Helloween - Helloween
(Nuclear Blast – 2021)
As part of my favorite releases of 2021 writing project, I decided to begin with this masterpiece from legendary German band, Helloween. I was introduced to Helloween in 1987 during their first stateside tour. Back then folks who worked at a variety of music industry labels knew each other and friends at Noise sent me a tape of these gentlemen along with passes to a show. Two years later I had the chance to see them again on the renowned Headbanger’s Ball tour as they say the rest is history.
I cannot say I own every Helloween album or saw them on every tour, but they have remained a mainstay in my playlist. The one good thing that came out of this never-ending pandemic is the plethora of good music released by artists who had more time to perfect their art. Whether the concept for this album happened before or during the time while the world stood still, Helloween is one of the best selection of music I have heard in quite a while.
From the brilliant, clean production to the astronomical writing, Helloween is a combination of classic Helloween meets adult Helloween. Throughout the band’s history, they have imploded twice and lost a beloved band member, this alone would have made seasoned bands give up. Helloween have proven time again that they are survivors and mature enough to put their creative and personal differences aside for the greater good of the band. The integration of the current line up and two additional original members, does not read as a cash grab but more a realization of endless potential.
While the band kicked around a multitude album titles; they decided on Helloween which is the perfect clarification of who they are. Not merely because this is the name of the band but more an incorporation of where they started, what they have achieved, and the infinite possibilities of their
future. The concept is also captured in the stunning cover art by artist, Eliran Kantor who incorporated various previous album art.
A big decision. with track choices, is the first track as this the listener’s introduction and sets the pace for the rest of album. Michael Weikath’s 'Out for the Glory' is perfect, hearing Kiske on vocals is reminiscent of the band’s infamous beginnings. Weikath who has, not only, been the one to often hold the fragile pieces of the band together but has remained a principal songwriting and has penned brilliant Helloween creations.
'Out for the Glory' is traditional Weikath; it is a multi-layered, heavy yet melodic, superbly written song. Weikath’s dexterity as a songwriter is easily comparable to writer/producers such as Jimmy Page in the sense that each listen peels back another layer and discovers something that was not apparent before. This particular track has that effect; I would compare it to the epic, 'Keeper of the Seven Keys' which is a work of genius.
'Fear of the Fallen' is one of several tracks written by Andi Deris. The intro made me think 'If I Could Fly' part two but the song evolves soon after into a well written heavy yet melodious piece with a delicate guitar interlude. 'Fear of the Fallen' is one of several that features Kiske/Deris dual vocals.
'Best Times' is a Deris/Gerstner collaboration. This is more of a pop/metal-oriented track, influenced by one, the other, or both. It is still very 'Helloween' but has a unique flair. Both are strong writers who create catchy yet robust creations.
'Angels', which is written by Gerstner, is a flawless example of his writing ability. It is a powerful, haunting creation with clever time changes. Special note: Michael Kiske rocks the vocals. The assimilation of classic and newer Helloween was initially questionable to both nostalgic fans and fans that came on board with the current composition. Many music fans take music and the accompanying bands, personally. Music is a private interpretation as it is escapism as well as generating personal remembrances. As a sentimental Helloween fan, I was unsure about the variety of personnel changes, but it was easy to recognize the addition of members such as Gerstner and what he brings to the table.
Bassist, Markus Grosskopf, who has written a handful of songs over the years, but has not been a major contributing songwriter, which is ok as he is an ass kicking bassists who is on the same level as Harris, Wyse, Glover and Jones. When people dance at concerts or in dance clubs, it is the rhythm section they are moving too. The bass and drums are the pulse of the music. However, 'Indestructible' is absolute genius and one of the best offered tracks. It is a raw, punchy heavy offering by Grosskopf.
'Robot King' is another phenomenal contribution by Michael Weikath. His songs often read as a mini novel, as he is as much a storyteller as a songwriter. Which leads me to 'Down In The Dumps'; whether the song is typical Weikath humor or a very bad day; Weikath can take a song about something simple and turn it into something musically complex. The evocative introduction had me convinced I was hearing the work of a violin, as a violinist since the age of nine, it was surprising to me that I was listening to a specialized guitar Weikath acquired for this specific sound.
'Skyfall', All hail Mr. Kai Hansen. While his spectacular guitar work is notable in various points this is his epic concept. The fan nominated father of power metal, one of the original Helloween members and songwriters, as well as his work with Gamma Ray; ( yes, many of us bow down to the 'Majestic' album), Hansen as a songwriter and guitar virtuoso is never predictable. The accompanying video to 'Skyfall' is a sci-fi, fantasy sequence which pans from live performances to Roswell.
Helloween, both album and band, have come full circle. With three strong vocalists and three solid guitarists, it enables the band to recreate on stage what they conceived in studio. Whether you are a nostalgic fan, a fan that discovered the band later on or are not yet familiar with Helloween; Helloween is everything, everyone is looking for.
This is sheer brilliance.
By Dawn Belotti