Rick VanDyk

REVIEW: Helix – The Power of Rock and Roll (2007)

HELIX – The Power of Rock and Roll (2007

When Helix seemingly dropped off the map in the mid 90’s, I didn’t think they’d ever really come back with more studio albums. Yet they did thanks to the power of the internet. The Power Of Rock And Roll is a return to roots of sorts, after the alternative stylings of 2004’s Rockin’ in My Outer Space. This is a throwback to the basic guitars/bass/drums/shredding vocals of the Helix of yore!  “It’s a party that’s better than a beer, it’s a party in your ear!”  That’s their modus operandi on “Fill Your Head With Rock”, a song they wrote for the Sweden Rock festival.  They named it after the Kim Mitchell song of the same title, also recorded for Sweden Rock.

The Power Of Rock And Roll is essentially a reissue of the earlier seven song EP, Get Up! with five additional tracks added. If you already have Get Up! (which is now out of print), you still need The Power Of Rock And Roll because those five new songs are just awesome. Wait until you hear the power of “Nickels And Dimes”, an awesome track with a great chorus.  “Eat My Dust” might be the fastest song Helix has ever done.  “The Past Is Back (To Kick Your Ass)” is truly a statement of purpose. And kick your ass, this album will!

Personal favourite:  “Get Up!”  Can’t get enough of that chorus!  “We don’t need a reason to party, so get up get up!”  The first time I heard “Get Up!” was when Helix opened for Alice Cooper in Kitchener in early 2006.  It was a brand new song, but instantly memorable.  Brian Vollmer noticed I was in the second row singing along to the chorus.  He came down and slapped my hand!

Guitars are by session musician Steve Georgakopoulos who used to play Ace Frehley in the London tribute band Alive. As such, you may notice some very Ace-like bends and licks. Steve co-wrote every song on this album with Vollmer and Gord Prior (ex-Blu Bones). The only thing that I disliked about this album is that then-current members of the live Helix band doesn’t play on it. Rick VanDyk (ex-legendary Kitchener band Zero Option), Jim Lawson, Brent “Ned” Niemi, and Paul Fonseca did not appear, although they’d play everything live. In their stead are the aforementioned Steve Georgakopoulos on guitar, ex-Sven Gali drummer Rob MacEachern, and ex-Helix bassist Jeff “Stan” Fountain. I guess this is fine — these guys have a longstanding relationship with Helix. MacEachern even later joined the band in 2009. They’re all studio pros, and the album does not suffer for it. It’s just a personal taste thing. I prefer the members of the band to play on the albums. I’m traditional that way.

There’s a bonus track, a remake of the hit “Heavy Metal Love” which is almost as great as the original. Casual listeners might not even notice the difference. This was done to coincide with the use of the song in the first Trailer Park Boys movie.

If you’ve ever been a Helix fan, you will be delighted and pleasantly surprised by The Power Of Rock And Roll. Every single song kicks, no ballads. It is pure, raw, well recorded, well played, and Vollmer signs his ass off.

4.5/5 stars

Notice the Japanese symbol for “power” on the back?

REVIEW: Zero Option – Gates of Utopia (1991) #TBT

ZERO OPTION_0001ZERO OPTION – Gates of Utopia (1991 Fringe)

Here’s a blast from the past for your Throwback Thursday! Most readers will never have heard of Zero Option. Too bad! Zero Option blasted out Kitchener Ontario in the early 90’s with a fresh power metal sound. They released a debut album on indi label Fringe, a label best known for its punk rock roster including bands like Dayglo Abortions. Singer Phil Maddox was well known about town for his powerful pipes. Lead guitarist Rick VanDyk is probably best recognized for his later stint in another (more famous) Kitchener band — Helix.  The Helix connection must go way back to this album, because Greg “Fritz” Hinz is thanked in the liner notes, as is legendary vocal coach Ed Johnston from Fergus Ontario, who also coached Brian Vollmer in the technique of Bel canto.  (Johnston passed away in 2008.)

Zero Option sound nothing at all like Helix.  They present their metal with a bass-heavy Megadeth groove.  Maddox’s voice is nothing like Mustaine’s, but it too is a matter of taste.  He has a smooth singing voice, and the ability to belt it out, but lacks the range to hit some of the notes he’s going for.  Gates of Utopia is only a first album, and the guy probably would have grown as a singer had they made a second CD.  He already had a pretty unique voice, as I struggle to compare him to someone else.

Opener “State of Panic” occupies that Mega-groove (think “Symphony of Destruction”) and boasts some pretty wailing solos and a decent chorus.  “Face to Face” is a standout track, a thrash metal mash with a variety of cool elements: time changes, busy drums, guitar harmonies, and smoking riffage.  In 1991, Zero Option were going for a sound that was based equally in classic metal and thrash, and they were considered to be on the cutting edge with Gates of Utopia.  Listening back today I still get a feeling of “they were onto something cool”.  You can understand why people were raving about the CD back then.  The guitar work on “Face to Face” is top notch and the band were capable of tricky arrangements.


