It wouldn’t be Hellfest sans a band with Hel in its name. That such an artist emanated in the Lone Star State 30-plus years ago three hours down the road made it all the more worthwhile. But its latest visit wouldn’t have been possible if the group’s members weren’t willing to forgive and seemingly forget, or at least temporarily shove aside, the circumstances surrounding its previous Alamo City appearance.
Veteran Houston natives Helstar returned to The Rock Box on Saturday night for Hellfest IV, staged by Simon Ortega and Kronic Productions, playing direct support to the long-awaited return of (Steve Grimmett’s) Grim Reaper. On the first Saturday of the city’s annual Fiesta extravaganza that saw thousands catch Chevelle and 10 Years playing the centennial Fiesta Oyster Bake while fewer than 100 also turned out for Dallas natives Warbeast’s return to Fitzgerald’s, Helstar’s latest act was seen by approximately 150, many of whom departed after Helstar’s set, before the headliners took the stage.
Such is Helstar’s allegiance in San Antonio, and that following and devotion on the part of its fans slayed all other aspects of the band’s decision to return so soon, when a mere seven months ago, such a visit didn’t appear to be imminent by any stretch of the imagination. That’s when Helstar directly supported Riot V at The Rock Box, which was then known as 210 Kapone’s (the venue still has both names on its building). But a tense showing resulted when, according to Barragan on social media, Helstar was promised a locker room, only to ultimately be denied such space and being forced to warm up on cinder blocks. Saying it was the worst his band had been treated in 30 years, Barragan and Co. then had insult added to injury when the vocals were cut entirely during final song “Run With the Pack.” That led to a heated altercation backstage between Rivera and Riot V bassist Don Van Stavern because the Helstar vocalist assumed the San Antonio native had Helstar’s sound cut to hasten Riot’s time on stage in Van Stavern’s homecoming show (more here).
No such shenanigans or controversy occurred this time, fortunately, and the crowd was more than pleased with Helstar’s flawless performance. Not only was Helstar afforded the courtesy of performing that 1984 tune properly, in its entirety, as the finale again, but Helstar also debuted “Black Cathedral” from forthcoming album Vampiro alongside other classics such as “Good Day to Die.” The band was in better spirits all the way around, and it showed in the performances of Rivera, Barragan, drummer Mikey Lewis, rhythm guitarist Andrew Atwood and bassist Garrick Smith. Rivera, however, took no chances, limiting his talking to the crowd, compared to the September show, to ensure his band could finish what it started given that Helstar was in the same slot on both bills.
The good vibes continued into Grim Reaper’s set, as Atwood and Smith appeared on stage for the first of that band’s two encores, humorously providing the spoken intro to 1985 track “Final Scream” — Grim Reaper’s commentary on Michael Jackson’s childish characteristics as an adult (stay tuned for coverage of Grim Reaper’s set).
Barragan shared with the SAMME afterwards that Vampiro will be released in August at an exact date to be determined. Rivera told the crowd that Helstar would be back while touring in support of it.
But as the roller-coaster contrasts of Helstar’s last two appearances in San Antonio over a seven-month span indicated, just because an artist hails from Texas doesn’t mean its concerts here will continue to be automatic. Therefore, they shouldn’t be taken for granted. In Helstar’s case, however, one thing is for certain:
A trip to Hel is going to be memorable in one way, shape or form.
For an exclusive 2012 interview with Rivera, click here.
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