Helloween’s latest album has some good songs. Not too many – you won’t need to graft additional digits on to your hands to count them – but they’re there. Yet it doesn’t matter. The magic is gone. What happened to the good old days, when the songwriting was careless and free? Helloween is now an overcalculated parody of itself.
To recap, Helloween’s Keeper of the Seven Keys 1 and 2 established them as a band of huge promise in the late 80s. Speed metal was already desiccating into something dry and unappealing – Helloween sounded fun, colourful, and catchy. They soon moved away from metal and started aping The Beatles, which went over as well as you’d expect.
The band reshuffled its lineup and had a nice little renaissance in the mid 90s, with Roland Grapow on lead guitar and Uli Kusch on drums. Then that lineup collapsed at its high point (The Dark Ride), and the band decided to call it a day. Or so my crack fantasies go. In reality, here we are with yet another not-so-essential power metal album.
It has better production than the last few albums, but that highlights what a meatless meal this is. Most of the songs are simply not good. And even when they are good, they’re an obvious, safe kind of good. Opening track “Nabataea” is one from the latter category, containing a rote progression of effects-laden intro –> Iron Maiden melodies –> Megadeth thrash riff –> etc. Very predictable. You can almost hear the band ticking things off a list.
That song was written by the guy behind the microphone. If you want to talk about The Beatles, Andi Deris is this band’s Paul McCartney. He’s written some of their most powerful and interesting songs (“Before the War”, “The Shade in the Shadow”, “Time”), but also some of their most commercial and irritating (“As Long as I Fall”, “Mrs God”). On this album, he is an outright liability. He contributes five songs, and three of them are hogwash. Firing Deris would not save this band but it would be huge step in the right direction.
The album’s best moments are penned by Michael Weikath. The scorching mini-epic “Burning Sun” and the catchy and nostalgic “Years” are very good songs, I keep coming back to them even after I’ve forgotten what’s on the rest of this disc. In the Keeper era, Weikath was the band’s weak link. Now he embodies everything that’s still good about this band.
Grosskopf still has his highly active basslines, and Sascha Gerstner makes a fairly good lead guitarist (Roland cannot be substituted for.) I don’t know why I dislike Daniel Löble’s drumming. Maybe it’s the overloud cymbals, maybe it’s his fill-heavy style that tries to make the music all about him. Competent musicianship all around.
But competent musicianship doesn’t mean competent music. Straight out of Hell is boring and crappy. Didn’t they realise that nobody wants to hear “We Will Rock You” by Queen ever again, and that rewriting it into a 2 minute joke song called “Wanna Be God” is gilding a venereal lily? Didn’t they realise that three of these songs (“Far Beyond the Stars”, “Make Fire Catch the Fly”, and “Church Breaks Down”) have the exact same chorus? Didn’t they realise they should have broken up years ago?