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Can’t think of the last time I was prompted to write a review because of just one song. Well this time I am. It’s called “Midnight Sun” and it’s the last song on this album. Why’s it so important? Let me show you.
Almost ten years to the day since ‘Keepers 2”, HELLOWEEN released ‘Better Than Raw’. In that time they’d gone from being kings of the mountain to being buried in a mountain of backlash. Some fans just couldn’t (and still can’t) get over getting rid of Kiske. Others just wanted a Keepers 3, 4 and 5. And yet others just couldn’t keep up with a band maturing as songwriters. In the end though, HELLOWEEN stayed true because they know no other way. But the truth according to HELLOWEEN can sometimes be very strange indeed.
Take for instance, the name of the album. It wasn’t the first time, and it wouldn’t be the last time, that the band turned an in-joke into a new album title. Maybe that just bugged the bored fans that’s all. What bored me though was the usual string of fillers by Grapow and Kusch. They suck every bit as much on this album as any other. Too late to worry about that now though. Let’s look at what did work.
“Falling Higher” brings together Deris’ words with Weikath’s music. The two share one other thing: a powerfully unmistakable belief in the human spirit. That idea set to music moulds a new powerful metal classic. Correction: that idea set to music moulds two new power metal classics, because “I Can” also explores the same lyrical territory – and launches the very same metal tirade of soaring choruses set against riff central and drum-work fuelled by an exploding double kick attitude.
The more reflective moments are no less intense – or catchy for that matter. Both are penned by Deris in the mood for the big questions in life. Just look at the title’s: “Hey Lord!” and “Time”. The first track takes aim at what’s wrong with the world, and the second says life’s just too damn short to get it wrong. If the first one works like a guitar driven anthem crossed with a prayer, then the second one works like a hundred thousand cigarette lighters lighting up a swaying stadium of fans.
But the last two tracks are perhaps the most complete summing up of HELLOWEEN I know. “Laudate Dominum” is sung completely in Latin. Normally that’s reserved for pretentious Goth or Black metal projects who are short on hooks but big on wank. HELLOWEEN came up with the idea to use Latin to thank their Latin American fans. But no one in Latin America speaks Latin? Oh well, these sorts of things happen when you have a German band who normally sings in English deciding to sing in Latin for people that speak Spanish. Try not to think about it. As for the song itself, this one sounds like it invented the double kick, and then paired it with this new thing called a gang chorus. And as for the hook – get ready to miss your stop on the way to work.
At last we arrive at “Midnight Sun”. It’s a love song like no love song before or after. That’s because it takes the blood and guts of hurt and says “now how the hell do I set that to music?”. The answer is fast and heavy. This is the kind of intensity thrash bands promise and only a metal master can deliver. It may not be Weikath’s signature tune, but it comes close. 10 years earlier he took on all comers with a tale of a seven keys and an unforgettable journey into another world. 10 years later he still sounds every bit fresh from the fight. No one does it better. Which may be where the album title comes from after all.
Helloween’s history in heavy metal has been quite long and their past glorious. At the late 80’s and after the release of the Keeper Pt2, almost everyone thought of them as the successors of metal’s emperors Iron Maiden. Since then many things changed and Helloween not only did not become the new Maiden, but after the departing of their best member, guitarist Kai Hansen, they seemed to have lost their way. Poor albums, legal arguments with their record label and their chance to lead the world’s metal scene had gone once and for all.
However they still remain in the elite of heavy metal and their latest releases have been quite good. Better Than Raw is a good example. They seem more mature and developed while singer Andy Deris has adjusted himself in what Helloween need, leaving behind his past in Pink Cream 69. This can be considered as a plus for the band. The guitar parts are heavy enough to excite you and the rhythm section is steady and powerful.
Of course there are some songs that may not appeal to you so much or you may even dislike. Such are Hey Lord! and Don’t Spit on My Mind. Both of them are typical, mid-tempo Helloween songs familiar to the style they created in Master of the Rings and perfected in The Time of the Oath album. They are not bad but easily forgotten. The most out of place track is Time. It’s very slow with too little electric guitars. I suppose that Helloween did not expect this one to become a hit and it was written just for their pleasure. The big surprise comes from a song called Laudate Dominum. Nice melodies and Deris singing in Latin, make this one quite strange but rather humorous and pleasant.
