Helloween // Straight Out of Hell
Rating: 3.5/5.0 — Finally, a real Keeper!
Label: The End Records
Websites: helloween.org  |  myspace.com
Release Dates: Out now!

Helloween has always been a sticky wicket for yours truly. I worshipped their debut EP and the first two albums, which basically were the Old Testament for how Euro power metal should sound. With Keeper of the Seven Keys Part II came the disturbing trend of incorporating candy-coated, cutesy, tongue-in-cheeks numbers presumably designed to appeal to 12 year old girls and soccer moms. When they titled the follow-up album Pink Bubbles Go Ape, Steel Druhm packed his bags, said his goodbyes to Gorgar and decamped from the Helloween fan club. I ignored everything they did until 98s Better Than Raw, and while there were a few good songs on the album, all the child-like stupidity was there as well, killing my interest and preventing me from taking them seriously. Since then, I’ve made occasional efforts to check in when this album or that got a lot of buzz, but I never found any of their later releases essential, despite some decent moments. That brings us to Straight Out of Hell, their fourteenth goddamn album. Well, I don’t know what got into these pumpkin headed freaks, but they added a lot more spice to this batch of tunes. You get a few great examples of classic Euro-power with all the frills and lace, a few average to above average tracks and only ONE that truly sucks and drags everything down (that’s a really good ratio for them!). On the whole, the good here far outweighs the bad and I’ll notch that as a significant victory for them. Maybe they’re finally trying to ween (sorry) themselves off the dumb stuff, maybe they just got lucky. Who knows?

Showing their “good side” right off the bat, opener “Nabataea” shows the quality writing and playing they’re capable of when so inclined. It’s a blazing dose of pure, pristine power metal with polish, class and panache. Andi Deris sounds great and his high register vocals during the chorus work to perfection. The leads are pumping and energetic and though the song shifts tempo multiple times, it keeps on rolling in a nicely cohesive way. Songs this good really make me wonder why they refuse to forgo the juvenile, kiddie hour bullshit they insist on including on each and every opus. Also impressive are follow ups “World at War,” (which sounds like old timey, Keepers era material with a bit of nu metal riffing added in) and “Live Now,” which has punchy, Dream Theater-ish guitar work in what is basically a straight-forward, anthemic power metal tune and it has its share of hooks. Andi shines on both these tracks and his vocals really make the songs pop.

Other winners include the edgy and memorable “Burning Sun” which showcases Andi’s superb, Ralf Scheepers-esque raspy wail and a BIG chorus straight from the Power Metal Hall of Fame; and the earwormy  piano line guiding the mid-tempo rumble of “Waiting for the Thunder” (both sound like composites of Primal Fear and Scheepers-era Gamma Ray).

Others like “Far From the Stars,” “Years” and the title track are solid and enjoyable, but also predictable and safe examples of the Gamma-Strato-Ween school of power. The obligatory power ballad “Hold Me In Your Arms” is super schmaltzy, but not too bad when you get right down to it. While the odd, stomping, soccer stadium anthem “Wanna Be God” annoyed me at first, I admit it grew on me with further spins, but it won’t be everyone’s cup of pumpkin tea.

The Romper Room moment of Straight Out of Hell comes during the tedious, immature plod of “Asshole,” in which the band calls someone an asshole for the song’s duration. I doubt I would have found this amusing when I was a teenager, so I REALLY don’t cotton to it at my advanced age. It sticks out from the rest of the album like a turd in a punch bowl and it ruins the flow and mood completely. It’s a pointless and moronic addition to an otherwise solid and classy power metal album.

Andi Deris is the star of the show here as he’s been on every Helloween platter since they recruited him. The man has a big voice and loads of versatility. He can sound crystal clear and pure one minute and sound like Halford’s meaner brother the next. He pulls off scorchers and sappy love songs with equal aplomb and he’s on his game on this album. The riffery from Sascha Gerstner and Michael Weikath is generally solid and drifts into very good often enough to earn them props. They don’t do anything new, but they know the power metal game inside and out and their playing shows it. There’s a lot of rousing, churning leads here that keep the energy pumping, regardless of the tempo.

So, while I expected very little here, this turned out to be their best album in forever (and no, I didn’t buy into the hype about Keepers: The Legacy being some type of  genre classic). I’m happy to see less of the rotten, grade school side of Helloween and I’m hopeful they can keep moving in this direction and continue to minimize the pablum. I won’t go out of my gourd and say Helloween is back, but its nice to see the Great Pumpkin flying high again after so many years buried in the ground.

  • Soze

    Hmmm, whilst I largely agree with this review ( Asshole is terrible! ) I actually think this is their worst album since 2003’s Rabbit Don’t Come Easy. I thought Gambling With the Devil was an absolute monster of an album. This is excellent, Helloween are nothing if not consistent ( apart from Chameleon but I like to pretend that doesn’t exist ). One of my favourite bands.

    • That’s funny, in my opinion this was kind of mediocre, but Rabbit Don’t Come Easy and Gambling with the Devil are their two best albums. They kick ass. Hard.

  • GonzO Rodrigue

    Oh wow. I’ve never seen anyone trash the light-hearted side of Helloween before.

    To my ears, that’s one of their best traits: the ability to rock out, provide a positive vibe, and not take themselves so seriously all the time.

    • Realkman666

      Steel Druhm needs a pleasure drone.

    • Good or bad, there is little room for irony in metal. Its mostly about dark themes.

      • Kalsten

        Have you ever heard about a band call ManOwaR? They say things about hating posers and so, and then, they are the posest people ever. Or they repeat everyday that they do everything for the fans, and their last albums are an insult to the fans. Oh, the irony.

  • I always had a soft spot for the record The Dark Ride. It’s probably their best of their modern era.

    • Kalsten

      Same for me. I am always surprised about how many people don’t like The Dark Ride, when for me is their best album besides the two classical Keepers. It is true that The Dark Ride is where Helloween sound less Helloween, but hell, they made some damn good songs there.

      • Realkman666

        Excellent album, but I don’t listen to it when I’m in pumpkin mood.

    • Carlos

      I still can’t believe that Steel Druhm didn’t even make a small reference to it, i think it’s even a better album than this one

    • sathriel

      Have to agree with you there, The Dark Ride is pretty cool. Even the silliness of Mr Torture is a fun silliness.

  • Their artwork has got to be some of the shittiest in the genre. Fits the music perfectly, then.

    • Realkman666

      Just imagine if they had crammed a pumpkin on Dance of Death.

  • Never gave a chance to this band it will not be this time… :

  • Kalsten

    I don’t know why Asshole is getting so much angry. OK, is not the best Helloween song. It is not even a good song but damn, is quite fun to listen to (at least I get fun listening it). In fact, was the only song that got stuck in my brain after the full-length album listening.

    • It’s certainly no Mr. Torture.

    • Realkman666

      It’s the most disjointed piece of shit they’ve ever put out.

  • i like it

  • Great review! Spot on. Fully agree about the song Asshole. Everything else on here is 4.5/5 in my book.

  • Raven

    asshole is my fav track on this very album..