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Only a band like Helloween could emerge from an influential lead singer's departure and an original drummer's tragic suicide with an optimistic outlook kept in tact. The first album to feature new vocalist Andi Deris and Masterplan drummer Uli Kusch, it is often considered the band's major comeback. Not only did this release see the band return to more grounded territory after the two confusingly eclectic efforts before it, it also gave the band new life and signalled the beginning of a whole new era of Helloween.
As expected with a lead singer switch this drastic, the music and style are much different than on past efforts. Those who are expecting another album like the "Keeper Of The Seven Keys" releases will be quite disappointed with Deris' vocal approach. In contrast to the high-pitched singing of former vocalist Michael Kiske, Deris has a much rougher style that has been endlessly compared to the likes of Paul Di'Anno. His voice definitely wouldn't have fit in on previous albums, but his style works well with the band's new elements.
Of course the rest of the band gives an unsurprisingly solid performance. The drumming might not be prominent as it once was but it still throws around some technical fills and the guitars churn out plenty of cool riffs and solos. Unfortunately the bass could've been a little more out there, especially since the bassist was one of the only original band members at this point and to this day...
Musically, you could describe this album as sounding like a fusion of the band's old power metal sound and 80's hard rock. There aren't too many ultra-fast double bass driven anthems to be found here, but just about every song is made memorable by means of upbeat riffs and great hooks throughout. "The Game Is On" and "Still We Go" are probably the closest things you'll find on here to the old sound with energetic tempos and uplifting choruses.
While this album never reaches the eclectic experimentation of "Punk Bubbles Go Ape" and "Chameleon," there are a few songs that break away from the album's standard mold. "Mr. Ego (Take Me Down)" is a dark number that emphasizes slower tempos, "Secret Alibi" completely embraces a sleazy hard rock sound, and "In The Middle of a Heartbeat" is a solid power ballad similar to those before it. Also worth noting is the infectiously strange "Perfect Gentleman," which brings in a bouncy whistling melody and a particularly comical vocal performance.
In terms of lyrics, the band's famous comedic style has been kept in check and dominates tracks like "Secret Alibi" and the aformentioned "Perfect Gentleman." There are also themes present related to religion ("Why?") and video games (The Game Is On").
All in all, this is a solid album that falls of short of classic status but is still worth checking for power metal and hard rock. It certainly combines the two genres in a way that sounds better than bands like Edguy would in the future...
1) The new members fit in nicely
2) Memorable songwriting and hooks
3) Welcome experimentation
1) A little shallow at times
2) The bass is lacking
3) The vocals may take some getting used to for "classic era" fans
My Current Favorites:
"Soul Survivor," "Where The Rain Grows," "Perfect Gentleman," "The Game Is On," and "Secret Alibi"
It took me a while to get into Helloween with Deris. If left them for what they were after the Chameleon album and when Gamma Ray became pretty much the new Helloween with Land Of The Free. Incidentally I heard some Deris era song throughout the years until Better Than Raw came out and I started to get used to the new Helloween sound. I immediately collected the previous two studio albums as well.
This one is the first to feature Deris (and also new drummer Uli Kusch). First of all it is noticible this album sounds much more like the Helloween we knew than the Chameleon album did. However there are a few major differences. The ballads still have a lot in common with those on Chameleon and Pink Bubbles and are less epic or atmospheric than for instance “A Tale That Wasn’t Right” was. The typical voice of Andi Deris also gives these songs a more hardrockish and sleazier feeling. And too be honest, one Guns ‘n’ Roses is more than enough for me.
The presence of Deris does not only make the ballads sound sleazier but also the heavier compositions. Someone earlier made a comparisson with Paul Di’Anno. In a way I can agree with this. Deris joining Helloween is like Paul Di’Anno singing for Maiden AFTER Bruce Dickinson. Of course they both are the best vocalists Maiden have had but you’d rather hear Bruce singing a Paul track than the other way around. Andi Deris came from Pink Cream 69, which was the German answer to Guns ‘n’ Roses and Motley Crue. His voice has this raspy cheesy rock tone so no matter how good his performance or technique might be, he will never sound as epic or angelic as Kiske sounded. It is purely a matter of taste and as said it took me quite a few years before I learned to appreciate him.
