A Guide For Little Aliens
Helloween are a band that I am sure most regular readers of CGCM will be very well aware of. Do we really need a historical piece? I suppose there will be one or two poor souls that haven’t heard of them. Perhaps they have been living on another planet. In which case “Hey little alien” let me tell you a short story.
Helloween formed in Hamburg Germany 1984 and featured drummer Ingo Schwichtenberg (RIP) on drums, Michael Weikath (guitar), Markus Grosskopf (bass), the latter two being members all the way through until now and Kai Hansen on lead vocals and guitar. After a couple of years they brought in a new lead singer called Michael Kiske who had simply an unbelievable voice!
After a couple of amazing albums Kai left and by ’93 Kiske was gone to be replaced by Andi Deris on vocals who has remained ever-present from then. Since the early 2000s drums have been played by Daniel Loeble and Sascha Gerstner has been on the second guitar. Around 2016 someone thought it would be a rather lovely idea for both guys who had left years ago to do some shows with the band as it is now. So came the tour known as Pumpkins Reunited. They all got on rather well and had a blast. So much so they decided to start writing together and that is where we are now, the imminent release of their new album simply entitled Helloween. The question even non “little aliens” might be asking is “how good is it?”
The album has 12 tracks (unless you buy either the digibook or vinyl where there are 14 or the Earbook (yes I had to look it up) which has 15) written by various members which allows ALL eras of Helloween to come out and play. All the power and indeed speed metal one could hope for in a single album. To get the authentic original feel of the band they even recorded the album with Ingo‘s original drum kit so he can be there in spirit which shows the care to this project as well as love and respect for all involved.
Songs, Not Egos
The opener “Out For Glory” kicks things off strangely (well it is Helloween) with eerie sound effects leading into what is a riff that is very similar to Slayer‘s “Raining Blood” albeit a bit slower. After about a minute the song fully comes in and it is simply classic Helloween.
Like throughout, the album having three singers and three guitarists allows them to switch things around not only riff-wise but melodically. At one point a rather bizarre voice comes in encouraging the song’s subject to “wake up as your chariot is wasting and the old guard are at the Colosseum waiting“. They kind of lost me there and not for the first time! That is part of the joy of the band they are slightly eccentric which is completely endearing. It will surprise no one who knows them to say this has a HUGE chorus (don’t they all?).
The second single release is the second song here and many will have heard it on You Tube so will be aware of the acoustic opening and the lovely moving chorus. Although this was written by Andy Deris he hands the main vocal parts to Mr. Kiske. The one thing that they all agreed on was that whoever was best for a vocal line or part got to sing it no matter who wrote it. The songs themselves are the focus here not egos. This is one of several tracks that have keyboards or some form of orchestration and it would seem that at least on this track (possibly the others too) they used the services of Jens Johansson from Stratovarius.
“Best Time” definitely borrows from Billy Idol (“Rebel Yell” I think) in the main riff. I particularly love the vocal choices in the chorus. “I will have the best time of my life” has a chirpiness about it whereas “yesterday is history, tomorrow is a mystery” is almost a dark sounding chant. The guitar solos provide the most upbeat sections of the song.
“Mass Pollution” starts with the bass followed by the drums giving this a very rhythmic feel. The riff is pretty damned heavy. However as is often the case the dark or heavy is counterpointed with upbeat and melodic, in this case, the “make some noise” begs for a loud response from the crowd. There is a hint of Judas Priest on this. Although this has more quirky vocals than Priest would ever throw onto a song.
“Angels” is the closest thing to a ballad on the album with the harmonies around the chorus particularly lovely. Even the guitar solos are more laid back and in keeping with the song. It was a slow grower for me needing repeated listens for it to sink in properly.
“Rise Without Chains” brings the tempo back up in the main. There are slower moments that enhance the more energetic metal. “Indestructible” is a terrific song that will fit nicely into the live arena. Lyrically this could be about the band in parts as much as the hope for a better world for us all. “We are fighting for a world without oppression, a world we can live in without fear” they sing, asking us all to fight for each other for a better future. The chorus “Indestructible we are one” has that anthemic vibe that folks could definitely sing out loud in concert.
“Robot King” has moments that actually swing, yes SWING. The “we’re going on forever” is danceable! Is that a first? The song is also a speed metal monster. How do they combine both those elements? Cleverly and wonderfully. The musical transition around four and a half minutes is so damned smooth. Great track altogether.
“Cyanide” is for me the weakest song on the album, but it is still a decent song. The chorus is very poppy and it has a sweet classical vibe going on guitar-wise before the riff kicks in. So still good things to enjoy.
“Down In The Dumps” is very “Keepers 2” in the way it twists and turns. At times happy, at other moments sad, once again good and evil going on. Some great vocals in the lead-up to the chorus which has the strangest of conclusions saying (or so it sounds) “down in the dumps, can’t take no more, like a fish in a bowl“. The last part is a WHAT? Still, it wouldn’t be Helloween without some strange couplets.
Bona Fide Classic
“Orbit” is a short intro into the big last song. It builds atmosphere with sound effects and a guitar part that hinted at “Ode To Joy” which might mean something… or not. “Skyfall” is a classic, a bona fide classic. No two ways about it. The video (which is four minutes shorter than the album version) is underneath so check it out if you haven’t already. It is a story of a “little alien” who crashes on earth and his problems here. The album allows for more drama and texture with a beautiful elongated ending which made me think of “Stargazer” by Rainbow due to the way the story and imagery are presented.
An Absolute Treat
This is easily the best Helloween album for a very long time. The way all the elements are included, the camaraderie actually is noticeable. With most of the band taking part in writing and arranging and everyone making sure the best man was used for each part to get the best out of each song helps tremendously. An absolute treat to have all the guys together and with rumors that they already have potential songs for another album, this seems like the start of something magic. Well done all involved for giving fans what they want and having fun doing it. Roll on the postponed gigs next year. They should be fantastic.
Out June 18 On Nuclear Blast Records