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Helloween is one of those odd bands. They have been around forever, are mostly remembered for the kitschy video for "Halloween", have a fan base that walks the fine line between Thrall and Zealotry and were never given the critical acclaim deserved for their role in setting the stage for most of today's Melodic Metal.
I am pleased that the re-envisioned music finally has a chance to match Helloween's lyric prowess. They always had the ability to ask questions about us in a spiritual manner without sounding preachy, ("Why", "A Tale that wasn't Right", "Where the Rain Grows") or in a humorous manner ("The Game is On", "Mr Torture", "Mrs God"). However, at times the band has been limited sound wise by it's metal genre. Whenever Helloween reached to be more than that "Halloween" sound, they were severely rebuked by all sides. How the band survived the colossal failures of "Pink Bubbles Go Ape" (Yea, it is as bad as it sounds to say) and "Chameleon" (nowhere near as bad as most think, and a brilliant insight as to how the band got to this release) is a miracle in it's own right.
As for "Unarmed", Helloween takes the next step in alternative visioning. The best way I can describe this is as the songs re-worked into a style that would be best described as soundtrack like. Most of the songs have a sound that seems to have grown from the Musical Stage aka Broadway. Soaring harmonies and piano mix well with the songs natural rhythms in a way that brings the term "Rock Opera" back from the 70's. Certain songs (Most notably the Lounge Lizardly "Dr Stein") break this mold, but I think this is a fair description of the Cd's overall feel if not is purpose.
I give the guys credit for not doing what has been stomped to death before; Unplugged (Nirvana, Alice in Chains and KISS ruled the early 90's with this) or Symphonic Rock (Metallica's "S&M", KISS's "Alive IV") as seen nearing the Millenium. This is fresh and that in it's own right is a feat these days.
Who would like this? It is hard to tell. You really need to listed to this before you decide to buy it. If you were a Metalhead who had larger boundaries than most, but not completely crossed over to John Tesh, look into this. If you have ever owned Savatages "Streets; A Rock Opera", Darling Cruel's "The Passion Crimes EP", KISS's "Music From The Elder" or any "Trans Siberian Orchestra" you might be part of the odd un-named generation that will love this as much as I.
PS, Though effective in the Metal Genre, I would have never though Andi Deris could have pulled this off vocally. I have a new found appreciation for him after this. He may not be blessed with much range, but like Jon Bon Jovi, he really knows how to use what he has effectively.
Silver jubilee of one of the most influential and biggest metal bands is sure to be celebrated in style. In most cases there is a best off album with song selection being done from fans on a poll basis or songs are selected by the band themselves. The album includes may include one new song in the style famous to the band just as a treat for the fans. The songs which are selected for the compilation are most likely to be reconstructed so as to sound new and surprising. In most cases an orchestra in used. But whatever done is such that the fans will like, in order to be grateful to them for supporting the band throughout the period. No sane band will dream of putting a silver jubilee album that would include recreating their earlier classics into something that their fans utterly detest. Power metal legends Helloween have done something of that type for their silver jubilee album.
Knowing that their fans detest the humorous pop direction of Chameleon, Weikath & Co. have still decided to redesign their older stuff into pop, soft rock. So here we find the famous Helloween songs, stripped of their original fury and transformed into something comical and commercial crap that is played on Disney channels. As this album is pure pop rock album, we don’t find any inspiring individual performances. The guitar unit of Weikath-Gerstner now churns out silly acoustic solos instead of the blazing riffs and solos that decorated their last album ‘Gambling with the Devil’. Drummer Daniel Loble now adds drum fills that will make Lars Ulrich sound like Dave Lombardo. Andy Deris is dominant here, not to say that he shines, but just dominates the other members (what would you expect in a pop album anyway). I would not detail how hideously they have used keyboards and other instruments like saxophone.
