We all have bands that mean a ton to us, and even with their highs and lows, you stick with them, knowing that there’s a reason you love them, and they feel like important people in your lives, even if you haven’t met them. Unless they they turn into MAGA assholes or nazis. They can go to hell. But you know your favorites wouldn’t do that to you, right?
One of my absolute favorites bands of all time is German power metal warriors Helloween, a group that has one of my most treasured records ever (“Keeper of the Seven Keys Pt. 2”), and I could do a story alone just on what that music has meant to me. Like so many other long-running bands (they formed in 1983!), they’ve had a lot of upheaval and a run you could divide into three eras. Several years ago, the “Pumpkins United” tour happened that brought together key Helloween members from every era, and that effort landed us their new self-titled album, a release that should just be called “Helloween.” And for all the expectations, they’re more than met. This isn’t a cash in, a lifeless reunion, or anything like that, because Helloween never would do that. Its current members—vocalists Mike Kiske and Andi Deris, guitarist/vocalist Kai Hansen, guitarists Michael Weikath (a lifer) and Sascha Gerstner, bassist Markus Grosskopf (another lifer), drummer Daniel Loble—bring all their finest elements together and not just coexist, but thrive. This record is 12 tracks and 65 minutes, and to be honest, there are two tracks we could lop off to make this tighter. But fuck it. It’s a great journey, way better than it has a right to be, and this is the feel-good story of this year so far. Fuck. I love it.
“Out for the Glory” is just a killer opener as the track speeds in, and Kiske takes the lead, making it feel like the band’s first glory period again. The chorus is huge and surging, and then Deris blasts in and delivers some harsh screams as the guitar erupts, and the track ends in great glory. “Fear of the Fallen” starts clean and hammers away, as Deris takes the lead and drives. Shock of shocks, it’s another killer chorus, and then the guitars take turns with the soloing, giving everyone a chance to shine, and then everything rips back in, with the calls of, “Listen to your heart,” bursting with positivity. “Best Time” erupts with sounds bubbling and the energy bleeding. The chorus is insanely poppy as the call of, “I will have the best time of my life,” aims to make your heart soar. Synth rains down, the playing is like a sugar rush, and the track is begging to be a single. “Mass Pollution” is another one with Deris leading first, the track raging toward another powerful chorus and the guitars collecting, bringing a classic ’80s beatdown. The chorus draws, the guitars reign, and the track adds a giant exclamation point at the end. “Angels” starts with keys raining, the playing getting punchier, and the drums pummeling as the singing gets into your blood. There are moments that feel sorrowful and even gothy, which is different for Helloween, but the dual vocals show a united front as the track grinds away. “Rise Without Chains” has a gigantic European power vibe (well, duh) as the keys strike, and Deris explodes on the chorus, demanding, “Rise without shame.” Fiery guitar work crushes, the chorus explodes anew, and it all ends in a surge.
“Indestructible” brings chugging guitars and the pumpkins again defying all the odds, calling, “Because we are one,” as all their voices align. The track is anthemic as they battle for freedom, the guitar work bursts from the gates, and Kiske’s and Deris’ voices bring the track to its end. “Robot King” opens and rips everything apart, the faster pace trudges, and a glorious chorus radiates with power. The track does have some inherent silliness woven in, but that’s just an undeniable and wonderful part of Helloween’s DNA, and it’s another thing that makes this record feel like home. “We’ll make a stand together,” grabs you and carries you, filling you with drive to make sure metal never dies. The record hit a bit of a bump on the next two tracks, starting with “Cyanide” that Deris leads. It’s not his fault; it’s just that the track never really finds its footing, though there is some fire-breathing soloing that kills, and the track brings an energetic end. “Down in the Dumps” is fine, feeling darker with Kiske out front. The vocals are the high point of the track, but elsewhere it’s OK but not great. “Orbit” is a quick final breath, an interlude track that sets the stage for the awesome 12-minute closer “Skyfall,” a track about a fallen alien stuck here on earth. This is classic Helloween, the perfect amalgamation of all their eras, bringing their best to the table. Kiske starts the track, sounding like he never went away, and Deris follows him up, adding more grit. It’s a great epic, one of the best tracks in their entire catalog, not hyperbole. It puts an amazing exclamation point at the end of a record a lot of us never thought we’d get.
Helloween may not have gotten to the heights of an Iron Maiden or a Judas Priest, but they’ve spent nearly 40 years making unforgettable epic power metal that has attitude, energy, and humor, and this self-titled reunion record is an absolute gift. It might seem like a lot of cooks in a kitchen trying to get ideas on to this record, but really, this works so perfectly, and it’s such a good time. Helloween had nothing to prove to anyone, but that probably wasn’t their point anyway. They’re clearly having fun, they have a ton of fuel left in the tank, and this record is a triumph for all metal fans.
For more on the band, go here: https://www.helloween.org/
To buy the album, go here: https://shop.nuclearblast.com/en/shop/item/groups/192526.pre-orders.html
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