Then we have Uli Kusch on drums. I don’t hear much difference with Ingo Schwichtenberg. Of course being the new guy he feels the need to make himself heard. Take the intro on “Sole Survivor” and you can hear him doing more than necessary. Apart from that, he really is the same kind of drummer. I don’t like the sound of the snaredrum though. It is slightly too heavy and deep.
On to the music! Has classic Helloween returned? No, they just looked around the corner with this album. There are some good tunes here but half of it isn’t much better than Chameleon was. Opener “Sole Survivor” is an old school power metal song but still lacks some punch. Throughout the song one often gets the feeling that some more speed could have made the song better. “Where the Rain Grows” is more mature, dynamic and overall better worked out with a strong chorus.
“The Game Is On” is classic Keeper-era Helloween again including the funny moments and happy approach. The nice video game details near the end of the song don’t ruin it for me. “Mr. Ego” is quite an impressive song. Being over 7 minutes but still sounding like a catchy single. Also I have a soft spot for the catchy “Perfect Gentleman”. Closing song “Still We Go“ is good but on the same level as “Sole Survirvor”. One gets the feeling the song could have even been better. The chorus is somewhat lacking.
All the other songs balance between a few too sleazy ballads and some mid paced hardrock tunes that would even have been dull on Chameleon. All in all we have an album with 10 songs and an intro from which 6 songs are worth checking out. But if we look at the album as a whole another thing becomes obvious as well: there is a real lack of speed. The fastest tracks on this album are nowhere near songs like Someone’s Crying or Just A Little Sign. So even though a large apart of this album sounds like classic Helloween, one of its key elements is missing. Over all this makes the album sound too laid back for power metal.
They were on their way back. But certainly not there yet.
After the rather weird experiments that were the consequence of the early post-Kai Hansen era of Helloween, some line-up changes were made and the newly reformed power metal pioneers of German fame geared up for their 6th studio release. Upon viewing the cover of the CD and the rather intriguing storyline involving the main character of the "Keeper" albums found in the booklet, you can tell that a strong attempt was made to recapture the amazing spirit that defined their earlier work. However, some fine tunning would still be needed before the old greatness was fully re-kindled.
First it is necessary to focus on what has line-up changes have taken place since "Chameleon". First off, Ingo Schwichtenberg had been fired due to an inability to perform his drumming duties and a looming drug problem that would sadly claim his life 1 year after this album's release. Uli Kusch, who also had a brief run in Gamma Ray, has taken over on the kit on this release, and he does a hell of a job. Highlight drum performances include "Sole Survivor", "Where the Rain Grows", and "Still we go". Michael Kiske has also left the band in order to pursue a more musically eclectic solo career and has been replaced by former Pink Cream 69 vocalist Andi Deris. Deris' voice actually reminds me a bit of former maiden vocalist Paul Di'anno, and although I do slightly prefer Michael Kiske's voice, Deris' personality live is a bit more fitting for the Helloween concept. For further support of this, have a listen to Helloween's "High Live" album and compare it with the 1989 live album, Deris has a much better stage presence.
The final product of this revamped line-up is mostly good, but unfortunately it suffers from what I would call SMSS (Slow Middle Section Syndrome). It starts strong, ends strong, and lags a bit in the middle. Although many of the middle songs are strong, we have about 4 or 5 mid to down tempo tracks all crammed together between a set of faster ones. "Sole Survivor" and "Where the Rain Grows" both cook well, feature some amazing vocal sections courtesy Andi Deris, and some amazing solos. "Why" and "Mr. Ego" are both more mid-tempo tracks with some good moments, but tend to meander a bit. "Perfect Gentleman" is also mid-tempo, but has a more catchy melody and some rather witty lyrics.