Among the songs, the main riff of ‘Dr. Stein’ has been butchered with a saxophone, and you know this isn’t good. Agreed the song was goofy and silly, but it at least had excellent guitar and drum work to back it up. The guest vocals thrown in the chorus are just horrible. The powerful riffs in ‘Future World’ are now replaced with acoustic guitars. Though ‘I Want Out’ was one of the less inspired Helloween songs, it sounds totally disgusting here. It appears if they used a couple of children to sing the chorus. But all this is nothing compared to the abomination that Eagle Fly Free is made. The song which still stands as one of the greatest power metal songs is stripped to acoustic guitars with virtually no drum work. ‘Where the Rain Grows’ is also butchered, it is converted into a sappy ballad. ‘Fallen to Pieces’ lacks the bombastic power that the original version had.
‘Forever & One’, ‘A Tale That Wasn’t Right’ and ‘Perfect Gentleman’ were abominations to begin with. So they don’t sound bad compared to their originals. ‘If I Could Fly’ isn’t that bad, but not good either. Then the much publicized medley ‘Keepers Trilogy’. Here Helloween try their hand at ‘And Then there was Silence’ and failed miserably. This medley includes the 3 songs ‘Halloween’, ‘Keeper of the Seven Keys’, ‘King For 1000 Years’. The latter 2 are OK but ‘Halloween’ just does not stand out with orchestra and multi layered vocals. Also the multi layered vocals don’t suit Deris’s rough hard rock wail. It just sounds awful. The song construction is OK not that bad. Overall this is the best song of the album.
Helloween is known for some goofy and stupid moments in their career. But this surpasses them all. This is utter madness. Above all this piece of abomination followed ‘Gambling with the Devil’, their best album. But for now Helloween has committed suicide.
To celebrate the 25th anniversary of the band, Helloween decided to re-record 11 tracks which are apparently all their best songs. When hearing about an album to celebrate the band's milestone, a re-recording of their classics like what Gamma Ray did with Blast to the Past would have been fair but considering what actually happened here, just a generic compilation album with random songs thrown in would have been more appropriate.
What Helloween decided to do for their 25th anniversary as a "Thank you" to their fans is take away all the metal elements these songs had and make most of them all horribly acoustic and pop-ish that makes you wonder if The Jonas Brothers took over the band during the recording sessions. There's a few tracks which were more orchestral but not even they saved the album. However, The Keeper's Trilogy is actually decent.
Yes, the only track worth listening to from this garbage is The Keeper's Trilogy which despite hearing the preview was still something to hope that it would at least be decent. Instead of throwing parts of the three songs around, they actually divided the song into three sections for each song to have their own part. However, this song isn't without flaws as the most bothersome thing about this song is how one solo from Halloween comes out of nowhere during The King for a 1000 Years section. Still, it's an interesting mix of their three epics.
As for the rest of the tracks, while most argue that Deris shouldn't be singing Kiske-era, that's not the main issue with this album, it's the use of acoustic pop all over the place. These do not mix well with songs which were made for metal and these arrangements are awful. For other instruments used within the album, the orchestral elements are rather poor in A Tale That Wasn't Right. While I enjoy the original version of this, the orchestral version just has no feeling to the song and it's boring as hell.
The other use of other instruments are saxophones in Dr. Stein and that only makes you think "What the hell is this?" Although the song was already one of Helloween's goofy moments, the original version at least had a great riff along with it. That riff has now been bastardized by saxophones. Nothing against the instrument itself but again, this is the wrong way to treat a metal classic.
The guest vocalists within this album are horrible. The female singer in Eagle Fly Free doesn't do any justice to the song whatever but the worst of all is I Want Out with what sounds like Kidz Bop singing in the background. Before it was revealed that these are re-recordings of Helloween classics without the metal, it would have been assumed that Kai Hansen would sing for this song but he's not heard in sight. It's bad how they left the one who wrote the damn song out but on the other hand, at least he didn't contribute to this pile of crap.
Speaking of I Want Out, the solos are either left out or are horribly butchered. Eagle Fly Free has completely forgotten the awesome solo it had while Fallen to Pieces' acoustic solo is horrid. Infact, all the solos in this album are horribly played and re-ordered with the rest of the songs in a terrible fashion.
