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Helstar's Larry Barragan: "The scariest thing for me is to stare at a blank canvas. The second scariest thing is to fill the canvas and then present it to the world..."

Interview with Larry Barragan & James Rivera from Helstar
by Lior "Steinmetal" Stein at 05 March 2021, 12:02 PM

Celebrating the dark creatures of the night, letting the burning sun die down and enjoy the mystery and danger of the twilights. However, nothing is going to be quite, but rather raging, black and ever bludgeoning, like an adrenaline shot to the bloodstream. The US Metal vampire hailing enthusiastics, Helstar, are back and bearing gifts of great fortune. The band is set to release "Clad In Black", sharing new material, a calling card for something bigger, continuing to tease their fans with a fine Heavy Metal appetizer. Steinmetal had a great talk with Larry Barragan (Guitars) and James Rivera (Vocals) about the world of the underworld, not the mafia, the new album, reissuing "Vampiro", tribute to the gods and exports of Metal and more… 

Hello guys, it is quite an honor to have you for this interview for Metal Temple online Magazine, how have you been doing sir?

LB: Doing great, extremely busy with 3 different projects and recording here in my studio.  James has a new project called Metal Wave that I’m a part of and I have my metal en español band, Santa Oscuridad and of course there is Helstar.  So, yeah, lot’s going on.

JR: As good as I can. Just trying to stay positive

It would seem that there is a way to supposedly beat this pandemic after all with the vaccinations, and therefore, perhaps, to hope that there will be a comeback, sometime soon, to culture life. For many artists, it means back on the road, back to the clubs, venues etc. Do you believe that this light at the end of the tunnel is evident?

LB: I sure hope so.  I have had quite a few friends pass due to Covid but we need to get back.  There’s a hole in our lives.  We need music and arts.  We are a social society that enjoys being in front of live music.  The economics of the pandemic have been catastrophic.  I have so many, many friends that make their lively hood behind the scenes that have been having an extremely hard time.  So, I do hope with the vaccine that we can start getting back to a place where we can gather again.

JR: I do but when is the question?? Bands and festivals and clubs will not be able to survive if this doesn’t change soon. I have been informed that all summer festivals for 2021 over there will not happen again. I’m supposed to be on a few that didn’t happen last year:(

How have you been managing yourself with all the lockdowns and general atmosphere that this pandemic created? How has the public around you been reacting to this menace?

LB: I guess at first everyone was like, is this real?  Is the government trying to control us by making us wear masks?  And then you start to hear that the situation was very real and very dangerous and very serious.  Now, at least in my surroundings, it’s common for everyone to be masked up and I guess it’s starting to work because there are reports the spread is starting to go down.

JR: Well over here we are no longer on lockdowns or curfews. The only thing is places such as restaurants, bars, churches, movies etc are at a certain percentage allowed. Now when it first began and we were in somewhat of a lockdown, man I was probably drinking more than Lemmy and bored!! LOL!! However, I realized that wasn’t going to solve any problems and got creative which is how and why I began making my new project that includes Larry and Garrick from Helstar. It’s called James Rivera’s Metal Wave that Larry mentioned.

Though just recently you guys at Helstar released the single “Black Wings Of Solitude”, I told myself that I would wait just a tad bit to have the whole package and I got it in full with the brand new “Clad In Black”. First things first, following the blazing “Vampiro”, did you guys take things slower than usual when it comes to new material or was it something different entirely?

LB: Well, I would say we are notoriously slow writers to begin with.  So, that’s a very natural way for us to do things.  For me more than anything when I write I want it to be different from anything that we have previously done.  For these songs at least, I wanted to really bring James to the forefront and have songs that have a lot of room for him to really sing and be melodic and show off different characters that he brings to the table.

One of the major business moves made by Helstar was to find a new home for “Clad In Black”, and it was found in the image of Massacre Records, which were actually part of back in 1995, circling "Multiples of Black". What made you return to the label? Was it your initial intent to continue that strong backing in Germany?

LB: There are many things that led to our decision to switch labels.  In the end, yes there is that strong connection between us and Germany.  So far, we are very pleased to be back signed to Massacre.  You’re talking to me right now so I would say that’s a good thing, right?

Yes, you bet. The new “Clad In Black” yet another piece of your longtime fascination with vampirism. Since I am sure that you went back and forth on Bram Stoker’s “Dracula” for inspiration, what captured your attention exactly that made you decide on the “Clad In Black” title? Is it the imagery of Dracula himself or the perspective of the story’s protagonist, Jonathan Harker?

LB: You know James has taken on that onstage persona and no matter how hard we tried to pull away, the lure of the vampire has pulled us back in.  The title is an actual quote from the book Dracula.  James felt strongly about the title and so we went with it.

JR: As Larry said, exactly where I got the quote from. That is how Johnathan described him. Ha! You are so far the only person that knew what it meant and where it came from.

What interested me also was the smooth connection that you made between the new material and the reissuing of “Vampiro”. In overall, you unleashed an album that is a full, head on, vampire tale, even broader than the classic "Nosferatu”. Other than the theme, is there an actual conceptual connection between the two albums, like a continuance of the story or rather prologue?

LB: Maybe on the surface but the reality is no.  The two albums were approached from two very different directions.  Nosferatu is strongly based on the book by Bram Stoker.  Vampiro, is based on all the movies about Dracula and vampirism, both new and old.  James and I grew up watching all of the old Dracula movies with Christopher Lee.  Black Cathedral is based on the scene from the movie Blood of Dracula where Christopher Lee drinks the blood from the chalice and then he is made.  It’s been fun to attach ourselves to that dark side again.

Earlier I mentioned your fascination with vampires, what is the basis of your belief on this matter? Do you believe that there are entities, which aren’t animals, that have a measure of what was written in books or even taken to the cinematic world?

