Rob MacEachern

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: Helix – Vagabond Bones (2009)


Welcome back to Canadian Rawk Week!

Scan_20160210HELIX – Vagabond Bones (2009 Universal)

2009 was an exciting time to be a Helix fan.  15-odd years of rotating lineups kept the band alive and in the clubs, but it was hard to grow attached to any band members when they only stayed for a couple years and were off elsewhere.  Helix main man Brian Vollmer had always maintained strong ties with former members, and guys like Brent Doerner often showed up on albums, or in the audience at local Helix shows.  It was still a surprise when Doerner, drummer Greg “Fritz” Hinz, and bassist Daryl Gray all returned to the Helix lineup.  This completed the classic 80’s version of the band, or at least the surviving members thereof.  Paul Hackman was killed in 1993 in a tragic auto accident.  Replacing him in the lineup was Kaleb “Duckman” Duck, who had previously worked with Brent.

Vollmer was working on a new album (originally called It’s Rock Science, NOT Rocket Science!), writing with his partners Sean Kelly and Moe Berg (The Pursuit of Happiness).   The final product entitled Vagabond Bones has a variety of different players on it.  Former Helix members Brent “Ned” Niemi and Rob MacEachern play drums, and guitar maestro Kelly (also briefly a Helix member) contributed to guitar and bass.  Also on the CD is Steve Georgakopoulos who played on a few past Helix albums.  You’d think it would be a case of “too many cooks” in the kitchen.  That’s not the case; Vollmer and Co. brewed a potent mixture of songs, with all the attitude and quality that you have come to expect from this band.

Immediately you’re hit over the head by the slick production work by Vollmer, Kelly and Aaron Murray. “The Animal Inside (Won’t Be Denied)” has the stamps of both Helix and Sean Kelly all over it, from the absurdly catchy chorus to the shredding solos. Vollmer sings powerfully, but his voice has so much depth character from years of training and road work.  Very few singers from the 70’s still sound the same, but Brian Vollmer is damn close!  “Go Hard or Go Home” has another powerful chorus, plus great catchy riff, and fun lyrics.  “Go hard, or go home, take your little whiny candy ass and go.”  Considering all that Helix has been through, Vollmer surely knows only the strong survive.  “No short cuts, no sweet deals,” he sings and he knows it!  The title track “Vagabond Bones” makes it three great songs in a row. It’s an instantly likeable good time hard rock boogie.

Helix really developed a knack for melody as they grew. One of the most pop moments is “Monday Morning Meltdown”, a song that Brian compared to Cheap Trick in terms of style.  You can hear it in the choruses, but it’s just a great pop rock song with another great Sean Kelly riff holding down the fort.  Very different for Helix, and very good.

Onto a fast vintage Van Halen style shuffle, “When The Bitter’s Got The Better Of You” is the fifth straight up great song in a row.  It too is very different for Helix.  It continues a theme of “down on your luck” songs, but always with a message to keep on givin’ ‘er.  That holds true on “Hung Over But Still Hanging In”, a sleeze rock duet with Russ Dwarf of Killer Dwarfs.  If you need a hard rocking party song, then this is what you want. It has the groove, the fun, and the lyrics so just hoist them wobbly-pops and rock on!

My personal favourite song has always been “Best Mistake I Never Made”. It has a classic 70’s rock aura, an acoustic guitar, and if I had to compare it to something else it would be Helix’s excellent 1992 single “That Day Is Gonna Come”.  That’s a trip down memory lane that I don’t mind taking.  “Make ‘Em Dance” is a fast stomper with a beat that strikes me as almost Disco.  It just rages though, I wouldn’t try dancing to it until you want to break your neck!

Ending the album on a funky rock vibe is “Jack it Up”. This is a really interesting song, because I used to hate it. You may have to let it grow on you because, like much of this album, it’s forging new territory for Helix. It’s still great party rock, but just a little laid back.

With sharp production, Vagabond Bones was certainly the best sounding Helix album, and the best overall in many a year. And that’s saying something, because 2007’s The Power Of Rock And Roll was very, very strong.  Hearing this album for the first time, I just smiled.  I had to.  Helix were back and pretty much better than ever.