Afterwards, the album starts to get a little bit silly. "The Game is On" has some goofy video game sounds on it, actually reminding me a bit of the old Tetris game I used to have on my Game Boy (the one from the late 80s that was in black and white and needed a flashlight to be seen in the dark). "Secret Alibi" and "Take me home" have their moments, but the lyrics are a tiny bit in the cheesy love song vain and are largely forgettable.
The closing two tracks are, ironically, the highlights of the album. "In the Middle of a Heartbeat" is probably my second favorite ballad by this band ("Light the Universe" off of "Keeper of the Seven Keys: The Legacy" being my favorite). A very memorable acoustic riff and some rather poignant lyrics, followed by a classically influenced nylon string guitar solo that gives me goose bumps every time I hear it. "Still we go" is a rather impressive rocker with some brilliant musical moments, particularly in the drums, although it does have a rather comical intro. The lyrics carry the theme of not giving up or compromising, and underscore the many storms that Helloween successfully weathered in the previous years in order to get back in the saddle again.
This album is essentially half awesome, half mediocre. I recommend it to core Helloween fans and people who don't mind having only 4 fast songs on a release. Anyone looking for it should definitely shop for it at $9 or less, as I can only really say that 6 songs on here are stellar. Time of the Oath was the real recovery from the 4 year slump these guys fell into after Kai left the band.
I'm going to review every Helloween album starting with this one and forward, as I have very little to add to what's already been said about their three first. Starting with the speed metal beast that is 'Walls of Jericho' they later evolved into what was, and still is, arguably THE most influential power metal unit of all time, not mentioning that the stuff they wrote was also some of the BEST ever written.
So, following the departure of Kai Hansen, they released a couple of downers in 'Pink Bubbles Go Ape' and 'Chameleon', with the latter sounding absolutely nothing like Helloween of the old, losing quite an amount of followers. With a couple of more members leaving shortly after, including popular vocalist Michael Kiske, we arrive at this album, where the band attempts to bounce back a bit from the two previous clunkers. Without key songwriter Kai Hansen and characteristic vocalist Michael Kiske it seems like a difficult task - do they manage it?
Well, both yes and no. The heaviness, and more importantly the QUALITY, is certainly a step in the right (i.e. Keepers, etc) direction, but as for actually SOUNDING like the glory days? Nope, no siree Bob, not by a longshot. In the end, this album really resembles the 'Keepers' about as much as 'Pink Bubbles' - some riffage and occasional goofy attitude is there in both cases, but overall, there are several occasions where you are hard pressed to tell whether this is even the same band or not. It's like when you throw a ball as hard as you can on a hard surface - sure, the ball is going to bounce UP again at some point, but by then the ball is probably located SEVERAL fucking meters from its original position.
Setting badly done and stretched metaphors aside, I've always thought of this album as extremely "inconsistent" - but having spun it a few times recently, I've realized more and more that words like "underdeveloped" and "poorly constructed" fit the weaker stuff on here a lot better. The inspiration AND also the direction is there - it's just that in a few songs they tend to throw in about three directions, like for example a rockish verse, a really epic pre-chorus and then a happy, fun sing-along chorus to top it off. The MOOD changes in the individual songs are sometimes kind of poorly done, in a sentence - this also concerns the two following albums a bit as well, but not quite as much. This is, after all, their first "return to the old sound" attempt and in looking at how wrong things can go in other cases (*cough*The World Needs a Hero*cough*), it's very excusable.
It's just a bit DISJOINTED at times. That's the word I'm looking for. But there ARE also times when the inspiration is just entirely missing - either they're just fucking around ("The Game Is On") or the songwriting ideas are just kinda boring ("Mr. Ego"). The funny thing I've noticed is that if you'd switch "Mr. Ego" with "In the Middle of a Heartbeat", you could tell EXACTLY when the album falls apart - namely after track six.
