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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.