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Cover albums can be tricky sometimes. There is the chance that a band goes for a simple cash-in or puts a quick release to escape a record contract. This usually leads to faithful renditions to a song with little to no improvisation. On the other side of the spectrum, an album full of covers gives an opportunity for a band to showcase its influences or just completely show another side of them. Helloween falls into this category. Any pumpkin fan would be delighted to see them put the Helloween magic on some metal favorites from maybe Judas Priest, Iron Maiden, or Black Sabbath. However, if one takes a look at the cover art for “Metal Jukebox”; the pumpkin man dressed as a hippie gives an odd impression of what exactly is going to be found.
The jukebox lifts off to a rousing start with a Scorpions tune of “He’s a Woman-She’s a Man.” Andi Deris’ gritty vocals serve as nice contrast to that of Klaus Meine from the original version. The punchy guitars give this the aggressive tone the song invokes and is a pleasant sting to open the proceedings. A grounded version of “Locomotive Breath” ensues minus the flute styling of Ian Anderson. It definitely has a metal edge by letting the percussive elements shine.
Things become weird when ABBA makes an appearance. Yes, THAT ABBA. “Lay All Your Love On Me” is undeniably catchy and I give them credit for trying to put a metal on it, but it just doesn’t work. It is also downright weird hearing Deris crooning to lay all your love on him. Another cover that misses the mark is The Beatles song “All My Loving.” Helloween manages to make this a speed metal song somehow and the duel solo between Roland Grapow and Michael Weikath is cool, but it just doesn’t capture the lovable spirit of the original. The lyrical content also does not match the amped tempo either.
A cover that ended up working that I was first apprehensive about was “Space Oddity.” Helloween perfectly captures the spacey, eerie atmosphere and Deris shines as a vocalist. The acoustic guitar has a radiance that measures exactly what the song entails as well. I am confident David Bowie nodded in approval when he heard this version of his tune. The one pleasant surprise was the inclusion of a Faith No More cover. The spirited, uplifting tone of “From Out of Nowhere” does fit the Helloween mantra of having fun, but this was still unexpected. Deris has a firm grasp of his voice, which unfortunately I can’t say for Mike Patton’s cracking pipes in the original track.
The best cover is “Hocus Pocus” by Focus (try saying that five times fast.) The simple, repeated riff is a joy to listen too because of the continued yodeling of Deris and the quirky, odd sound effects that jump out on the middle section. It’s a song that easily becomes trapped in your head and the humorous noises are good for a laugh or two. The wailing solo by Grapow breaks up the ongoing nuttiness for a spell before it goes back to the madhouse, but the silly nature and the catchy and roaring riff works perfectly.
The latter half of the album features basically hard rock tracks made into metal. I like the moodiness and the creepy vibe of “Faith Healer” from Alex Harvey. It’s a definite change of pace from “Hocus Pocus” and puts the listener into a different setting. “Juggernaut” is crushing and the drumming from Uli Kusch is outstanding. The way Deris sings “it’s a juggernaut” is amusing too. Cream’s “White Room” sounds much better as a metal song and the melodic solo keeps the tune to its psychedelic roots. Finally, “Mexican” is a cool and fast closer from Babe Ruth. Who knew the famous baseball star had some music ability?
“Metal Jukebox” is the finest cover album I have heard. Everybody’s second favorite Germans (Scorpions being the first) captured the perfect guitar sound as found on their albums from the late nineties. “Hocus Pocus”, “Space Oddity”, and “He’s a Woman-She’s a Man” should provide incentive for repeated listens. With all that said, I wish they would have taken on some metal tunes, like maybe “Freewheel Burning” from Judas Priest or “2 Minutes to Midnight” from Iron Maiden. Tracks such as these would have made this even better, but unfortunately it does reach its full potential with covers of The Beatles and ABBA. However, this is a very well done album and is in no way a simple cash-in; so slip a coin into the jukebox and have a hell of a time listening to Helloween.
Largely treated as either an all out mistake or an ill-conceived interlude to get themselves off the hook with Raw Power records so they could sign with Nuclear Blast, “Metal Jukebox” had the unique situation of being a Helloween release that I avoided getting for more than 10 years based on a lot of bad press. The lesson that I proceeded to learn upon hearing this is that basing your purchasing decisions on what others say is not a good idea, as a band that has a pretty consistent record tends not to deviate from it, even if playing a set of covers in a style pretty far removed from what they were meant for. Suffice to say, from the perspective of someone who is familiar with just about all of these songs, this band delivers the good here and successfully breathes life into several songs that have been killed by repeated play on rock radio.
