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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