm proud that I could help you with it." And that's what happened. So now it's on the new Malice record, and it's better than the other version. But, it's written for everybody in general who face losing loved ones. She inspired it. Let's put it that way, but it's also dedicated to a guy named Guy Hoffman who passed away a month before she did, who pushed me to join Malice. He lived in Southern California. He would just not let up. One night after this party, after a show, a Helstar show Dude, you better join Malice" and Jay Reynolds was there with me in the kitchen, partying. He goes "You need to get this mutherfucker in the band, man. I'm telling you, you guys will go a long way. What's wrong with you?" Then he would call me every couple of months "Dude, did you join Malice yet?" "I don't even know, if I like these guys yet..." But that's how it started. So it has a lot of special meaning to it.

So the new Malice (New Breed Of Godz) is half new songs, half re-recordings?

More of its re-recordings. There are only four new songs, eight old classics and four new ones.

When does that come out?

May 22nd, it hits America.

Are you going to find time to tour with that?

Yeah, we're already booking dates in July for a run from L.A. to Texas.

Cool! I just heard of a project, actually they're about to release their third album, called Empires Of Eden. I don't know, if you've heard about it. It's by Stu Marshall from Australia. On all the songs he uses guest singers. He's got Udo, Bob Rock, Sean Peck from Cage, Steve Grimmett from Grim Reaper, Mike DiMeo from Riot, Carlos Zema...

Oh, Wow!

I was wondering, if you've been approached by any projects...

Oh yeah. I get approached by them all the time. But now that I think Malice is going to be a really productive band, they're gonna be around for a good while and between the tribute bands and Helstar going at full force, I'm proud to say I've got the two killer things going and that's enough for me. I got approached by a band in Germany that wants me to sing on the album. They're getting signed and blah blah blah… I said "guys I'd love too, but I don't have time." Its best for me to just keep it that way for now.

Thanks for your time. Have a good show. I look forward to the new releases; Malice - New Breed Of Godz and Helstar 30 Years Of Hel.

Thank you. Good seeing you again.

Malice - New Breed Of Godz

1. New Breed Of Godz (new song)
2. Hell Rider
3. Against The Empire
4. Branded (new song)
5. Sinister Double
6. Circle Of Fire
7. Stellar Masters
8. Winds Of Death (Angel Of Light) (new song)
9. Air Attack
10. Chain Gang Woman
11. Slipping Through The Cracks (new song)
12. Godz Of Thunder

Helstar 30 Years of Hel setlist:

1. Angels Fall To Hell
2. Toward The Unknown
3. Suicidal Nightmare
4. The King Is Dead
5. Burning Star
6. To Sleep Per Chance To Scream
7. The Plague Called Man
8. Evil Reign
9. Monarch Of Bloodshed
10. Winds Of War
11. Good Day To Die
12. Wicked Disposition
13. Pandemonium
14. Bitter End
15. Harker's Tale
16. Angel Of Death
17. Baptized In Blood
18. Alma Negra
19. The King Of Hell
20. Run With The Pack

Jody Hickman


© Helstar

James Rivera - September 24th 2010 (by phone)

