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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".