|Alongside Switzerland's Celtic Frost and Sweden's Bathory, Germany's Helloween were possibly the most influential heavy metal band to come out of Europe during the 1980s. By taking the hard-riffing and minor-key melodies handed down from metal masters like Judas Priest and Iron Maiden, then infusing them with the speed and energy introduced by the burgeoning thrash metal movement, Helloween crystallized the sonic ingredients of what is now known as power metal. Sadly, just as they were on the verge of breaking to a wider audience - even flirting with American success - the band's meteoric rise was rudely interrupted by internal strife and a string of bad business decisions. These blunders kept them from ever regaining their original momentum, but Helloween took their hard-knock lessons in stride and continued to prosper in the international metal arena on their own terms. More importantly, they remained the benchmark by which most every power metal band is still measured.
Helloween were formed in Hamburg, Germany, by guitarists Kai Hansen and Michael Weikath, bassist Markus Grosskopf, and drummer Ingo Schwichtenberg. Originally named Second Hell and then Iron Fist before morphing into Helloween in 1982, they signed with Germany's own fledgling Noise International two years later. With Hansen also handling vocals and the bulk of songwriting duties, the quartet recorded its self-titled debut mini-album in early 1985. The full-length Walls Of Jericho and the Judas maxi-single followed the year after, and the media were soon buzzing over the band's thrash-fueled interpretation of classic heavy metal. Countless fans across Continental Europe were also fast converting to the band's cause, but Hansen remained dissatisfied with his singing ability, and felt Helloween needed a proper frontman in order to achieve their full potential. Enter teenage vocalist Michael Kiske, whose high-pitched delivery followed in the footsteps of previous heavy metal banshees like Rob Halford and Bruce Dickinson.
The new chemistry proved as explosive on-stage as it did in the studio, and with their classic lineup now intact, Helloween were ready for the big time. Returning to the studio in early 1987, the band emerged in May with Keeper Of The Seven Keys Part 1, a landmark recording that remains arguably the single most influential power metal album to date. Its volatile combination of power and melody would inspire an entire generation of metal bands, and transformed Helloween into bona fide superstars all over Europe and the UK, even making tentative inroads into America at the time. The band toured relentlessly for the rest of the year and into 1988 (including a lengthy opening stint with Iron Maiden), but despite this manic work schedule, Helloween still found time to record the aptly titled Keeper Of The Seven Keys Part 2. Released in September 1988, the record was another blockbuster that crashed the UK Top 30, but its uneven songwriting (especially from longtime leader Kai Hansen) revealed the beginnings of a major band crisis.
Helloween's watershed performance at that year's Donington Monsters Of Rock Festival proved to be their crowning glory, but for Hansen, his dream come true also represented the culmination of his ambitions for the group. Shockingly, the guitarist soon announced his departure from the band he had helmed to the top, claiming that Helloween were now too big a beast for him to control. (He would soon make a fresh start with a new outfit called Gamma Ray, which, to no one's surprise, sounded remarkably like Helloween.) But the remaining members of Helloween weren't about to let their shot at stardom slip away, and after drafting former Rampage guitarist Roland Grapow, they got right back to work with a sold-out tour of the UK. Impressed by the band's momentum, giant EMI stepped in and offered to sign Helloween away from the ever troubled Noise Records, but in doing so, wound up igniting a legal dispute that would sideline the group for nearly two years. Several live albums (Live In The UK. for Europe, Keepers Live for Japan, and I Want Out: Live for the USA) were released to distract the fans during this hiatus, and the band obtained added support from the mighty Sanctuary management team (Iron Maiden, W.A.S.P., etc.) to boot.
Confident that they'd accumulated little, if any rust from their extended layoff, Helloween finally returned to action with the oddly titled Pink Bubbles Go Ape in 1991. But no amount of EMI or Sanctuary muscle could compensate for the scattered, unfocused songwriting that dominated the album. Furthermore, the band's quirky attempts at humor had grown so forced that fans weren't sure what to make of furious metal anthems with names like the title track and "Heavy Metal Hamsters". The record bombed in no uncertain terms, as did its even more schizophrenic follow-up, Chameleon. Recorded in 1993 by an obviously shell-shocked band, its poor showing only exacerbated growing internal dissension, which culminated with the ousting of both Kiske (off to launch a solo career) and Schwichtenberg due to drug-related physical and mental health issues. Fair-weather friends EMI and Sanctuary also decided to cut their losses at this time, leaving the shattered remnants of Helloween to fend for themselves. Attempting to regroup as fast as possible, Helloween brought in new singer Andi Deris and drummer Uli Kusch to record 1994's Master Of The Rings, a small but determined step in the right direction. Then tragedy struck, when former drummer Ingo Schwichtenberg - a diagnosed manic depressive whose worsening condition had been partly to blame for his dismissal - took his own life, throwing himself in front of a train near his native Hamburg.
