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After falling off the face of the earth in the early 90s, Helloween was wrestling with it's own identity. Kai Hansen, who had pushed the band the most in the Power Metal direction, had opted to make music on his own terms and basically abandoned a band he co-founded.
During subsequent years, a power struggle was developing between singer Michael Kiske, who wanted to go a more eclectic route, and the others who were not keen to the idea. With the exodus of Michael Kiske, and the entry of Andi Deris and Uli Kusch, the course had been set.
After a somewhat powerful yet inconsistent first effort in "Master of the Rings", the new line-up delivered solid gold with this release. We have some amazing shredding visive Roland Grapow on "Wake up the Mountain" and "Steel Tormentor", rivaling Malmsteen, one of his primary influences. Marcus Grosskopf is still in top form, writing highly active bass lines, including a rather technical slap bass part for a section of "Mission Motherland".
Andi Deris displays his amazing range and adaptive vocal style in every song, but his rough edged grunts on "We Burn", his high Halford-like wails on "Mission Motherland", and his tempered low range on "Forever and One" deserve the most note.
Uli Kusch makes one hell of a racket, paying tribute to the memory of Ingo Switenberger, whom this album was dedicated to. "Before the War" and "We Burn" display his speed, while "Wake up the Mountain" shows off his more intricant slow work. And Michael Weikath is still composing some great rockers, including "Power" and "Steel Tormentor".
The songs basically fall into 4 categories, the fast ones, the medium tempo ones, the experimental ones, and the ballads. Of these, the strongest are the fast ones. "We Burn", "Steel Tormentor", "Power" and "Before the War" are instant classics. Of these, "Before the War" is the most powerful, not letting up for a moment between Deris' vocal storytelling and the rhythm section's unrelenting assault.
The medium paced ones are a tiny bit mixed. "Wake up the Mountain" is an amazing technical display, The title track is extremely memorable, and lyrically quite surprising for a band that wrote Rise and Fall 8 years ago. "A Million to One" is a solid rocker, but "Anything my momma don't like" gets a bit silly at times. It is a well-meaning attempt at either recapturing or satirizing the spirit of angst driven bands like Twisted Sister.
Of the experimental ones, the epic "Mission Motherland" is loaded with many treats for the ears, not the least of which is an amazing vocal performance. The Ballads are also a bit of a mixed bag, "Forever and One" is a charming ballad with a good melody, but "If I knew" is a bit boring, and a tiny bit too long.
Although not quite a perfect release, this is the Helloween that I remember from the late 80s who were more concerned with writing great songs rather than trying to mix genres in innovative ways or delve into abstract philosophical concepts with their lyrics. Although I have a preference to Michael Kiske's voice, it is obvious that he ultimately was not the right personality for Helloween in the long run. Andi Deris fills his shoes adequately, and brings a unique new sound to the fold. Recommended highly to power metal fans and to fans of older Helloween material.