There are usually two problems that occur with cover albums that generally cause me to shy away from them, even when my favorite bands is the one involved in the undertaking. The first is that the band changes their own sound to perfectly fit the style and original character of the songs and essentially creates near exact carbon copies of the songs, which completely defeats the purpose of rerecording the songs and was my primary problem with Def Leppard’s “Yeah”. The other is that the band morphs the songs into something so utterly unrecognizable that they might as well be an original song minus the vocal melody, which usually occurs when dance/techno groups remake songs. A successful cover, like a tight rope act, really needs to walk a fine line between being different yet remaining the same, and in this respect Helloween is successful at basically every juncture.
Although there aren’t a lot of really overt note additives, many of these songs sound pretty far removed from their original versions. For example, although still basically an acoustic song, “Space Oddity” has had its entire atmosphere revamped to something much more spacey sounding. The quirky keyboard and string sounds of the original don’t quite have that corny, 1960s take on futuristic imagery to them. Deris’ vocal interpretation is a bit smoother and flowing, and the acoustic guitar isn’t quite as high in the mix. Similarly, the Faith No More cover “From Out Of Nowhere” sounds about 10 times better because Deris can actually sing the melody without his voice constantly cracking like a 12 year old boy with a baritone voice (aka Mike Patton). It’s one of those songs that wasn’t terribly bad to begin with, but is so simplistic that a bad vocal performance makes the difference between it being enjoyable versus sucking something awful.
The song selection is very well in line with the earlier influences that have shaped Helloween’s unique brand of power metal. Early pioneering speed metal song by the Scorpions “He’s A Woman, She’s A Man” showcases the band updating the rock oriented guitar and production sound towards something much heavier, almost to the point of matching the aggression heard on “Better Than Raw”. Roland’s love for Uli Jon Roth shows through as he offers up a late 90s version of the radically wild shredding that Roth helped bring to the table in the 70s. The band also incorporates a later speed metal song ala Canadian hard rocker Frank Marino and his band Mahogany Rush in “Juggernaut”, which comes off as even more aggressive, but this is to be expected as the original version of that song was pretty close to Manowar territory, while the Scorpions song was still leaning towards a Deep Purple character.
Naturally there are a few off kilter selections on here that could only qualify as influential to this band if you look at their early 90s releases with Michael Kiske. The Focus and Alex Harvey covers definitely tilt towards a progressive rock character, the former really coming off weird during those yodeling vocal sections. Nonetheless, it gives a tiny bit of insight into where bands that influenced the likes of Dream Theater could be incorporated into the power metal style, which fits in with the later rise of power progressive outfits like Communic, particularly the long and multiple guitar soloing sections and untraditional song structures. Things go even further out of the realm of normalcy with two really old rock songs in “All My Loving” and “White Room”, both of which have had their principle guitar parts tweaked with a lot of elaborate metal additives. The latter is the best song on here and listens pretty close to how Masterplan’s remake of “Black Dog” would sound 3 years after this.
Ironically enough, the most interesting thing about this album isn’t the song selection, but the drastic change in the band’s sound. Despite being loaded with classic rock songs, the guitar tone and production on here is even darker and heavier than “Better Than Raw”, almost as if the band is foreshadowing their own evolution before signing with Nuclear Blast. Though it probably doesn’t carry the same musical appeal as the 2 studio albums that came before it and the one that immediately followed it due to its eclectic nature, it falls into the category of essential listening for any fan of the band, and could serve to broaden the musical horizons of most power and speed metal fans who aren’t really in touch with the 70s rock roots of the style. Of all the cover albums I’ve heard in recent years, this is one of the better ones, and definitely should not be shelved as a mere afterthought following the brilliance of “Better Than Raw”.
Originally submitted to (www.metal-observer.com) on March 21, 2009.
I have to agree with Boris here, this album pretty much sucks. I can't allow myself to rate Helloween lower than 40 though, and granted the performances on this album are good, and your brain won't melt listening to it. There's just nothing you want to hear on it.
After a pretty ferocious cover of Judas Priest's "Hellion/Electric Eye a few years earlier, when I heard Helloween was doing a covers album I had visions in my head of songs like Children of the Grave, Two Minutes to Midnight and other great classic metal songs done up to the max by Helloween. Notsomuch.
The killer here is what this album could have been. The Scorpion cover is faithfully done, but what if they had done Sails of Charon or The Zoo? The From Out of Nowhere cover was just as corny and poppy as the original, but what if they'd done an FNM song like Falling to Pieces, A Small Victory or even Last Cup of Sorrow? Instead of the well done Hocus Pocus cover, they'd done the song that ripped it off and became metal legend: Blitzkrieg?