At some parts the band even flirts with speed metal. In the eight-minute epic track, Revelation and the awesome Push, the guitars are played quite faster and the pounding drums, kind of, take us back to Walls of Jericho. Don’t mind the silly break in Revelation. The duo Weikath/Grapow handle their guitars with great care giving us fine melodies combined with power in I Can or the equally nice Handful of Pain. Helloween also make a good use of keyboards that color the scenery and add more feeling to the albums general atmosphere. Thumbs up!
Helloween exceed my expectations even more. I never thought that they would compose a song equal to their masterpiece, How Many Tears. They proved me wrong. A bit shorter in playing time, Midnight Sun is the top moment of the album. Continuous fast, heavy guitars and Deris at his best, make this one a jewel in their track list of heavy metal anthems. Along with Falling Higher which is truly a blaster. Metal all the way with lyrics like “we realized by the look in your eyes, metal will never die”, Helloween write a song for all of us who will never deny our music. Pay attention to it and you’ll certainly enjoy it.
With this album Helloween managed to gain back a great deal of the respect I felt for them. Either you are a new or an old fan of them, it matters not. You are bound to like Better Than Raw and it remind you of what this band used to be ten years ago.
This was Helloween's first really good album after the departure of old vocalist Michael Kiske and induction of new hard rock wailer Andi Deris, and what most people don't realize is that this album is pretty much better than anything they ever did with Kiske, too. This is a much more individualistic and strange album than anything they had done previously, and it stands proudly on its own two feet, not trying to be anything that it isn't and never stopping the colossal ass-kicking festival for even one second.
Helloween as a band have always possessed a huge, maniacal creative nuance that seemingly possessed them from the very beginning of their career not to ever create anything that sounded half-baked, uninspired or dull. Even when their ideas aren't so great, they still plod forward with conviction and strength enough to top a whole field of cows. They've always kept true to the Power Metal genre, too, even when at their most eccentric; pushing and pulling the boundaries of their home genre while never straying far enough from the path to alienate their fans or become stale or awkward. Better Than Raw is fortunately not a bad experiment at all, despite being by far the most esoteric and strange of the Deris-era material thus far.
This band can't really, truly be explained in words, though, they're just great songwriters, and you never know what you'll get next. "Push" is an okay opener, very heavy and almost Painkiller-esque, with Deris hitting high enough notes to shatter a window, but it never really clicks. "Falling Higher" is better, a typical Happy Helloweenish tune with a speedy tempo and a great chorus, but it's with the show-stopping "Hey Lord!" that the band really gets into their groove. It's a slower song, but not exactly a ballad either, boasting an impressive repertoire of heavenly choirs that will cheer up even the most misanthropic of wrist-cutting teenagers, and Helloween have never done anything like it, before or since. "Don't Spit on My Mind" is a bit weaker, although it is pretty fun when you're not paying full attention to it, with a cool groove going, but "Revelation" is the true gem here - an 8 minute epic with staccato Thrash riffing underneath an elegant melodic base and a catchy Helloween chorus, careening on for the entire duration and never getting dull. "Time!" sounds like Pink Floyd with a Helloween chorus layered on top, and it's also a great song, and "Handful of Pain" is a rock-solid midtempo rocker. "Lavdate Domnivm" is another gem, a midpaced, chimerical Latino-Power Metal anthem that works surprisingly well, and "Midnight Sun" is a solid closer, although less memorable than the songs preceding it.
Do you like good Power Metal? Yes? Then go get this one.
Originally written for http://www.metalcrypt.com
Helloween-Better Than Raw
I expressed my dislike for ‘The Dark Ride’ in my review for that album and also in that review praised ‘Gambling With The Devil’. This album is quite similar to those two albums, not musically, but structurally. All three of these albums start with a short introduction (however this album has the best of the three) and then it goes into a very heavy song, that is usually the worse on the album. Well, ‘Dark Ride’s second song is actually very good, but the other two go like this. ‘Gambling’s “Kill It” and this album’s “Push” are both extremely aggressive songs that I dislike. However , the rest to this album is good.