As for the new guys on board...vocalist Andi Deris I'm having trouble comparing with anyone else. He sure as fuck sounds different from his predecessor, as he isn't nearly as clear-throated and he mostly prefers staying in his low-to mid range. His vocal STYLE actually reminds a bit of Geoff Tate as times, especially in his low-range moments, but since his actual VOICE isn't similar in any way, that is most likely a stretch. Anyway, in my honest opinion he's just as fucking godly as the mighty Kiske, albeit different, but his technical capabilities are largely competent and even though he rarely delivers any of those German shrieks, he generally gives an admirable performance. New drummer Uli Kusch sure as hell delivers too - maybe even a bit TOO much, as he rarely lets 5 seconds go by without playing either some simple or completely over the top fill, which occasionally detracts a bit from the flow - but hey, rather him than that Dokken drummer! Not quite as "precise" as Ingo, but still very respectable in himself.
The production is FAR rawer sounding than any of the Keeper albums, and unfortunately a bit poorly mixed in places. It's not absolutely terrible, as every instrument is heard and all, but it just lacks that 80s, kinda "catchy" production that the Keepers had. Oh well, at least the guitars carry plenty of punch and while they, and also the drums, are a bit on the raw side, they don't detract from the actual music.
So anyway, there are ten songs on here and exactly half of those I am willing to point out as actual highlights. The good thing is that, when this album gets going - oh fucking monkeylord, FUCKING HELL YESS, this is pretty much on par with the Keepers in sheer quality. The two opening tracks, "Sole Survivor" and "Where the Rain Grows", are just plain CLASSIC. I say that, because both are really unique and inventive, yet they work terrifically and therefore end up as two of the most memorable tracks Helloween has ever written.
"Sole Survivor", makes a very competent transition from heaviness and aggression in the verse (reminding a bit of "Mr. Torture" in overall riffage and speed) to absolute melodic ecstasy in the pre-chorus, with the actual chorus even throwing in some underlying keyboards - subtle but extremely effective! "Where the Rain Grows" is faster, but probably more of the same - nice heavy-to-melodic shifts, except this one probably stays more melodic for the most part. The opening riff is one of the few moments on the album that resemble the Keepers sound a bit, and also you can't miss that little lead 30 seconds into the song! Both songs display amazing songwriting and nice, fast fucking lead work too (just check out that "Where the Rain Grows" solo...DAMN!) - this album definitely has something going for it at this point.
Then "Why?" is a bit experimental - not in the sense of the disjointed and therefore weaker tracks on here, but rather because it's very unlike anything else Helloween has ever done earlier. It's mostly keyboard based and not particularly heavy, yet it is surprisingly effective as fuck!! It's midpaced, very atmospheric and especially CATCHY as hell - and man does Andi deliver that chorus or what! "Why, lord whyyyy?! Tell me why-y-y!!" It's far better than it looks, believe me. "Perfect Gentleman" is perhaps a bit similar in that it's very keyboard based, but admittedly a lot heavier. It has a bit of a "swing" beat or whatever it's called and as you can expect, this displays Helloween's tongue-in-cheek style, and does so in a fine fashion. The weakest of the highlights, however.
Finally, as for remaining highlights, we have "In the Middle of a Hearbeat" - I don't what anyone else says, this song just completely kicks ass. Yes, it's an acoustic love ballad with some country-ish overtones, but it's just AMAZING how well it works and the inspiration is oh-so-there. The chorus alone makes it the best ballad Helloween has done up to this point, it's that fucking good.
As for the rest, I can't help but to admit that the ideas are there at times - but as I said earlier they're just very poorly connected. This especially concerns closing track "Still We Go", to a degree that it truly frustrates me. The opening riff is probably the most Keeper-ish moment on the whole album, it's one of those fast riffs the Freedom Call and others like to rip off - but what happens next? We get some strange, awkward passage, before we arrive at the midpaced verse, which has some interesting riffs and melodies - but the MOOD of it just seems out of place when placed before the far more melodic pre-chorus and chorus. And that chorus suffers a bit too, from being a bit forced, except I can't help but to point out that soaring last line: "On the metal highwaaaayyy!!!" DAMMIT, there are so many good ideas in this song - that's not even including the stellar solo - but the way they are connected? Doh! Apparently, good songwriting ideas don't always make up good songs.
