Helloween – Helloween Review

Helloween - Helloween cover

Helloween gets 97.543% of the credit for creating what we now think of as the Euro-power metal sound.1 Their ’80s albums were classics and made an impression because they were so different from what was out there. Led by the high-pitched wailing of Kai Hansen, their Walls of Jericho debut was a nonstop rush of speed and irresistible hooks, and Keeper of the Seven Keys Part I was less speedy but far more polished and majestic, featuring the vocal power of a young Michael Kiske. When it was announced that BOTH long absent frontmen would be returning to Helloween to join current frontman Andi Deris for a new album, I felt conflicted. This seemed a grand idea for a cash-cow mega-tour but less so for an actual studio album. It just sounded like an unwieldy novelty concept with too many cooks in the kitchen and too many egos to manage. Well, their eponymous album is upon us and it’s over an hour of Helloween doing Helloweeny stuff. Will so many throats ruin the band’s throat culture?2 Will too many pipes mean none end up getting laid? Like my Uncle Ben always said, with great Euro-power comes great responsibility.

Honestly, Helloween is way better than I expected. Sure, the surfeit of singers sometimes seems like overkill, and trying to get them all time in the spotlight makes for some unforced errors, but the writing is surprisingly spry and this platter has some of the liveliest tunes we’ve heard from the flying pumpkings in a good long time. Opener “Out for Glory” sets a positive tone with a Kiske-forward barrage of throwback Helloween power that will hit longtime fans like a doomsday missile from Store 103. Kiske sounds great and the music reeks of the band’s classic era; dynamic, epic and stirring in the way Euro-power should be. The chorus is like a big hug from a long departed friend and you won’t find more epic power cheese without a drunken Gloryhammer – Avantasia collaboration. Hansen and Deris join in the fun along the way and it works well enough that I’m not even troubled by the 7-plus minute length. “Fear of the Fallen” is even better, like a lost cut from Keeper of the Seven Keys Part II, with every classic power metal trick uncorked in the service of success. Kiske and Deris blow the doors off all things with doors with effective vocal tradeoffs, the chorus is great, and a gourd day is had by all. Cuts like “Best Time,” “Mass Pollution,” and especially “Indestructible” are sticky Helloween-style hits with tons of hooks and replay value. Each feels like it dropped from a different era of the band but they all fit together.

The album’s big showpiece is the 12 minute monster dubbed “Skyfall.” It’s essentially this album’s version of “Halloween,” where all restraint is abandoned and glorious bombast is embraced. It actually works and I’ve had the very Keepers-esque chorus stuck in my head for weeks. Each singer gets time to shine, and though the song meanders all over the spaceport like a boozy alien, it hangs together and clicks. Even the segments with Hansen crooning “Hey, little alien” are strangely endearing because they remind of those mega-epic Gamma Ray compositions from the late ’90s and early aughts.3 Are there misses among all these Hellohits? Not as many as you’d expect. “Robot King” is a good song stretched 2 minutes too long, but it mostly works. Cuts like “Down in the Dumps” and “Rise Without Chains” aren’t bad, but could have been cut to tighten up the long-winded runtime, and “Skyfall” would definitely benefit from pruning the last 2 minutes. Considering the potential hazards this release faced, that’s not a bad track record.

Helloween posing to show that their three vocalists are better than Maiden's three guitarists

Apart from the consistently snappy writing, it probably won’t surprise many to hear Michael Kiske is the main ingredient in Helloween’s success. His voice is in fine form and his soaring highs carry the songs to where eagles fly free. It helps that he sounds like he’s having an absolute blast performing them, too. Andi Deris also sounds good, dueling with Kiskle in the upper ranges and holding his own. He sounds especially good on cuts like “Mass Pollution,” which come straight from the Better Than Raw playbook. Kai Hansen is given the least to do vocally, which is probably for the best as his voice is not what it once was. He hits his spots well though, adding nostalgic appeal, most notably on “Skyfall.” Musically, there’s a lot of hyper-kinetic guitarwork adorning the songs courtesy of Michael Weikath, Sascha Gerstner, and Kai Hansen, some of which is rather heavy. This feels like the output of a much younger, hungrier group, and there’s a lot of wild riffs, harmonies and solos to accentuate the tri-tiered vocal attack. Markus Grosskopf’s bass is all over the place as well, providing a buoyant pop to the speed and vocal commotion. An impressive turn by all involved, guaranteeing that everything comes up orange.

Some bloat and quasi-filler aside, Helloween is the most exciting thing Helloween’s crafted in a long time.4 I’m not sure how they made this all work, but work it does. Even that cover art with its callbacks to Walls of Jericho and the mysterious Keeper dude tossing keys willy-nilly is a win. The album grows with every spin and there’s a lot of quality moments to savor. I hope they can maintain this patch and see if they get another visit from the Great Space Pumpkin. Helloween ain’t a bad place to be.

Rating: 3.5/5.0
DR: 8 | Format Reviewed: v0 mp3
Label: Nuclear Blast | Victor Records
Websites: helloween.org | facebook.com/helloweenofficial
Releases Worldwide: June 18th, 2021

Show 4 footnotes

  1. Running Wild and Rage get the rest.
  2. Size of oof: gargantuan. – AMG
  3. If you never heard “Rebellion in Dreamland,” “Beyond the Black Hole,” and “Dethrone Tyranny,” you’ve missed out muchly.
  4. Since “Mr. Torture,” no doubt. – AMG
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