I can still remember the first time I heard of Helloween, and the particularly German brand of power metal. It was somewhere in 1996 and the band had just released The Time of the Oath, the second album with vocalist Andi Deris after the departure of frontman Michael Kiske. A metal and rock programme on Dutch music channel TMF was showing the video for first single outing Power and I was absolutely taken by the catchy chorus, the speedy metal and the twin guitar solos. I had started getting into old school heavy metal a few years before, and this was right up my alley. However, I do remember thinking, ‘this will never last. I’ll love this now, but I know I will have grown tired by it by the next studio album.’ Because that’s almost always the way things go with things which catch on immediately, isn’t it?
So here we are, seventeen years later, and the Pumpkins have just released their fourteenth album, Straight Out of Hell. I’ve always regarded Helloween’s output after 2000’s The Dark Ride and the departure of guitarist Roland Grapow and drummer Uli Kusch to be solid, but ultimately a bit sketchy. Each of the four albums between The Dark Ride and this new effort contained some stellar songwriting, but also more than a few mediocre tracks (specifically the 2005 double album Keeper of the Seven Keys: the Legacy, could and should have been cut in half), where the band often favoured a darker, edgier sound that the straightforward and carefree happy metal of yore. Especially the band’s last album, 7 Sinners, was a dark, angst-ridden album filled with thrash metal riffing and moody songs that just didn’t seem to belong in the world of Helloween, and I’m glad to say that, having got that out of their system, Straight Out of Hell is a welcome return to form.
The album opens with the first single outing Nabatea, a roaring seven minute epic filled with the heavy riffing and dark undertone which defined the last few albums. Deris screams his way through the song, the pace is quick and the song reminds me a little of Better Than Raw’s Revelation. From World of War onward, however, we’re being treated to a much more positive and lighthearted Helloween than we’ve had in years, although the song’s opening thrash riff would have you believe otherwise at first. There’s an abundance of old-fashioned guitar duels between Weikath and Gerstner on this album and the choruses are, overall, of a sing-a-long quality the likes we haven’t seen since the heydays of ABBA. Songs like Far from the Stars, Burning Sun (the absolute highlight of the album as far as I’m concerned), the title track or Years all reek of classic Helloween, and remind me why I loved this band in the first place.
Singling out the few stinkers, though (because every Helloween album has to contain at least one of those), the daft but deliberate We Will Rock You rip-off (appropriately dedicated to the late Queen main man Freddie Mercury), ignoring the question whether it’s a nice tribute or not, should have been left behind on the cutting table. And perhaps Hold Me in Your Arms isn’t the greatest and most memorable of pumpkin ballads out there. Other than that, it’s more or less a home run for Helloween, proving that they can still possess the ability to write some very decent and catchy power metal after all, and I take my hat off to that.
- Nabataea (7:03)
- World of War (4:56)
- Live Now! (3:10)
- Far From the Stars (4:41)
- Burning Sun (5:33)
- Waiting for the Thunder (3:53)
- Hold Me in Your Arms (5:10)
- Wanna Be God (2:02)
- Straight Out of Hell (4:33)
- Asshole (4:10)
- Years (4:23)
- Make Fire Catch the Fly (4:23)
- Church Breaks Down (6:04)
- Andi Deris – lead vocals
- Michael Weikath – lead and rhythm guitars, backing vocals
- Sascha Gerstner – lead and rhythm guitars, backing vocals
- Markus Grosskopf – bass, backing vocals
- Daniel Löble – drums
Review by Ralph Plug