"Secret Alibi" - same problem here, except this one is plagued by being a few ideas short in the first place. After a decent but unspectacular intro including some flowery keyboard, we get a pretty solid rock riff, later switching over to a really silly and awkward verse that does NOT work in this context, before switching to a very solid power metal-ish pre-chorus and a not so solid chorus that features some REALLY fucking stupid almost helium-pitched vocal layering. You see where I'm getting with this?
"Take Me Home" - I think this song is trying to be Iron Maiden's "Running Free"; if so, it completely fails. The bass and drums sort of remind me of that song, except on crack and completely lacking the punk-ish attitude of the first Maiden album. The verse is totally unmemorable and out of place as usual, while the chorus is just insipid and far too repetitive. However, this time it's the pre-chorus that saves it from being a complete waste: "I got that feeling to need more and more attention!" Nasty, infectious, fun as fuck!!
"Mr. Ego" could've been a pretty solid but mediocre track all around, but clocking in at over seven minutes it's just far too fucking long for it's own good, as it doesn't have nearly enough good ideas to make up for it. Add to the fact that those ideas are average at best and really fucking mediocre at worst and you've got yourself a complete loser of a song. "The Game Is On" has a chorus that seems to be based on the "Game Over" melody in the game "Tetris" - yup, this one completely sucks. The other parts are just too generic and forced; Helloween can do far better than this when going for humor.
U-N-M-E-M-O-R-A-B-L-E, now that's another word that can sum up the whole second half of the album, minus "In the Middle...", plus "Mr. Ego". Just before writing this review I may have spun this one three times and even when taking into account how many times I've spun the whole thing before, I am still unable to actually remember things like the verses of "Take Me Home" and "Still We Go", the various passages of "Mr. Ego", and so on, off hand. The highlights are much moreso, probably because they always stick to ONE style and mood each - but seeing as they're all very different from each other in style other than the two opening tracks, making a short description of the album in general is made nearly impossible.
Comparing it to the Keeper albums, I can at least say that it's not nearly as FAST - that's for sure. The riffage isn't nearly as german speed metal-derived either - in fact, I'm having trouble comparing any the three first albums of the Deris era to ANYTHING out there in metal. It's power metal - that's for sure, but the styles displayed are simply far too many to just ONE particular band. The Keeper albums I guess are actually the closest comparisons I can think of, but that's not really close at all.
The band's definite return to the metal fold is to be revered - but because of the difficulties they're having at this point, trying to get their act back together, this one still ends up as the third weakest Helloween output. The highlights aren't to be missed, though; I'd say get it for the five super-highlights on here alone. It's just that there are far better Helloween albums, of course including those other with Deris on vocals.
Helloween is one of the most well known power metal bands, and is also the best in the genre. While Master of the Rings is their weakest albums (of those I own), this still has it's share of utter ownage.
If you're looking for intelligent, unique, brutal, emotional or epic music, this is not the place to look. This is just a whole barrel fun in the traditional Helloween vein. A major focus is as usual put on the vocals, with the underlying riffwork having the main mission of enhancing the vocal lines.
Andi Deris handles vocal duties on the album since Michael Kiske left after Chameleon. And like both of Helloween's previous singers, he is a totally killer vocalist. He doesn't have the wide range of Kiske, but his alternations between the clean and gruff voice work very well, and his voice is perfect for Helloween's new sound. They are now a bit more straightforward and formulaic, but all the songs have their own special touch and feeling, and there is no lack of variation on the album.
There are two reasons for why Master of the Rings ends up below their other material on my list. There is the production, which is rather weak and one dimensional. The vocals and guitars lack punch, and the whole thing loses alot of effect due to this. Also, the band doesn't really feel as tight as they would become on albums like Better Than Raw or The Dark Ride. It's a little edgy at times, and it just doesn't feel like they're working really well together.