Shaken to the core but as driven as ever, Helloween dedicated 1996's The Time Of The Oath to their fallen friend, and, coincidentally, the album turned out to be the strongest since their glory years, doing much to resurrect their career. The ensuing tour spawned the double-disc set High Live and confirmed the band's return to form as major players in the international metal arena (in Europe and Japan, they were arguably bigger than ever). Helloween continued to prosper with 1998's Better Than Raw, 1999's celebratory Metal Jukebox covers album, and 2000's The Dark Ride, and not even the departure of longtime members Grapow and Kusch could slow them for long. Now regarded as elder statesmen of Euro-metal, Helloween celebrated their achievements with 2002's Treasure Chest greatest-hits set. This was followed by 2003's Rabbit Don't Come Easy, which introduced new guitarist Sascha Gerstner and featured Motörhead's Mikkey Dee guesting on drums until a permanent replacement could be found in Stefan Schwarzmann (ex-U.D.O., Running Wild, and many more). Schwarzmann left the group in 2005 and was replaced by Rawhead Rex drummer Dani Löble, who appeared on that year's critically acclaimed Keeper Of The Seven Keys: The Legacy. Gambling With The Devil arrived in 2007, and was followed by 7 Sinners in 2010. Their 14th album, Straight Out Of Hell, arrived on The End Records in early 2013.
(Source: Allmusic, 6.9.2013)
Do we really have to worry? Is our civilization standing right on the edge of the abyss? Is the Maya calendar actually right, predicting the end of the world on December 21, 2012? New age circles are convinced that the apocalyptic prophecy can be derived from the Mesoamerican civilisation's calendar. "Complete bullshit", reckons Andi Deris, singer of German melodic metal band Helloween. "We will all survive the year 2012 and face an even more positive and energetic future." Helloween have documented how this future could look like, or rather sound like, on their latest studio album Straight Out Of Hell, scheduled right after the alleged doomsday on January 18, 2013. It's a work full of speed and toughness, with optimism and great joy of playing, featuring complex arrangements, strong hooks and plenty of catchy melodies. Or, to let the facts speak for themself: 13 mostly fast-paced songs that turn out to be impressively multi-layered and will completely delight all Helloween fans, due to the different songwriters Andi Deris, founding members Michael Weikath and Markus Großkopf, and guitarist Sascha Gerstner. Weikath: "Straight Out Of Hell is the consequent development of the two albums before. 7 Sinners was recorded more or less in the wake of Gambling With The Devil, while the new songs are a continuation of the 7 Sinners directives, only a little less doom bound and noticeably more positive. These songs will kick even the laziest listener's ass."
Helloween's guitarist is referring to tracks such as "Make Fire Catch The Fly", "Far From the Stars", "Church Breaks Down", the title track (written by bass player Markus Großkopf), and the straightforward "Years" - all of them racing through the terrain at full speed. In addition, there is the complex and passionate "Burning Sun" by Michael Weikath, which Deris refers to short and sweet as "one of Weik's highspeed masterpieces" (the limited edition will feature a special Hammond version in memory of Deep Purple's recently deceased organ player Jon Lord). "World Of War" by Sascha Gerstner convinces with thrashy guitar riffs, demonstrating Helloween's impressive virtuosity. Deris: "What's so special about this band, is the fact that we were always allowed to do anything we wanted, or - even if we allegedly weren't - did it anyway. Even the at the time slightly tabooed "The Dark Ride" initially earned us negative reviews, but ended up with multiple Gold Awards. That's the kind of freedom you feel on Straight Out Of Hell as well - we didn't let anybody or anything put pressure on us."
But Helloween wouldn't be Helloween if Straight Out Of Hell would not feature the band's other, slightly more groovy side as well. With "Waiting For The Thunder" Deris has - in his own words - contributed "a rock song reminding of the old Pink Cream 69 tunes". Gerstner lets off steam on "Asshole" and complements the album with "Hold Me In Your Arms", a wonderful ballad, providing the desired antithesis to the otherwise extremely energetic record. Speaking of energy: the determination that has always been an integral part of the Helloween camp was captured perfectly by their producer Charlie Bauerfeind at the band's own MiSueno studio in Tenerife. Bauerfeind consciously created a raw sound, keeping the edge of Helloween's new songs and working without computer-controlled devices. "With a world-class drummer like Dani Löble in the studio you don't need click tracks or computer support", Markus Großkopf praises his drummer. "Thanks to Dani, the whole album breathes pure authenticity, which distinguishes Straight Out Of Hell from lots of other artists' productions. In addition, the new album sounds more compact and homogeneous than 7 Sinners has, and is one of the fastest releases in Helloween's history."
Also, there are significant differences in a number of topics Helloween tackle on Straight Out Of Hell. The best example of the ability to think outside the box of pure metal cliché is their first single release "Nabataea", which Helloween's singer wrote during a holiday. The song is about the legendary kingdom, located in today's Middle Eastern region, where the first real democracy existed over 3000 years ago. The secret Nabataean city Petra, hidden behind a cliff scenery and only discovered at the beginning of the 20th century, is the origin of many myths and legends. Deris: "We took the liberty to tell this exciting culture's whole story, although the song therefore lasts more than seven minutes. Truth be told, if there had been more to tell, the track would have been even longer."
Which in closing takes us to the subject 'length': The reissue of the Hellish Rock Tour in collaboration with their friends from Gamma Ray is scheduled to kick-off in March 2013and is going to be really extensive - once more taking Helloween around the world at highspeed. It's a step, or rather: a leap Straight Out Of Hell.
(Source: Official website, 6.9.2013)