LB: The fascination is purely based on the literature and the movies we love.  Now I do know people that do believe in this world and I’m not one to say it’s not real but that’s not the basis of our intrigue.

JR: I do know there are people who believe they are Vampires. I also know of some trues stories from centuries ago of certain beings dug up from the graves that were still in the same form that they were in when they were buried because of the suspicion from villagers being murdered that included being drained of blood. It wouldn’t surprise me. On a true note I’m not allowed to go out in the sunlight because of a skin condition I have called vitiligo. Where I have lost my skin pigment on over half my body, hands and entire face. So no protection from the sun at all and yes it burns! LOL! No summer activities for me. So yes I love the Darkness and the cold:)

Talking about cinematics, how did you find the new version of vampires in movies, especially three of the famous ones such as Twilight or Underworld, with each representing two different angels of these creatures?

LB:  I didn’t care for Twilight at all.  All that glitter and shit.  Underworld on the other hand, I enjoyed very much.  I loved the cinematography and the violence and romanticism.  That movie did not make on to Vampiro but one newer movie did.  Dracula Untold, Abolish the Sun came from the scene where the master vampire makes Dracula.  So that one did make an impression on us.

Back to “Clad In Black”, generally, was it on paper right from the get go to release “Clad In Black” along with “Vampiro” as a sort of a mixed new and earlier in favor for “Clad In Black” being a full length album with additional new material? Was the pandemic one of the reasons for this chosen move?

LB: Yeah, the pandemic fucked a lot of things up. We didn’t want to put out an album that basically died after a few weeks because we couldn’t go out and support it with live shows but we didn’t want to be silent either.  We still needed to let people know, “hey we’re still alive!”.  So the plan became to release singles and EPs to get us to the grand prize of a full album.

Helstar more or less maintained its signature musical export, shielding the variety of old school driven US Metal, along with several points of progression to keep things as diverse as possible. From your point of view, would you say that you guys made a step forward in the band’s musical development while working on the newer songs for “Clad In Black”?

LB: That’s a great question.  I look at every album as a snapshot in time.  We try to write something different every time and I think as songwriters we have matured and there’s a confidence that the integrity of the music is paramount.  I see every album as a step forward.  Others may not but I always do.

Even though attached to the reissue of “Vampiro”, were there attempts to stray away, even for a bit, from what you did on the former?

LB: The reissue was really for those fans that never had a chance to even hear Vampiro and there were many!  It’s just a bonus and chance to for fans to hear what we did and to now hear what we are doing and where we are heading.  I don’t think musically it’s a great departure but it does show we’re not just going to sit on what we did in the past.

The first two tracks, “Dark Incarnation (Mother Of The Night)” and the outstanding “Black Wings Of Solitude” intertwine amazingly with the theme that you have been trying to present, their darkened nature hovering over the music that generated the rightful aggression. What is your appreciation of these two well-crafted tracks?

LB: Thank you for the compliment.  The scariest thing for me is to stare at a blank canvas.  The second scariest thing is to fill the canvas and then present it to the world.  There is so much criticism that will be thrown in your face.  In the end I have to like the songs.  We in the band must like the songs.  The only think I can really say about the two songs and the EP in general is I hope the fans appreciate the songs most importantly.

One of the things that I like about covers is that it also provides an insightful idea of the band’s influences, musical direction and simply songs that they admire themselves as fans. Picking a loosen kind of song like “Restless & Wild” alongside rather darker songs such as “Sinner” and the gloomier “After All (The Dead)”, now that was quite a difference. What was the nature of this selection other than sticking to the overall concept of “Clad In Black”?

LB: Those songs as with all of the other cover songs we’ve ever recorded are songs we have done since the garage days.  So, yeah those were the songs that inspired us.  After All The Dead we obviously didn’t do as a young band but it’s a favorite song of ours.  We didn’t want to just put out 3 new songs but like I said before, we didn’t want to put out an album that would die quickly.  We decided to have a little fun and add the covers to the EP.

I can assume that covering “After All (The Dead)” was also due to a decade since Ronnie James Dio’s passing. How did it feel to sing such an iconic song, which was part of Dio’s legacy?

JR: Well I was paying tribute to him way before he passed simply because he is one of my biggest influences. I’ve been compared to him by many which is a very big pat on my back

For the new tracks you had a different engineering team that did its magic, attributing you with the same aggressive sound that has been part of you in the past decade or so. In comparison to “Vampiro”, what is your appreciation of the work done?

LB: Ah, well, Martin Pfeiffer is one of the best in the business. I still did most of the actual engineering and recording.  I produced a great deal of it but Martin did the mixing and still had his hand in producing as well.  It was easy to FaceTime during the recording and mixing and bounce ideas back and forth.  I think Martin has really brought the sound of the band to a new level.  Extremely polished sound.  He has fantastic ideas for arrangements, I think that’s really evident in Dark Incarnation.

Looking forward a bit, do you see any form of a new album consisting of the new material from “Clad In Black” or are we talking about a new concept, new songs etc.? Have you guys already started working on ideas and sorts?

LB: Yeah, you’ll see these 3 on songs on the album and you’ll get to hear more new songs as well.  I think we have about maybe 5, 6 already written.  We’ll probably write 2 more before it’s all said and done.

Guys, I would like to thank you for your time and effort on this interview. Helstar has always been an inspiration as one of the lions of the old guard of the US Metal scene, keep being that. Cheers

LB:  Thank you for a great interview!  I really enjoyed it.  Cheers!

JR: Thank you my friend and all the fans for the continued support throughout the years and for us Vampires throughout the centuries! If I could I would give you and the readers a big Texas hug and bite of eternal life! LOL!! Stay safe and healthy so when this bullshit is over we can see each other again!


 



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