Tuesday 13 July 2021

Helloween - Helloween (2021)

Country: Germany
Style: Heavy/Power Metal
Rating: 7/10
Release Date: 18 Jun 2021
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I've been a fan of Helloween since I heard Metal Invaders on the Death Metal sampler that Noise put out back in 1984. Hellhammer and Helloween? Hell yeah. And Running Wild too! Whatever happened to Dark Avenger? Anyway, I followed them through Walls of Jericho and the Keeper of the Seven Keys albums, which just kept on getting better and better, but I wasn't as enthused by Pink Bubbles Go Ape, much preferring Heading for Tomorrow, the debut from Gamma Ray, formed by guitarist Kai Hansen when he left Helloween. When singer Michael Kiske left too in 1993, I drifted away and I can't say that I've heard any of the further dozen albums the band has put out.

Until now, that is, and I'm paying attention to this one not just because that's why I set up Apocalypse Later Music to begin with, but because, for the first time since Keeper of the Seven Keys Part II in 1988, both Hansen and Kiske are back in the band. That means two lead vocalists now, because Andi Deris, who replaced Kiske in 1994, is still in the line-up. Hansen sings too, as well as lending his guitar to the fray, alongside Sascha Gerstner, his replacement's replacement, who's been there since 2002, and, of course, founder member Michael Weikath, who never left the band. The prospect of Helloween with a pair of lead vocalists and a three-pronged guitar assault, is irresistible.

I don't believe that this album quite lives up to that set up, but it takes a damn good shot at doing so and its best moments are easily up there with the best they've ever done. Skyfall, the twelve minute epic that closes out the album, is a real peach and there are plenty of highlights before it shows up to take the running time over an hour. I've listened through three times thus far and know that I have to repeat at least as much to fully grasp what's going on here.

Out for the Glory and Fear of the Fallen kick things off as the band means to go on. They hearken back to the band's Keeper of the Seven Keys heyday with high, soaring melodies over speed metal backing. As you might expect from Helloween, there's also a lot of dynamic play going on in both, perhaps even more in Fear of the Fallen than Out for the Glory, which has over seven minutes to explore. It even has a narrative section courtesy of journalist Xavier Russell. "Come now, there's not a moment to waste," he states, and they don't. There's a glorious vocal back and forth midway through the song, the solos are fantastic and the choruses are quintessential Helloween.

Best Time is just as interesting, though it's slower and the verses are oddly often reminiscent of Billy Idol. Angels is slower still and much more introspective, but it ramps up impressively by the end. Rise without Chains kicks back into tempo and Indestructible adds the heaviest riff thus far. There are cool strings on Down in the Dumps. All these songs in the middle of the album are worthy, but none are up to the quality of the first two or, indeed, the last one. They're why this is a 7/10 review instead of 8 or 9 as the bookends deserve.

And to that final song. It's the epic of the album, but it's even more epic if we add in Orbit, which has a track number of its own but is really an interlude between the album and Skyfall, as well as an intro to that final track, so I'm seeing it as over thirteen minutes of glory that any heavy/power metal fan will revel in. Helloween have never really gone away since they were founded in Hamburg in 1983 but they are emphatically back nonetheless and the future is bright, as underlined by the fact that this is their first self-titled release since their excellent debut EP in 1985. "Yesterday is history," they sing on Best Time, "tomorrow is a mystery." I'm looking forward to it.

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