5/5 stars

REVIEW: Sven Gali – Sven Gali (1992)

First of a two-part series, by request of Deke!


SVEN GALI – Sven Gali (1992 BMG)

Sven Gali were a good band. To put this into context, in the early 90’s Canada was home to a growing hard rock scene that combined traditional metal with the harder alternative sounds that were coming out of Seattle. I Mother Earth was probably the first band to combine these sounds into one unique whole. Sven Gali were more on the rock side, but they did combine the groove and heaviness that was coming out of Seattle with hard rock. The first single “Under The Influence”, which was a hit on Much, is a great example of this.

Comparisons with forebears Skid Row were added to album cover stickers, and the talented drummer Gregg Gerson was poached from Billy Idol’s band.  (Prior to this, Steve Macgregor and Rob MacEachern occupied the drum stool.  MacEachern would later go on to play with Helix.)  While nobody in the band were slouches, singer David Wanless boasted a tough, powerful voice able to handle the heavy material, similar to someone like Johnny Solinger of Skid Row.  (I have heard that Mr. Wanless worked at Home Depot in St. Catharines after Sven Gali.)  Also notable was the late guitarist Dee Cernille, who recently lost his long battle with cancer.

Sven Gali is stacked top-heavy with standouts.  This means it tends to have a stronger side one vs. side two.  The first two songs were singles (the video hit “Under the Influence”, the helicopter whop-whop of “Tie Dyed Skies”).  Both these songs walk a fine line of heavy but singalong choruses, while maintaining its gritty 90’s-ness.

The generically titled “Sweet Little Gypsy” is a strong, Crue-like album track, but it is followed by another single, “In My Garden”.  This is a dark ballad, demonstrating the 90’s side of the band.  It too was a video hit.  “Freaks” is a hard rocker that could have been a single in my books.  I had this one early on a Sven Gali sampler cassette mailed out by M.E.A.T Magazine.  I’d be happy to show that cassette if it wasn’t packed up in a box.  Side two was finished with the excellent ballad “Love Don’t Live Here Anymore”.  It’s obvious that Sven Gali were going for the Extreme/Mr. Big template with this one.  There are no drums, the lyrics are sentimental, and it was designed for the female side of the hard rock fan spectrum.  But it’s still a good song, and performance.  I’d rate this one as a solid-also ran behind “More Than Words” and “To Be With You”.

SVEN_0002Side two commenced with the furiously heavy “Stiff Competition”, once again firmly planted in Van Skid Crue territory.  Far from the best song on the album, it’s certainly the heaviest, gratuitous “F-bomb” included.  “Real Thing” is pretty poor.  It’s an annoying and grating throwaway.  “Whisper in the Rain” is another ballad, this one is a little more generic than the preceding two.  And didn’t you just know it was going to be a ballad by the title?  It has a moment or two, but in general I’ve heard this kind of song done better before by Skid Row…Killer Dwarfs…Motley Crue…Guns N’ Roses…etc.

“25 Hours A Day” is back to rock.  It’s not a stinker, but aside from a good chorus, the song doesn’t stand out.  “Here Today, Gone Tomorrow” is back to the speedy rock sounds of “Stiff Competition” with which we began this side of the album.  If anything these two songs show off Gerson’s incredible drum chops.  Shame he left the band after this album…

Sven Gali closes with the Teenage Head cover “Disgusteen”, saving the best for last.  Frankie Venom himself (R.I.P., cancer again) performs the exorcism scene.  Awesome!

Sven Gali earned the band two 1993 Juno Awards nominations:  Most Promising Group, and Hard Rock Album Of The Year.  They won neither, but good on them.  Aaron would be pleased to remember that Skydiggers won Most Promising Group that year.  Hard Rock was won by rival band Slik Toxik.

Unfortunately, all would not go well for our friends in Sven Gali.  Seattle came a-knockin’, and they answered.  Or was it the other way around?  It doesn’t matter; it ends the same way.  Find out tomorrow when we finish the tale.

3/5 stars