Other tracks good enough to put the CD on your want list include “Lords of the New Church”, which has a memorable chorus and tasty guitar harmonies.  “Think Tank” thrashes pretty hard and has dualing guitar solos, a gimmick I always enjoy.  “Right Off the Face” is one of the slow, grindy catchy ones.  Gates of Utopia is less about the individual songs and more about the overall impact: there are lots of guitar and vocal hooks over the course of this solidly made album.  It’s hard to judge it fairly by 2015 standards.  In 1991, these guys were right on the cusp of something new.  Something that bands such as Megadeth and Metallica would master and exploit to sell multi-platinum albums in just a short while: a cross pollination of thrash metal heaviness with more mainstream metal sounds.  Gates of Utopia couldn’t have done what those mega-sellers did, but another record or two and who knows what Zero Option could have sounded like fully sharpened?


The serious weak link here is the lyrical department.  For example, from “Rise and Fall”:

When the universe was created,
Man was not around.
Centuries later,
Evidence was found.

Subject matter discussed on Gates of Utopia are standard fare: censorship, TV preachers, the dangers of drugs, insanity, pollution, and girls.  They are adequate, but pretty highschool.  Of course, these guys were barely out of highschool.

Rick VanDyk still plays music today, in a Metallica tribute act called Sandman with former Helix members Brent “Ned” Neimi and Paul Fonseca.  So there ya go!

3/5 stars

REVIEW: Helix – A Heavy Mental Christmas (2008)

HEAVY MENTAL CHRISTMAS_0001HELIX – A Heavy Mental Christmas (2008 GBS)

Ahh, Christmas albums by rock bands! To me, the current wave all started with Trans-Siberian Orchestra. However, it is undeniable that Twisted Sister’s version of “Oh Come All Ye Faithful” also changed the playing field, giving them their biggest hit in decades.  It meant that any metal band could record Christmas songs now.

So Helix’ Brian Vollmer, no stranger to Christmas music (check out his Raising The Roof on Mary Immaculate disc) decided to record some Helix versions in that hot summer of August 2008. Yes, Christmas music is often recorded in summertime — that’s how they get it on the shelves for December. The effect this has on the music is worth questioning. It must be hard getting inspired to go caroling when it’s beach weather.

A Heavy Mental Christmas is not a bad Christmas album if you’re a metal fan. I wouldn’t nessesarily play this for grandma, but for people who already enjoy metal versions of Christmas songs, it’s a good listen. It’s not really my thing, personally. I loathe Christmas music in general (too many years working retail) and metal versions are not something I really get into. Having said that, with Vollmer’s excellent delivery here, these songs do shine. They are enjoyable, the band is in top shape, and all the songs are classics or traditionals except one original, “Christmas Time Is Here Again” by Brian’s friend and collaborator Steve Georgakopoulos. (Obviously, this isn’t the Beatles song “Christmas Time Is Here Again”.) Like some other Helix albums, this one clocks in at under 30 minutes, so be aware.  Only one song clocks in over 3 minutes.


The Helix band pictured on the sleeve is not entirely the band playing on the CD. Drummer Brent “Ned” Neimi, bassist Paul Fonseca, and guitarist Rick VanDyk (ex-Zero Option) are present, but long-timer guitarist Jim Lawson is not. (He lived in Sudbury, far from the London recording studio where this was made.) Instead you will find the wonderful guitar stylings of the aforementioned Steve Georgakopoulos (say that five times really fast), who played Ace Frehley in the London-based KISS tribute band Alive. Steve also played guitar on the previous Helix album, the excellent Power Of Rock And Roll, although he has never been an official member of the band. Either way, he’s a great writer and player, and he does have a Frehley-like vibe to his shredding.

Highlights:  The slick metal blues of “A Wonderful Christmas Time”.  The Lennon classic “Happy Christmas (War Is Over)” which to me is kind of sacred territory.  It’s hard to sing a song that John Lennon made famous, but Vollmer does so successfully.  And then there’s the original tune, “Christmas Time Is Here Again” which is really just a vintage Helix rocker with Christmas lyrics.  Musically it could have been on Long Way to Heaven, but there’s no mistaking the lyrics.  “Santa’s coming to the show!” announces Brian.

So, to sum up:

  1. I loathe Christmas music,
  2. but I love Helix,
  3. and this is still a pretty good album.

I think rock fans out there will like it a lot. The running time doesn’t bother me personally, as the album does not overstay its welcome and I have paid more money for less music before. If you’re a Helix fan, this album is a must to have.  It’s just fun, and it has balls. It was somewhat of a landmark for them, while it is only their 11th studio album, it was their 20th official release overall, and certainly that is worth celebrating.

3/5 stars, maybe 4/5 if you’ve already gotten into the egg nog!

If you want more Helix Christmas tunes, check out their 7″ single for “All I Want For Christmas is the Leafs to Win the Cup”.