There’s an eight minute song thrown in, a couple slower ones, and a bunch of catchy metal tunes. Sounds like your typical, enjoyable Helloween album. I would say so. And this album is enjoyable. There’s a great song called “Time” that I really enjoy and “Lavdate Dominvm” is interesting because of the language it’s sung in. Pretty much all the songs will entertain any fan of the Deris-era Helloween. As I have said, “Push” sucks and there’s a weird song called “Don’t Spit On My Mind” that doesn’t thrill me, but the album is steady.
There is one problem though, it’s just not interesting. I’d already heard several Deris-era Helloween albums when I got this one, and to tell you the truth, this one sounds the same. It’s great for a band to come out with a new album with a fresh batch of songs that hark back to their old albums but, this was released over ten years ago. I’m trying to collect theses albums, and I’m starting to wonder why,. I won’t listen to this often and I don’t like it as much as their latest. I don’t think I will be buying any other Deris-era albums that have already been released, because I don’t think it’s worth it.
Although, there is one reason to praise this album and it comes down to a single song. The song is called “Hey Lord!” and it kicks ass. It sounds different, fresh and unique. How magnificent! The song opens with something that sounds like violins and then has the thumping bass drum before it kicks in. This songs plays and feels like no other Helloween song. There are, what sounds like, song children screaming the title during the chorus, which sounds very cool, and to top it off AndI Deris doesn’t sound like he always does. In fact, none of the members of the band sound the same. All their styles are slightly altered and it just creates an awesome track. What a breath of fresh air!
After listening to “Hey Lord!” I was hoping for some other unique tracks. Well, there’s one that’s somewhat unique. It’s called “Lavdate Dominvm” and it’s sung in I think, correct me if I’m wrong, Latin. Yeah, the dead language. How different! However, it’s not as good a song as some of the others, still, I enjoy listening to it more because it’s different. An interesting note, as others have pointed out also, is that this song’s riff sounds just like the electronic song bit at the end of Napolean Dynamite. Interesting. Besides for that there are no other unique tracks even though I really like “Time“.
This is an album that, if I was asked by someone, I would say it’s pretty good. However, once I dig within myself I see this CD sitting on the shelf for months, collecting dust and remaining unnoticed. I mean, why listen to this when I have the same thing, but better, in the form of ‘Gambling With The Devil’ ?
I give this album an 81, but after listening to ‘Gambling With The Devil’ or a better similar album, I want to give it a 75.
Often over-shadowed by the even heavier and darker follow-up “The Dark Ride”, this album is shelved by many as a transitional effort between classic Helloween sounding “Time of the Oath” and the darker sound that was briefly on display afterwards. However, the ultimate test of any album is the actual music that was recorded, not the stylistic consequences of future efforts, particularly when those efforts are short-lived and a return to form soon follows.
As a younger metal head, this was actually the first Helloween album that I bought the year that it came out, though I had already purchased copies of the Michael Kiske era albums and the 2 previous efforts with Deris. Suffice to say, I was completely blown away by what I heard, as this album proved to be one of the fastest and heaviest sounding releases that this band has ever put together. The lead work on here is nothing short of amazing, as Roland Grapow has truly assumed the role of a post-Malmsteen virtuoso. Uli Kusch also shines on this album, particularly on the faster tracks, which contain the most insane set of double bass work ever heard at that time.
We kick the album off with the rather strangely titled “Deliberately Limited Preliminary Prelude Period in Z”, which would seem to indicate that Helloween has not lost their satirical sense of comedy. However, this is probably one of the most dramatic neo-classical symphonic preludes I’ve heard, it’s something that I think would be worthy of either a film score soundtrack or even a performance at the concert hall. “Push” is one of the fastest and most aggressive Helloween tracks ever put together, and also showcases Uli Kusch as a rather brilliant songwriter. The lyrics on here are highly thought provoking; discussing the way obsession over the media and what other people in the public arena is ultimately a corruption that leads to personal misery. The comic art in the album depicting the 2 pumpkin heads smashing the TV is both humorous and inspiring.
From here on, the album pretty much unfolds with a consistent flow, including all the trappings of the power metal genre. Tracks like “Hey Lord”, “Don’t Spit on my Mind” and “Handful of Pain” are catchy mid-tempo songs with a good amount of lyrical introspection. “Time” is a rather progressive sounding ballad that features Andi Deris’ low range. “”Falling Higher” is a standard high tempo Helloween cooker, but highlights one of Deris’ most insane vocal performances, as he nearly emulates Rob Halford to perfection.
The highlights of this album are song that I think are obligatory for any future Helloween compilation. “Revelation” is an amazing epic track with loads of great guitar work by Roland and Michael Weikath. Some sections of this song are heavy enough to qualify as thrash influenced. “Midnight Sun” highlights more amazing guitar playing, in addition to some rather dramatic changes in feel. However, my favorite track on here is the single, “I can”. Normally the track that becomes the single doesn’t stand out in my opinion, but in this particular case we have a classic, straight-forward power metal anthem with all the best ingredients. A dynamic vocal performance, a catchy as hell chorus, and some rather riveting bass work by Markus Grosskopf are just some of the treats you’ll get with this amazing song.
We actually only have one track on here that doesn’t really stand out as being spectacular, and that is the rather odd sounding “Lavdate Dominvm”. It’s not a bad song, in fact for a song that sounds quite punk rock inspired, it could kick the Ramones’ ass any day of the week. Unfortunately, the vocal delivery borderlines on being ridiculous at times, and takes away from the overall strength of the song. If Deris had cleaned up his voice a bit it would have been better, despite the fact that it’s in a language that most people probably won’t understand.
This album is about as good as they get, especially considering that it was released at around the time that metal was beginning to make its comeback. This band has been through a lot, and they have come out better for it. I proudly give my recommendation to this album, fans of Deris era Helloween and fast melodic power metal in general will find plenty to enjoy. So when you get the chance, pick up your own copy of “Better than Raw”, and assert your independence of the tyranny of the radio.
Perhaps Helloween's most underrated release ever, Better Than Raw doesn't exactly pick up right where The Time of the Oath(which will be referred to as TTOTO for the remainder of this review) left off, rather, this album drops the speed found in numerous songs in the previous release, and exchanges this for pure heaviness. Then again, Helloween has never rehashed an album that sounded the same as the previous effort, and this is no exception. It's part of the charm of the band, and keeps things interesting at the very least.
The first difference that I noticed between this and TTOTO(besides the obviously hevaier sound) was the vast change in the quality of the ballads. Foever and One and If I Knew were simply throwaway tracks, worthless. This is not the case here, as Hey Lord(which fits the term ballad very loosely) and Time are not the lowlights, but surprisingly, the highlights of BTR. Hey Lord begins with what seems to be to my ears a violin, playing the same few notes over and over, building up to a simple guitar riff and drumbeat, which sort of' 'explodes" as much as a ballad can "explode' into the meat of the song. The chorus is catchy as fuck, I warn you. Time is completely different, opening with an underlying bass, but it retains the catchiness of the former's chorus.
There's some rather...strange stuff on here as well. Helloween has never done anything like "Push" or "Lavdate Dominvm", the latter being a song sung completely in Latin, but has an opening riff that seriously reminds me of the song right before the credits of Napolean Dynamite(whatever your opinion on the movie, you have to acknowledge that the music right before the credits is catchy). "Push" is the polar opposite, after an almost two minute orchestral opening, it just explodes in your ears. The drumming here is particularly impressive, not to mention just how...different Andi Deris sounds here. One would have to hear it, I can't find the right words to describe it as anything other then awesome. This is perhaps Helloween's best album opener ever, and that's some pretty stiff competition(I'm Alive, Eagle Fly Free, Mr. Torture, RIDE THE FUCKING SKY, need I go on?)
One will notice the the bass plays a much more prominent role in this release then it used to. As previously pointed out, Markus creates a creey but beautiful atmosphere to begin "Time" and although he is limited mainly to backing roles the rest of the album, the bass can be clearly heard. And although Roland Grapow is still with the band at this point and thus the guitaring is automatically win, the true standout player is the man behind the drums, Uli Kursch. He makes quite an enjoyable racket on tunes such as "I Can" and "Falling Higher" and showcases his real talent on the opener "Push", absolutely tearing up the drums.