James Rivera is Mr. Helstar and the friendly Texan was so kind to talk to me about Helstar's latest piece of work - Glory Of Chaos. It's the 7th studio album and it shows them strong. First I wanted to know what's the Glory Of Chaos... "It's meant in a sarcastic way and reflects the state of the world we are living in." explains the singer. The artwork ties in perfectly and "it's done by the same man who did the last one. It shows the symbol of chaos and in the center our new mascot - Skully!" I got told. "It's mysterious and fits the title of the album" continued Rivera - and I can just agree. "I love the horned skull, Skully is our new mascot and he'll be on every future release." Iron Maiden have Eddie and Helstar now have Skully - even if it took them more then 2 decades to present their mascot. James had the answer to that: "20+ years later we have a mascot and it represents a new beginning. It's a new tradition basically... It's like a change of clothes - from black to blacker."
In the middle of the album they have a slower track called Summer Of Hate, it's like they wanted to give the listener a break... "Yes, we did it on purpose. We wanted to give a everyone break before we storm off again." Agrees Mr. Rivera and explains what's behind the title. "It's about the summer of '69. Gary wrote the song about the Sharon Tate murders and Charles Manson. I didn't realized before he started writing what Charles Manson said and the video footage. At the beginning of the song you hear Charles Manson actually. He's a highly intelligent, but very scary person. Most of what he says makes sense, but..." It's the insanity & genius thing... "I didn't realize how smart he is, even if I can't agree with it" adds James. The Unabomber was also a highly intelligent person who worked as an assistant professor and when his criticism wasn't heard started a bombing campaign to get his Manifesto published. "Yeah, it's true, it's a small line between insanity and genius. As a musician I want to be heard, so part of me understands this part of their personality." Rivera states - and I can just agree, that they chose the wrong way.
Time to change the subject and get back to talk about Helstar! James Rivera is at the moment in Germany to promote the new album and play some tribute shows with Sabbath Judas Sabbath. "The shows were also used to promote the new album, so we played the whole album after the show. We gave the fans a chance to listen to it - and the people love it." Mr. Helstar comments. But soon they will be back with Helstar, a few shows in December are already scheduled. James explains: "For December we planned just a short tour and then we come back in 2011 with full force." By the time they return the fans will know the new songs by heart, so the atmosphere should be even better. "We will come over for 8 shows in Germany and Holland, perhaps Belgium. We simply didn't want to wait, we felt he have to do something when the album gets out." But everybody who knows James Rivera knows that he's always engaged in something. He's a workaholic and so I wanted to know what's going on beside Helstar. And so James told me a bit about his scheduling... "We have much stuff going on, after this promo trip I go to New York to record with Seven Witches!" he told me and I think that's good news for a lot metal fans. And he continues "About a year ago we played some shows and recorded 4 songs. Jack got a little disappointed and so nothing happened for awhile. We started talking in August about a new Seven Witches album." Many fans of Seven Witches - and me - would love to see them on tour in Europe.... The tour with Overkill a few years ago was a blast. "We have to wait and see, but we want to tour, it just depends on sales and tour offers." About festivals we also have to wait and see as it depends on how it works out with the new album, he told me. And added "I learnt my lesson, they let you know. I heard that RockHard wanted Helstar and we worked it out. From what I heard there are some interested..." So we have to be patient and hopefully they will get the chance to play some festivals. Meanwhile you can look forward to see them on tour. "We will do a good bunch of new songs, one off The King Of Hell and one of every classic album." But he also told me that they will rehearse several tracks off each album, so that the set list will change slightly from show to show - which is good news to fans who want to see more then one show! And be sure, this wasn't the last time we heard from Mr. Rivera!

Claudia Ehrhardt


James Rivera &bJody Hickmann
© Jody Hickmann

James Rivera - January 30th 2010 - The Woodlands, TX (USA)

On January 30, 2010, I sat down with legendary metal vocalist James Rivera (Hestar, Seven Witches, Vicious Rumors, Flotsam and Jetsam, Killing Machine, Destiny's End, Distant Thunder) before his show at The 19th Hole Bar and Grill in The Woodlands, Texas with his tribute band Sabbath Judas Sabbath. This was my first ever interview.

Ok. I'm here with James Rivera for Sabbath Judas Sabbath, and let's start with your main band, Helstar. You released a new album King Of Hell about a year ago. How's it doing?

It's doing well. I mean, we're still touring on it, and we will probably still be touring on it most of this year because the new album probably won't be coming out until 2011. There's a small chance it might come out in November of this year, but we're still in the midst of writing it right now. And The King Of Hell was such a strong comeback record after so's one of those things where we kinda feel like maybe we should ride on it for a couple festivals this summer in Europe, then release the new album.