That's fine that the guys like Bowie, Clapton and ABBA. However, if you're going to make an album and call it "Metal Jukebox", it should actually have metal songs on it. Maybe they intended the title to be ironic, in which case they hit it on the mark. For the casual fan, however, if you're looking for metal, look somewhere else.
After producing the definitive speed/thrash/pop metal blend in the late 80s, Helloween disappeared into Self–Indulgence Land Land in the early 90s, taking the best part of 10 years to recall the sound their original fans appreciated so much.
And to celebrate, they unleashed their unique sound on some of their favourite pop and rock songs of the past few decades. "Metal Jukebox" is an eclectic little collection, to say the least. The Scorpions' "He's A Woman–She's a Man" and Faith No More's "From Out Of Nowhere" are the two closest tracks to what Helloween are normally about. They stomp along as solid rocking, good fun tracks. From there, the album steps into, well, space.
David Bowie's "Space Oddity" is given a faithful, respectful treatment here. No one does Bowie better than Bowie, but this is about as good as you'll ever hear this song done by anyone else. Andi Deris' voice is not a match for Bowie's but he gives it his best shot without sounding strained. Also having a few decades advantage over the original, in which time production techniques have improved markedly, Markus Grosskopf's wandering basslines bubble their way higher into the mix than on the old classic.
ABBA's "Lay All Your Love On Me" and The Beatles' "All My Loving" are perhaps the furthest removed from the originals, and both are pulled off with great effect– the feel of the originals is kept, while simultaneously being given a kick in the arse. Yep, Helloween still have that ear for great pop tunes, even if they didn't write 'em. And it also shows Paul and John, and Benny and Bjorn, could well have been closet headbangers — these songs translate to a metalled–up sound extremely well.
There are a few more straight rockers, like a fairly decent cover of Jethro Tull's "Locomotive Breath", and "White Room" by Cream, but it is the lesser–known songs which really make this album. The instrumental "Hocus Pocus" by, er… Focus allows Helloween's impressive guitar duo to really let strip, with solid riffing and good old fashioned guitar solos, so often neglected these days. There are a few other little known gems hidden away here which really set this album up. It could easily have been an exercise in metallic karaoke self–parody, or an utter arse–kissing tribute album. It's not. It's a well–established metal band showcasing what they can do and where they came from, and having a lot of fun while they do it.
Man, does this album completely suck or what! That's okay, though - they designed it to completely suck. Well, at least, they were well aware that the songs on here are not metal, and for the most part are pop, and even when Helloween redoes them, they are still pop.
So yeah, this album has some REAAALLLYY questionable song selections. Some of the songs are decent, but others just blow ass. And yes, as general principle, all the good songs were done originally by metal or classic rock acts (ie Jethro Tull)... well, not really, they chose some a really shitty Deep Purple and a far below average Beatles song to cover, and also... "He's a Woman, she's a Man". Ya know what, EVERY band from Helstar to Helloween to bands whose names do not have veiled references to the less (more?) preferrable afterlife option have done this song. And it still sucks, because it's such a cheesy fucking song, because the Scorpions were sometimes such a cheesy fucking band.
The rest... "Locomotive Breath" is decent, and so is "Hocus Pocus". "Rat Bat Blue" was such a fucking bad song, and stays that way. "Space Oddity" was too weird a song to be covered by a generally non-fucked-up band like Helloween. "All My Loving" was okay, and stays that way too. "White Room" is done quite well, and then the highlight of this album has to be Frank Fucking Marino's "Juggernaut". Frank Who? Never mind, the cover is speed metal. Which is what this album so badly needs. But nooooo, there's stupid Abba shit... and mmore crap. Who the fuck is Babe Ruth. Oh and Faith no More - that band always sucked, silly modern shit that couldn't consistently fucking rock if their life depended on it. This is one of their worse songs, no "Digging the Grave" here.
Yeah, this album seriously blows ass. Sure, it's great for the "open minded" people that accept all sorts of crap, but ya know, the people that listen to Helloween, especially after they put out Better than Raw, want them to fucking rock ass.
Oh yeah I heard that this was done to appease the record label, who wanted one more album out of them. So yeah, no more live albums, way to give 'em an album of dumb covers. Capitalism at its finest - who screws who and who laughs last. Helloween's laughing all the way to the Dark Ride. Note that they never performed any of this drivel live.