Released on June 18, 2021 (Nuclear Blast Records)
Helloween‘s “reunion” album with lead vocalist Michael Kiske and guitarist Kai Hansen was easily one of my most anticipated albums of 2021. If you’ve seen some of my prior concert and CD reviews about the German power metal rockers, you know that I am simply a huge fan of the band and that includes any era including the Roland Grapow years and of course the last 25+ years with the man who literally saved the group — lead vocalist Andi Deris. I have to confess that I was more than a little disappointed when I first heard the first single “Skyfall” from Helloween‘s self-titled album. It just felt like Helloween‘s beefed up seven member line-up consisting of Deris, Kiske and Hansen along with guitarists Michael Weikath and Sascha Gerstner, bassist Markus Grosskopf and drummer Dani Löble were trying too hard and essentially failing to come up with an epic single. There just didn’t seem to be much flow to “Skyfall” and aside from showcasing Deris, Kiske and Hansen on lead vocals, there just wasn’t much to really dig into on that track. It just felt like a bunch of ill fitting ideas had been patched together.
Luckily for me, by the time that I got my copy of Helloween, I figured out pretty quickly that “Skyfall” was actually the weakest and longest track on the album. “Skyfall” simply pales in comparison to Helloween‘s longer real epic tracks like “Halloween” (from Keeper of The Seven Keys: Part 1), “Keeper of The Seven Keys” (from Keeper of The Seven Keys: Part II) and “King For A 1000 Years” (from Keeper of The Seven Keys: The Legacy). I actually really hope that “Skyfall” does not make it onto Helloween‘s live set whenever the band members embark on hopefully a long world wide trek in support of their still new album. Helloween opens with the faster paced “Out For The Glory” which will easily take you back to the Keeper of The Seven Keys albums with Kiske‘s soaring and high pitched vocals. This is the type of track that I expected to hear from Helloween with their bolstered or “reunited” line-up. It’s simply a great song. Perhaps the reason why it hasn’t been chosen as a single thus far is because it seems to only showcase Kiske on lead vocals.
Next up is “Fear of The Fallen” which is a nod to the Deris-era Helloween with possibly some more complicated arrangements at times than what you might hear from that time period. Again, I think this is where Helloween kind of missed the mark on this album by overcomplicating a number of songs. “Best Times” is a Sascha Gerstner penned track that shows a lighter side of Helloween. It’s a good song although I think that it had the potential to be even better with a more bombastic chorus. “Mass Pollution” comes from bassist Markus Grosskopf and it has the potential to be a mainstay in Helloween‘s live set with the chorus portion “Go, go, go, go” and the ending part with the lyrics “Make some noise.” The ballad “Angels” starts off sounding like classic era Helloween with Kiske‘s melodic singing and different tempos during the verses but I find that the song misses the mark with the chorus and the orchestral sections. I do like the slower paced guitar solo mid-way through the track. Like many of the songs on Helloween, there are some great parts and some not so great ones, and it’s a pity that the Helloween band members tried to overcomplicate / fit too many ideas on many of the new tracks.
“Rise Without Chains” is a classic Deris era track that is music to my ears. It is also one of the more simpler songs on Helloween and simply rocks from start to finish. It also features both Deris and Kiske quite nicely, which is not always an easy feat. The guitar harmonies on the song are also really good and in classic Helloween style. As I am writing this review, I am impressed with the amount of lyric videos that Helloween have released in support of their new album. The first five out of six tracks on the album are featured in lyric videos and “Skyfall” received an actual futuristic type video. “Indestructible” is another solid track that will have you singing along come chorus time. It feels that each guitarist is given his time to shine during the guitar solo section, and the guitar harmonies and soloing are highlights on this track. “Robot King” is one of the faster paced tracks on Helloween and fits in well on the album. I could see this song fitting in quite well in the band’s live set although the higher pitched notes at times could be tough to duplicate live.
“Cyanide” is another solid track where Deris gets his chance to sign and show his versatility singing wise. It’s actually one of my favorite songs on the record, in part because it was kept on the simpler side and it has some nice melodies (aside from the blander chorus section). “Down In The Dumps” has a bit more of an epic feel to it with a classic Keeper of The Seven Keys Helloween feel. When I first saw that Helloween would have 12 tracks, I was rather excited but as it turns out, the eleventh song “Orbit” is a throw away instrumental, which I suppose sets up the not so epic “Skyfall.” While I have been rather hard on “Skyfall” earlier in this review, there are some really good parts in it but there are too many boring sections and a seemingly mish mash of ideas to make it one really long track. The CD version of Helloween that I purchased had two bonus or extra tracks on it (“Golden Times” and “Save My Hide”). Upon hearing “Golden Times”, I was really scratching my head on why this song was only being offered as a bonus track given that it’s likely my favourite out of the new songs. Kiske sounds amazing on the track and the guitar harmonies, breaks and melodies sound like what you’d expect from Kiske era Helloween material. “Save My Hide” is a Deris sung track that could have been left off the album altogether.
Overall, Helloween have come up with a solid but not great album in Helloween. I was surprised that “Pumpkins United” — the band’s first “reunion” era song — didn’t make it onto the new record. I actually think that “Pumpkins United” is better and stronger than any of the songs on Helloween. I was expecting more songs in that vein on Helloween with the vocals from Deris and Kiske intertwined together but that does not really seem to have happened. Perhaps the songs on Helloween would have been better had the band members included Roland Grapow in their reunited line-up since the guitarist has proven to be a prolific songwriter with his post-Helloween band Masterplan. Has the album Helloween lived up to my lofty expectations? No, it hasn’t. Is the album Helloween a good album? Absolutely! At the end of the day, it is very difficult for bands that experienced success in the ’80s to put out new albums that even measure up to their legacy albums. I think that Helloween have done a good job with their new self-titled record but I suspect that none of the songs on the new album will ever become a mainstay in the band’s live set.
Track List for Helloween:
01. Out For The Glory
02. Fear of The Fallen
03. Best Time
04. Mass Pollution
06. Rise Without Chains
08. Robot King
10. Down In The Dumps
13. Golden Times
14. Save My Hide
Andi Deris – vocals
Michael Kiske – vocals
Michael Weikath – guitars
Kai Hansen – guitars, vocals
Sascha Gerstner – guitars
Markus Grosskopf – bass
Dani Löble – drums
Produced by Charlie Bauerfeind
Co-produced by Dennis Ward
Reviewed by Olivier for Sleaze Roxx, November 2021
Helloween‘s “Skyfall” video:
Helloween‘s “Fear of The Fallen” lyric video:
Helloween‘s “Best Time” lyric video:
Helloween‘s “Mass Pollution” video:
Helloween‘s “Angels” lyric video:
Helloween‘s “Rise Without Chains” lyric video: