Having fallen out of love with Helloween a little in the early 1990s as their creativity seemed to wane on the wacky ‘Pink Bubbles Go Ape’ and the decidedly non-metal and somewhat hollow sounding ‘Chameleon’, I’m sad to say I drifted away from their music and paid little attention to the output that followed. Having seen them live at a couple of festivals in recent times it’s clear that the addition of singer Andi Deris had re-energised them and pushed them back towards their roots, but I never quite got round to checking out their post-Kiske albums.
Having delved into their back-catalogue since receiving the preview copy of their latest platter I was pleasantly surprised to hear a band that seemed to be back on track and still creating exciting music. Not that any of the offerings from the last 15 years have bowled me over in the way ‘Keeper’ Parts I and II did, but suffice to say Michael Weikath remains a fine composer and reliable helmsman of the good ship Helloween, through the choppy waters of constant line-up changes and shifting musical fashions.
With “Straight Out Of Hell” it finally feels like everything has clicked and the time is right for another Helloween milestone. Roaring into life with ‘Nabatea’ they sound as fresh and energetic as they did back on their 1985 mini masterpiece ‘Walls Of Jericho’. The title of the song (pronounced Nah-ba-tay-ah) comes from the old Egyptian words “Naba” meaning “Classic” and “Tea” meaning “German power metal”. Although not the most immediate of melodies, the chorus is soon a welcome earworm and the charging riffery is as precise and galloping as ever.
‘World Of War’ harnesses a twin lead that would sit perfectly between ‘I’m Alive’ and ‘I Want Out’ but segues nicely into a cheeky djent riff proving these fellas are no slouches when it comes to serving up metal for a 2013 audience. Unlike many of the more fantastical lyrical themes of the traditional Euro-metal throng, Helloween tackle issues ranging from the militaristic thirst for oil to religion’s relevance (or lack thereof) in society today.
‘Live Now’ is classy Scorpions-brand call and response stuff that will echo around venues in the coming months whilst ‘Far From The Stars’ ploughs familiar fields with more fret-duelling and kick-drum fury. ‘Waiting For The Thunder’ will be loved or hated, as the sort of pop-metal gem that calls to mind some of the simpler ditties of Avantasia, but personally I think it’s a corker and one that should be tucked into their live set straight away.
A perfectly decent but unremarkable power ballad slows the pace but soon they crank it up again with the title track, which is quite simply the best thing these chaps have recorded in years. Over the top in the very best way and full of traditional metal lyrical imagery and pomp, this is the sort of trademark Helloween bombast that I have genuinely missed in my years apart from the band.
Mention has to be made of the track ‘Asshole’ which spoils a gut-rumblingly heavy attack with frankly silly sweary lyrics. Although it will no doubt prove popular on the festival circuit as the beered-up masses are encouraged to bellow profanities across muddy fields, it really feels a bit cringeworthy.
Overall this is a very solid effort with all the elements an old school Helloween fan like me wants to hear, but with its feet planted firmly in the present. Whilst it doesn’t give me the goosebumps that the early Kiske/Hansen era material does, it frequently raises a grin and almost as frequently requires me to grab my air-guitar and bang my head like I still have long hair. Welcome back Helloween – I’ve missed you!