Helloween - Keeper Of The Seven Keys 1 - FrontThis album has one bad song. All the others are so good that I keep giving “A Tale that Wasn’t Right” chance after chance, convinced that I must be missing out on its genius somehow. But it remains a bad song.

The rest of the tracks are classic German speed/power metal, with lots of riffs, huge choruses, and a pleasant sense of camp. Helloween is the band that can take you on a 14 minute progressive metal journey, and midway through, you get a lyrical reference to Charles Schultz’s Peanuts. The band’s childlike naivete and sense of humor is genuinely refreshing, and set them apart from a metal scene that was already becoming laughably self-serious.

Kai Hansen is a dominating songwriting force here. His high speed-cookers “I’m Alive” and “Twilight of the Gods” are very fast, the former more agitated, the latter more ambitious and story-driven. “A Little Time” and “Future World” are catchy midpaced rockers, the latter having its childlike melodies cut with creepy brainwashed lyrics – this isn’t power metal as much as Jim Jones metal.

“A Tale that Wasn’t Right” dull and sloppy, but Michael Kiske’s piercing voice is somewhat a point of interest. “Initiation” and “Follow the Sign” are little filler instrumentals that help add a little atmosphere between tracks. The Keeper albums aren’t concept albums as such, unless it’s possible to be a concept album without a concept. The only thing uniting them is the uniting them is the vaguely Nostradamus-like character of the Keeper, who has all of time and space floating within his cowl.

The final song is “Halloween” (A plus two E’s), an incredible recap of Helloween’s (three E’s) career to date: heavy Anthrax-esque thrash riffs, speedy tremolo picking, what seems to be several dozen harmonised guitar solos smashing together in a musical clown car collision, and Kiske nailing ungodly high notes. An astonishing blizzard of speed and technicality that pretty much set the bar on what’s possible with power metal – and yet the songwriting is clever enough that it can be condensed into a 5 minute single while still making sense.

The songs are great, and the lasting impression is one of grandeur, fun, and nostalgia. Sad, too. The Keeper of the Seven Keys diptych came too late to launch them to stardom. Come another couple of years and they’d be a band in ruins – destroyed from the inside by a depressed drummer and egomaniac singer, destroyed from the outside by the advent of grunge rock. By the time they recovered, the window of opportunity was gone. They’re still battling on, without Kai, Kiske, or Schwichtenberg, but they never regained what they’d had before.

With this album nearly twenty years old, its touching to remember the band that was king, if only for A Little Time.

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