- For die hard proggers?
In the words of Roel van Helden, “A drummer who needs to make a solo album…. Don’t be afraid, it won’t be odd measures and drum solos all over the place. My goal for my first solo album was to write some good songs, not using it as a showcase of my technical abilities.” Funny that he mentions it himself, because the first thing my fellow collaborator Tyson Norgren mentioned to me when he sent me the promo was his surprise that this wasn’t along the lines of a typical drummer solo album a la Gavin Harrison; in other words, all chops to the backdrop of terrible music. Luckily, Roel van Helden (Rule from Heroes, System Heroes, former Sun Caged/Delphian/Subsignal) managed to pull off an album that is all about the songs. Having enjoyed his work when he was a member of Sun Caged, I was curious to dive into this album and see what it was all about.
Launching the album off is “130 Thousand Miles,” an enjoyable instrumental piece with great groove and atmospheric vibe. While really not a complex piece, there is something tremendously catchy going on here that got my excitement going as it lead me into the album. The follow up, “The Long Road Ahead” threw me a bit of a curve ball. The groove stayed catchy, but the added vocal element and overall composition screamed out 80’s a bit much, not to say that it was bad, just not what I was expecting. Following in this vein is “No More Silence,” a sort of piano infused power ballad, if you will, followed by “Out of Time,” which introduces lead female vocals over a dark atmosphere, once again carrying a similar 80’s vibe. By the time we get to “Break the Glass” it gets a bit ‘prog metal,’ not a bad thing here, and even carries some interesting elements such as synth bass and a nice little atmospheric drum section as a lead up to the guitar solo (which is distinguishable as Marcel Coenen, who I have admired since my youth). While I wasn’t hugely impressed up to this point, there had not been anything that had really been bad, just not my style for the most part. That is, until bumping up against “No Sense of Ease.” Get ready to have your ears assaulted by Nu-Metal style singing (anyone remember the days of Kid Rock and Limp Bizkit getting too much attention?), which I suppose could be considered pretty cutting edge in prog, given the fact that it is rarely used (for good reason). Things do pick up a bit though with the follow up “Come Undone,” a song that displays a nice mix of gothic influences with classic metal and vocals which shift between dark and gritty. The album closes off fantastically with a sort of reprise of “130 Thousand Miles,” in the slower, even more atmospheric track, “The 4th Dimension.” In my opinion this is a fantastic way to close off the album, linking it to the beginning of the work and providing a sort of relaxing backdrop to soak up in the final minutes of listening.
While I was overall unimpressed with the composition of the album as a whole, which seemed a bit 80’s and mundane for my tastes, there were two particular things that stood out. Firstly, what I would hope would stand out on a drummer solo album: the drumming. It’s funny, because Roel shows extreme restraint in terms of pulling out technical tricks, however, his work on the kit is extremely enjoyable throughout. He has a great sense of groove that really gets you bobbing your head and admiring his tasteful playing. The other thing that caught my attention was the bass playing on the album. While there were a ton of players listed on the album(Daniel Kohn, Ralf Schwager, Pierre de la Rue, Harold Gielen, and Richard Ritterbeeks), the bass playing was top notch throughout and always drew my attention with its impressive and appropriate phrasing. In fact, I found quite impressive the large group of accomplished musicians that Roel put together. Looks like in his future he may be giving Arjen Lucassen a run for his money if he can build up the right group of guys for the right roles.
Those with a taste of 80’s nostalgia who are interested in catchy music with progressive overtones should certainly check out Roel van Helden’s solo album: RvH. Not bad for a first effort. With a cast of musicians like this and solid grooves to boot, fans of Roel’s drumming most likely won’t be dissappointed.