Ok. You're also fronting Seven Witches. At least, you did some touring last year and you're doing the Triton Power Cruise this spring. Do you have any other plans with Seven Witches?

Well, actually the Seven Witches thing is done, unfortunately. Don't ask me, but Jack Frost decided he doesn't want anything to do with metal anymore. All this energy we put into it... I'm a little disappointed, but its his thing, so I move on...and I won't be doing the Triton Power Cruise. He's still doing it with a guest singer, but I think a lot of fans are gonna be disappointed and go, "Its not even Seven Witches" so, you know, whatever...

Let's talk about what you're doing tonight, Sabbath Judas Sabbath. You're doing Judas Priest and Dio-era Black Sabbath songs. But you do this all over the country and Europe, too, but its not the same band. You've got...

Five chapters. And I'm working on a sixth now for the midwest and east coast areas.

So, where are these five or six chapters at?

The main one, of course, is here in Houston. There's another one in Tampa, Florida. There's another one in El Paso, Texas, just because of where its at on the map. Its twelve hours between here and there. There's on that's lying dormant in Phoenix, but they may want to do a show with me in April. There's another one in Salt Lake City, Utah that does Salt Lake, Vegas, and that area, and San Diego and all that. And now, the one in Slovenia. That's my European band, which is probably going to be the busiest band now. We're just coming back from doing some dates over the holidays. The shows were unbelievably successful, and now an agent has picked me up, and dude, we're gonna have a field day with this stuff over here.

And that one covers all of Europe, right?

Yeah, but, you know, in time it could lead to... I need one in Germany. Now, I need one in Holland. Its a franchise. Its finally made me into a Tom Jones, which is my idol, but a metal Tom Jones.

You even did a show where you were a co-headliner and Warrant was one of the openers. Is that right?

The thrash version, the thrash Warrant, not the Warrant from here.

ok. I just saw Warrant on the poster...

Haha... It was the thrash version. At the same time, there was a band from Germany called Warrant, but they were full on destruction thrash, and they got pretty big. So when they got big, the Warrant here was starting to get big and people were real confused, so no. It was that Warrant.

Well speaking of festivals, Who are some of the bands you like to play with?

Well, you know, just about all of 'em, every band I played with. I've played with a lot of big bands, from big bands to bands at our level, to bands that are smaller. I think that all of 'em are great, and I think, for the most part, for me, especially being a musician, doing this for a living... when you finally meet those ones that are bigger than you, for the most part, most of them are cool. Some of them quote/unquote live that "I'm a rock star. What do you want?" But most of them are good people. So you start looking at yourself, like we're all in this together. So, I'd say they're all a bunch of fun to hang out with. I've met some dicks, but most of them have been great people.

When you played in Vicious Rumors, on of the guitar players was Brad Gillis. That seemed a bit different for him to be in that kind of band. How was that?

Well, it was, but he did a bunch of great solos on the record, and he actually helped with some the vocal melodies. The guy's got a metal heart. He was in Ozzy. But, when you go and make millions off of Night Ranger, do you blame him? His passion, though, was to always to play in a heavier band, and he got to do that in Vicious Rumors.

Ok. Something else I've seen you do onstage that not too many people know about, you do impersonations. I've seen you do a Paul Stanley, a Bobby 'Blitz', and a Don Dokken with a bad voice that sounded like Lemmy.

Ha ha ha

Do you have any others?

Oh... Dio on Thanksgiving...(In high Dio voice). Ok everybody. Sit down. We're all gonna eat. You, you, you. White meat for you, you, and you...

Ha ha ha That's great! What are some of the biggest shows you've done? You play all the big festivals. What's the biggest crowd you've played for?

Um...I'd probably have to say...Bang Your Head, 20-25 thousand.

With Vicious Rumors?

With Vicious Rumors and Helstar.

I saw Vicious Rumors on the DVD.

That's probably the biggest festival.

Well, that's about all I've got...

