This is it; this is the big one. Album releases do not come much more anticipated than this. Typically, a Helloween album would create some excitement, after all the band that are considered to have begun what became known as Euro power metal has a seriously dedicated fan base. However, overdrive will have commenced in 2017 at the news of not one but two former vocalists, Michael Kiske and Kai Hansen re-joining original members Michael Weikath and Markus Grosskopf as well as current vocalist Andi Deris for a world tour under the Pumpkins United banner. Anyone that attended any of the shows will attest that Helloween were a band that had recaptured a spark, tripping through their entire history with a full on stage show that made something of a visual spectacular.
The question is though….is an album a good idea? Helloween’s history includes members leaving, others being fired and while it is good news that hatchets have been buried and water is flowing under the bridge, this can translate well on stage but the creative process for an album can be a completely different idea all together. There will be misty eyes and some fist pumping at the return of Kiske and Hansen which represents one of the greatest periods of Helloween’s career and the Keeper Of The Seven Keys albums from the late 1980s. At the same time, the cynics will be out in force as to the reunion cash cow begging to be milked. Can an album live up to such lofty expectations?
Helloween does take a few listens to get to grips with but the short versions is that this record is an absolute triumph. It should not work. It is a head scratching prospect as to how the three vocalists and guitarists will knit together but what Helloween has delivered is spectacular, expansive Helloween experience that bleeds majesty. This is not to knock the tenure of Andi Deris and Helloween’s post Kiske/Hansen output – far from it – there are some seriously good albums in the catalogue but Helloween really is something else.
With Hansen and Kiske back in the band, it is inevitable that there are going to be Keeper comparisons but the band has not set out to recapture past glories, Helloween is about making new ones. To that end, Helloween has not strayed too far from the path of punchy power metal but Helloween manages to be heavy – probably their heaviest for two decades – while covering every sonic inch in melody. From the off, the superb opener Out For The Glory dishes out those Kiske high notes and guitar bombast with Fear Of The Fallen having some hectic drumming and nifty solos. Best Times is more in a hard rock vein but with a scorching chorus that welds itself to the cranium and Helloween has not forgotten that majestic progginess with the incredible Robot King and the Hansen penned 12 minute epic that is album closer Skyfall. Every song feels in depth, layered with detail and with absolutely zero filler. To say that Helloween has exceeded expectations is something of an understatement. The whole album is superbly produced, the guitars are just immense and with those vocal trade offs between Kiske and Deris – it really should not have worked but the whole record is out and out joy to experience from beginning to end.
To give the cynics some credit, reunions can be tricky beasts and albums on the back of them can just be a means to an end with the live shows focusing on the classics while handing a nod to new material. On the strength of Helloween, this is a band that has added some new classics to their considerable cannon and has become one of the albums of 2021 so far.