Album Title: Helloween
Label: Nuclear Blast
Date of Release: 18 June 2021
I feel the need to open this review with an admission, regardless of the bother it is bound to cause for me. The truth is that I’d much rather listen to ‘Master Of The Rings’ or ‘The Dark Ride’ than ‘Keeper Of The Seven Keys Part II’. I ‘discovered’ the pumpkin-obsessed German power metal band via the former and so it enjoys a coveted place in my heart. I purchased ‘Keeper…’ a little while later having been told in no uncertain terms that this represented Helloween at their majestic peak. I listened, I quite liked it, but for yours truly, it ain’t their best. I readily accept that others think very differently and that’s cool with me. It’s a bit like ‘Star Wars’ – another obsession I don’t quite understand – you probably had to be there at the time it came out to feel the magic more keenly.
This opening waffle serves an important purpose because I suspect that I might not be the only one to think this, with fans the world over preferring this or that album from their extensive discography. But this latest album has been labelled by many as the most exciting release from Helloween since ‘Keeper…’ back in 1988 as it might be the catalyst to bring all Helloween fans together. After an incredibly successful tour under the ‘Pumpkins United’ banner, it was felt that Helloween should continue into the future with three singers, the very three singers that have performed microphone duties with Helloween over their 35-year history, namely Michael Kiske, Kai Hansen, and Andi Deris. It is something that many fans have cried out for and now it is reality.
As always, releases that are so exciting on paper, tend to arrive in my inbox accompanied by nervousness. I think the entire metal world wants this to be a killer album. There will be some who will already think it is without hearing a note, whilst inevitably some will decide it’s awful. In my case, I steered clear of the songs that were released early, so that I could come to the album with completely fresh ears.
But before getting on to the music, I think that a mention needs to be made regarding the artwork. Eliran Kantor is fast becoming one of the most sought-after artists and one look at this cover-art and it doesn’t take a genius to understand why. It is a stunning work and has only raised the level of expectancy from ten to eleven in my book. It also increases my nerves – please don’t let this album be bad.
I would have loved more time with it if I’m being completely honest. 65 minutes of music is not easily digested and, if I’m honest, serves as the only real negative about this self-titled sixteenth album. I’m sure that excitement and enthusiasm within the ranks was the main reason, but I have to be consistent and suggest that it’s just one or two songs too long overall. Apart from that, you’ll be relieved and delighted to learn that ‘Helloween’ is a very solid record indeed.
Having already mentioned the vocalists, the newly expanded septet is completed by familiar presence of guitarist Michael Weikath and bassist Maskus Grosskopf alongside drummer Daniel Loeble and third axeman Sascha Gerstner. Each and every member of the band have put their heart and soul into this record, that’s clear to hear from beginning to end. It means that the album is littered with ear catching performances, not just behind the microphone as you might expect, but from the energetic drum and bass battery that harks back to the speed of 80s Hellowen, the riffs, melodies, and the guitar leads that are an ever-present element as you might expect from a band with three guitarists.
‘Helloween’ is also an impressively diverse record. The opening seven-minute salvo, ‘Out For The Glory’ will delight fans of the ‘Keeper…’ era, as it rips along at a blistering pace, whilst bursting at the seams with that unmistakeable joie-de-vivre for which the band have long been known. I’m reminded of songs like ‘Eagle Fly Free’ in the tone and delivery if that helps you to salivate more at the prospect. But there’s still space for a little quirkiness, such as the bizarre narration towards the end, and plenty of catchy melody led by the interplay between the three vocalists. It is hard to single out any one of them, but Kiske does sound rather imperious, laughing in the face of the years that have done nothing to damage his vocal abilities.
At the other end of the spectrum, you get songs like ‘Mass Pollution’, which veers headlong into 80s hard rock territory with a swagger and groove that’s hard to ignore. The chorus is a live anthem in waiting, so catchy and strong. Deris leads the vocals on this track to powerfully underline his continued undeniable presence in the band. As is the Helloween way, more of the latter years, there’s still room for a touch of quirkiness, but it all comes together to create an irresistible heavy metal anthem.
By now, many of you will have heard and be familiar with ‘Skyfall’ which is epic both in terms of its 12-minute length and in its grandiose scope. All three vocalists give their all to create a song that lives long in the memory. But equally, so do the instrumentalists, riffing, soloing, pummelling, grooving, and generally creating a merry noise that flies by faster than its length might suggest. Strong melodies meet great dynamics so that there’s rarely a dull moment to be heard, whether it’s a galloping section, blistering bursts of speed metal, or a slower, quieter acoustic-led moment of respite. Again, that joie-de-vivre looms large, planting a great big smile on my face, whilst I love the ‘somewhere out in space’ line that can be heard as the song fades away at the end, as a clever reference I assume to Kai Hansen’s Gamma Ray.
Other favourites include the early double act of ‘Fear Of The Fallen’ and ‘Best Time’. The former begins with a brooding acoustic intro before delivering an urgent riff that’s instantly backed-up by furious rhythmic work and breathless vocals. The chorus is one of the strongest on the record, whilst the bass work of Maskus Grosskopf is nothing short of marvellous. I also love the slightly darker vibe as well as the changes in pace to add drama and punctuate the all-out pace of greater portions of the song. The latter is nothing short of a feel-good hit of saccharine infused fun, with a chorus to absolutely die for. Within seconds, the chorus can be sung along with, whilst the bass-centric verses add more than a hint of the 80s to the song.
‘Rise Without Chains’ is an infectious beast too that I have grown to love more and more with each passing listen. And the thunderous ‘Down In The Dumps’ reminds me, in the best way, or more latter-day Gamma Ray, but with plenty of Helloween trappings for good measure.
If I’m completely and utterly honest though, as I hinted at earlier, there are a few of the songs that, whilst undeniably good, don’t stick in my mind and demand repeated listens. I wanted to publish this review sooner but felt the need to see if this was an opinion formed early on and open to manoeuvre. As such, I have given it plenty of time and attention, but I still form a similar opinion. I can take or leave songs like ‘Angels’ or ‘Cyanide’ as potent as they are and as much as others will no doubt love them. It means that, as good as ‘Helloween’ is, I must admit that even now, I’d still rather listen to ‘Master Of The Rings’. I know that this is down to subjectivity and personal taste, but it’s the truth. ‘Helloween’ is in no way a substandard album. It is really great in fact. And if you love the band, you’ll almost certainly love this record – rightly so. But there’s just something stopping me from falling for it completely and wanting to desperately listen to it at every opportunity. And that’s is a bit of a shame.
The Score of Much Metal: 89%
You can also check out my other reviews from previous years right here: