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Experimental, but Helloween can do no wrong - 87%

Bloodstone, February 2nd, 2005

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 Queensr├┐che-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.

Highly recommended.