But, both of these problems become rather overlookable when we actually take a look at the songwriting. The only song that actually stands out as weak is the boring balladic Why, which just feels uninspired and never gets anywhere at all.
The rest is all power metal bliss. Opening track Sole Survivor is probably the album's biggest highlight. It has a one minute long intro with several memorable melodies in the classic Helloween vein, an incredibly catchy chorus and some wicked heavy riffwork underneath. Where The Rain Grows is a bit sub-par, but has that divine lead section towards the end of the solo which plain kicks ass. Mr.Ego is a midpaced tune with an awesome sense of groove overall. The drum rhythms are excellent; powerful and catchy. The underlying basslines during the verses are killer, and the vocal lines are extremely groovy. The song reaches over 7 minutes, and never gets boring. Definitely another highlight.
Perfect Gentleman is Helloween at their silliest and funniest, but it rocks insanely much. A very fun yet strangely produced main guitar melody stands out, along with the hilarious lyrics ("Oh lord, what can I do... I can't resist my own reflection. How would possibly anyone?" That bridge always manages to crack me up) and memorable vocal lines.
The ownage continues throughout the rest of the songs. The Game is On- any song about game boy has got to own. Secret Alibi- awesome melodies, more hilariously silly lyrics ("Ding by ding, can you dig my dong") and a fantastic melodic chorus. Take Me Home has this weird 70's styled groove to it, especially in the fast paced drum rhythms and the basslines.
In The Middle of a Heartbeat is probably the weakest Helloween ballad, although it has a very nice chorus and solo. The closing track, Still We Go, has some killer melodies and soloing. Great closing track.
In conclusion; the album has a few missteps and probably their weakest production job, and they would get far better. But, this is still pretty essential for any power metal freak, cause the good stuff on here is power metal at it's very best. It's very silly from time to time, yes, but otherwise it wouldn't be Helloween.
Ok, so after a pair of...erm...Un-Helloweenish releases is you will, the band has decided to return to their metal roots and deliver the goods with a new singer and drummer. And on almost all accounts I would have to say that they did a fine job. Not only is it a return to form it is one of my personal favorite Helloween albums.
One of the main things that tend to turn off people about helloween are the playfull themes of their lyrics. This album is chock full of them, with "Perfect Gentleman" and "Secret Alibi" being some of th ebest examples. Personally I love the lyrics and feel it gives the band something that 99% of all metal bands DO NOT have... a sense of humor. I'm sure most of the Helloween fans out there agree and I suggest that even those that don't enjoy a light chuckle with your metal give this album a shot because there are plenty of good riffs and melodies to keep you interested for sure.
New Singer Andi Deris is an incrdible addition to the band and those who weren't into Mr. Kiske ( heathens!! ) will probobly find his voice more tolerable. Even I actually prefer Helloween when Deris is holding the mic. He has a great unique style about him and writes some great songs as well. New drummer Uli Kusch also does a great job on the skins replacing Ingo (R.I.P.).
So how are the songs? Well, "Sole Survivor" and "Where the Rain Grows" start things off with a bang in that traditional Helloween styling. Both are great songs. Next comes "Why?" which is probobly my favorite song off the album and one of my favorite songs by the guys period. "Mr. Ego" has a nice solid groove to it and "Perfect Gentleman" and "The Game is On" have great melodies that will have you humming for days. "Secret Alibi" is a solid tune, which leads us to the ONE lackluster song off the album "Take Me Home". Not awful, but not spectacular by any means. In The Middle of a Heartbeat is a great acoustic based ballad, something that helloween has always been good at really, and Andi's voice and songwriting really shine on it. The last song "Still We Go" is Helloween's written promise to the fans that they will continue on the path of Metal for the rest of their existance.
And if they keep making albums as good as this (which they have been) I see no problem with that!