Overrall, this is another solid release in a long series of solid releases by Helloween, and while they would strick gold with the follow up album, this one should not be ignored. The highlights: "Push", "I Can", "Revelation", and of course, "Hey Lord" and "Time".
I would say that in my opinion this is the best Helloween album to date with Deris on vocals. I have never heard a bad opinion of this album, and if you listen to it you’ll se why: the best performances from all the band, including melodic, fast and emotive solos, kick ass drums and the stunning rhythm of bass lines never heard in a whole Helloween album.
From the very beginning you know the intro is one of the best in metal, a perfect mix of classical arrangements with powerful guitars, followed by the amazing, jawbreaker and powerful Push! This one is the key to keep the listener tight to the stereo since you push “play”. Deris performance on his tune is one of the best, reaching one the highest and difficult vocals to emulate in metal. And the guitar solos just break in the perfect moment. Great song! Falling Higher follows with the special sound that just Helloween can give to their songs, “happy” verses and strong vocal lines, with direct guitar and riffs. The solos are great, specially the first one, because there’s not only the guitar playing it, but the bass too! Then comes Hey Lord!, a song more direct and of easy singing. It’s a good track, but it doesn’t has too many pick ups to mention except for the chorus that everyone remembers and a good main guitar riff. Don’t Spit of My Mind is one of the bad songs from this album, and I say “bad” because it doesn’t fit with the other songs. It’s ok, a typical rock/heavy metal song but in the end it doesn’t reach the levels of the other tracks, but, well, this is compensated by the following beauty: Revelation, the masterpiece of the album. The guitar solo intro is simply amazing and the following heavy riff makes you wish this never ends. The verses aren’t soft, guitars fly along with one of the must difficult bass lines I’ve ever heard and then comes the chorus with metal choirs reminding me of Halloween. Then comes the interlude and solo section… This is one of the songs that you must heard and discover by yourself because there aren’t enough words to describe it’s superiority... Well, then it seems that Helloween takes a rest, because Time is another bad song for this album, too slow and with no highlights, I think it’s another fail from the guys to create a ballad. I Can is the commercial song of Better Than Raw (there’s always one), but it sounds good with a chorus melody that will keep in your head for a while and the solo so good so you’ll wonder why it ends so fast. A Handful of Pain announces the end of the album is near, but it’s one of the highlights. Worth to mention: the perfect coordination between Weikath and Grapow and the versatility in Deris vocal range. Lavdate Dominvm is the Helloween funny song for this album, full of joy and happiness, but with the special characteristic of the whole lyrics written in latin. And at the end comes Midnight Sun, a strange song to close the album, but with great power and incredible musical sections, specially the drums, giving a lot to say about the good performance from Kusch, who gave great contributions to this album.
Better Than Raw is really “better” than its predecessor and one of the best albums of 1998. A lot of these songs are the outstanding anthems that seemed to disappear on The Time of the Oath. Let’s say that this album is one of the top 5 on the Helloween career (including the Kiske and Hansen era). You must have this one, it doesn’t matters if you are a fan or not.
There isn't one Helloween album that I can safely describe as "more of the same" in comparison to the previous one. Each album they release is either very different from the album before ('Pink Bubbles'), or a more refined or "evolved" version of it ('Keepers pt. II', not necessarily meaning it's BETTER than pt. I) - they NEVER release roughly the same album twice. I've always liked that about them, that you never really know what to expect when buying an album of theirs. Well, there's always a certainty that it's going to be GOOD - just not quite how it's going to sound.
One could wonder where Helloween would go after 'The Time of the Oath'; the first time in eight years and four albums where they had not only released a very solid and consistent album, but also had a clear DIRECTION pinpointed, in overall sound. At times, the album reminded of its predecessor, 'Master of the Rings', but at other times the songwriting and construction left a bit to be desired. 'Oath' fixed this very problem, along with throwing in some additional speed and heaviness into their sound, making for an extremely solid power metal album, and perhaps the best metal release of the year 1996 in my book. There was very little to improve by the time they were writing this album, so what would they come up with this time?