Hey, I loved those. That was awesome, Jody. You did a kick ass job. Tell them to give you a raise. ha ha

Claudia said to tell you 'hi'.

Ok. Awesome!

Thanks again.

No problem.

Jody Hickman


James Rivera - live at BYH 2007 (with Vicious rumors)
© Claudia Ehrhardt

James Rivera - Sept. 10th 2008 (phoner)

Helstar mainman James Rivera started the band in the early 80's and even as Helstar took a break, he was always active. Now Helstar is back with a new album!
The new album is called The King Of Hell and a good reason to talk with the sympatico from Texas. And as the singer is doing interviews already for a few days I was interested how the new album was received from others. James told me happily "The reactions overall are very, very positive. The people love the record!" And then told me about the title The King Of Hell... "We had several titles in line when we were writing the songs. We made comparisons and the way the song came out, it was a great opening track. Beside that it was the whole package. The title was great for a cover concept, nice on shirts and great for a backdrop. And once we looked at the whole picture, it was quite clear." Talking about shirts and a backdrop indicates that they will tour... "Yes, there was a tour line-up, then the line-up changed and the tour was moved. January instead of December." The Tex singer explained that the live set will have a lot new songs... "We will play some classics, but only a few! Beside of me, having a Helstar line-up since 2001 we played a lot. How many times we played this songs, it's time for some new songs! We feel so strong about the album that we focus on it, and we will play a classic of each other album. By January real fans will have the album for 3 months, so the songs aren't that new. The fans will know the songs" the man from H-Town is confident. And I think it will be nice to hear a lot of the new ones! With In My Darkness the band from Houston shows a different side... "In My Darkness can be compared with Fade To Black, about going new ways. We should have tried before... It could have brought us to a different level." James said and continues: "We have never written a song like that. Larry wrote the lyrics about this guy who killed about 3 yrs. ago... The university killings. Rob wrote the music." He also told me that Larry and Rob feel that they been unfair to James and his part in Seven Witches. That they admire the work now. "They never let me sung that way" he adds. I told James that it seems to me that this time the bass is more prominent then at previous albums. "We wanted Jerry to play 'against' the guitars this time. In the past he always played along with them. We wanted him to play bass parts and not play like a he has a tuned down guitar. He almost had to learn to play that way! But now he loves it!" I was wondering about the intro of The King Of Hell which isn't typical for Helstar and has some female voices... "Yeah, we played here in Houston with that band - 3 female singers - and they were really good. And we already had thought about some guest vocals, so we asked them. We gave them the Latin words for The King Of Hell and the music. And this is what they came up with. I did have a melody line, but never told them about. And at the end it's not much different from what I had in mind! I never let them hear my version, their's is just... wow!" But there was another thing I wanted to talk about with Mr. Helstar James Rivera - one of his former bands, about Seven Witches. At RockHard Festival James mentioned to me that there are some news, so I wanted to know more! "Jack and I, we are talking a lot! He apparently will release some albums. My Seven Witches albums are the best." James states his opinion - and I have to say, that at least live they were the strongest with Rivera. "Michael from Symphony X is a huge Priest fan and they will work together. They will add some heaviness. I will do it, if Jack wants me to. It depends on schedules, but sometime next year. We are already talking about a title... throwing up on ideas. And there is one idea I had... simple, but it would fit well - Back To The Other Side." Sounds like they are really get it on the way... And I like the title. It seems that it will be a busy year for the Texan singer... "It will be a busy year. We will play festivals here and there. Headbanger's Open-Air and RockMania are on the table." and he told me enthusiastically "The guys in the band... It's amazing, it's like we never been apart! We just got a little older - and more mature!" Sounds like Helstar is back to rock the stages! I'm really looking forward to see them touring Europe in January - and to have another chat with James and get the latest news about Helstar and Seven Witches!

Claudia Ehrhardt


           ©2008-2014 by Claudia Ehrhardt • E-Mail:

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