A more experimental approach, that's what. Not really progressive, with lots of technical drums, really long lead sections, slow pace and so on - just experimental, in that most songs are just a bit...different. The riffs, leads, song constructions, everything. Also, every song on here has its own characteristics - Helloween rarely write songs that sound exactly the same, but this album shows that even more than before. Also makes it really difficult to compare this album with anything else out there in heavy metal, even more difficult than it is to do with the two earlier Deris albums, so in order to get a good idea of what this sounds like...there's little else to do than to listen to the albums for yourself. I suppose it's most similar to 'Oath' (even though some elements of the following album, 'The Dark Ride' are also shaping up here), but it's really everything but that album all over again.
As I just mentioned, the songs are just so different from each other, so it's really impossible for anyone to give a general description of all the songs. In some of them, there's a new found heavy aggression in the riffage - check out all of the thrashy "Push" (following a really really really silly movie soundtrack intro...holy fuck this is cheesy, but it's kinda cool/hilarious anyway;)), or "Revelation", just before it blasts into hyperspeed. Otherwise, the speed trip "Falling Higher" hints quite a bit at the days of old, while the slower and groovier "Don't Spit on My Mind" actually hints at Pantera, minus the vocals! Then there's the very Queensrÿche-esque "A Handful of Pain", circa 'Empire' - if you listen to the verse alone, it's notable where the inspiration comes from, huh? (On a sidenote, someone pointed out that this part is similar to the song "The Thin Line"...probably true, actually.)
However, even though there is a large amount of variety here, that very special Helloween vibe, their unique sense of melody (the best part of Helloween), is still detectable in EVERY song - and that's what keeps it from being a total mish-mash of ideas. This does sound like a real, distinguishable album - a HELLOWEEN album and nothing else. The songwriting is generally quite strong too, and therefore this one ends up being pretty much on par with the previous album. And once again; highlights are congested all over the place. The aforementioned "Revelation" is quite an amazing epic number (and when I say "epic", I mean EPIC, not just any eight-minute song that is called an epic because of its length), and somewhat similar to "Mission Motherland" (NOT "The Time of the Oath"; whatever Boris' opinion is, as I don't hear that at all), except much more developed and CONNECTED, which marks a definite plus in the songwriting area.
Another plus: the two ballads on here are FAR better than the two on the previous album - "Hey Lord!" ("ballad" status a bit questionable on this one, by the way) is a really soaring piece, with tons of awesome singing and bass lines and "Time" has a cool, low-key verse with random clockwork effects replacing the drums, followed by an extremely catchy chorus ("Time to go, time for the freedom, time to face what we all believe in!)! "I Can" is a bit commercial, but surprisingly also the album's highlight. Especially check out that Arabic-styled pre-chorus - GAWD. And once again, the vocals simply shine; in fact, I'd say this whole album is Deris' best performance with Helloween (I say that because I have yet to hear those early PC69 albums), the one that does the best work of displaying his incredible, SOARING skills as a vocalist - the guy's just badly underrated. A bit rasp-throated than what is most common (possibly attained by his heavy smoking habits!), yes, but an awesome range and voice just the same.
On the downside, this album unfortunately fades quite a bit by the end, as "Lavdate Dominvm" is a pretty average and standard (apart from the fact that the lyrics are in Latin) double-bass number, followed by the hideously overrated "Midnight Sun". This is probably the song that is mentioned the most whenever this album is brought up, but I have yet to understand what people seen in this one - it's like on of those really disjointed-sounding fillers on the second half of 'Master of the Rings', taken to another level and without the few good parts. Yeah, it's pretty heavy, epic and all that, but it throws in far too fucking many leads, vocal layers and various sections for its own good - and very few of them are particularly good to begin with. Instead of 'Master's syndrome of "good parts, badly connected", this is for the most part "bad parts, badly connected"!
But the other eight songs on here are pretty much complete winners, and so is this album on the whole. I've said it before, I'll say it again: Helloween just can't do any wrong, no matter what (except when they make albums with a title that begin with "Cham" and end with "eleon", but let's disregard that for a second). Another heavy, inventive, extremely solid and memorable Helloween album - that is what we have here. Undeniably power metal - but also some of the best and most unique out there, unlike the many other dregs of the sub-genre.