In conclusion, Helloween have had some odd moments in their career such as Chameleon and Metal Jukebox but Unarmed is where it goes too far. The majority are very poorly re-arranged and butchered by extreme pop and acoustic elements and seem like they were made for Disney Channel to go along with their modern crap. Whatever the reason they had for this abomination, this is nothing more than a horrible prank set on one of your friends and laughing at the victim. It's a good thing this album hasn't affected their musical direction at all, otherwise I and many others would have completely given up with them. Just download The Keeper's Trilogy from iTunes or wherever and forget the rest and hopefully their next metal album will make up for this travesty.
Honestly, what compelled the band to make this? It’s a stupid idea. They even have historical evidence that this wouldn’t succeed. Fan and critical reaction to Chameleon still isn’t positive, so why on earth would you think it would be a good idea to release what is essential the successor to that album. In fact, you can argue this is worse because (most of) these songs are respected, so bastardizing them as such is even more prone to piss off your fan base. But, alas, let’s look at these songs to really see what’s wrong hear.
Most of these renditions are either symphonic or acoustic. There are a few other styles thrown into the mix every now and then, too. While I’m honestly ok with pretty much every genre they attempt to do hear, the fact remains that Helloween is a POWER METAL BAND. You know, a band that specializes in making POWER METAL. They aren’t like Ween or Estradasphere who have a penchant for performing all genres with a unique flair and success. They just make really high quality power metal. So most of their attempts at other genres are really half assed. Look at the opener, Dr. Stein. It’s a lame dead jazz cover. Like, think a shitty 80’s pop song with a corny smooth sax solo in the middle. It is that. The country rendition of Perfect Gentleman is similar. It’s just an obnoxious pop song with some j-rate country overtones. I didn’t even have that much of a problem with the original Perfect Gentleman, but this just feels forced.
The symphonic in theory should be better, as the band is at least a little more in their element here. Classical-esque string arrangements are of course no stranger to the Power Metal world, but the thing is, they use those thin sounding synth strings. In a full band arrangement these can work. But when the song is 85% synth strings, it doesn’t hold up. You know opening tracks, like Invitation and Deliberately Limited Preliminary Prelude Period in Z? Stretch those out to full song length and toss in vocals, that’s the symphonic stuff here. And one of these is 17 minutes long. No one wants to hear that.
Fortunately, the acoustic stuff fairs better than the rest. They’re functional acoustic pop songs. Not wonderful, but functional. Future World is probably the best thing on here. If they did a whole album like this… it would still be bad, but not sickeningly so.
So yeah, that’s Unarmed. One last thing I want to point out is the tracklisting. They could have picked better songs. Admittingly, it could be blessing that they just focused on dissembling these songs, not the really good ones, but still, I have to wonder (Reggae We Burn?). Also, no, Helloween don’t get points for trying. They got that with Chameleon. How can they be expected to learn from their mistakes if they are allowed to repeat them. Besides, it’s not like this album was aimed for the fans. If they did straight POWER METAL adaptations of old stuff, like pre-Deris material, hell, that could’ve been cool. Sure some people would shit storm all over them, but I think it would be enjoyable. But I digress, that’s Unarmed. It sucks, don’t listen to it.
Twenty five years in the business is a long time to have been making music, and right now, Helloween knows that more than anyone. That’s right; this band has now been around for two and a half decades and is still kicking for another twenty five after this. But shouldn’t they have some kind of commemorative effort to celebrate such a monumental achievement? Well luckily enough, they do! An acoustic-pop album of brand new renditions of some of their classic songs!
….wait, what? Let me read through that again; I’m not sure what I just typed is true. Certainly such a preposterous thing could never actually be real…wait, are you telling me it is? No, that can’t be true! I mean, what kind of hellish concoction of drugs and violence could produce such a horrible thing? Are you seriously going to sit here and tell me that Helloween, the band responsible for creating such instant classics as Walls of Jericho and The Dark Ride made an acoustic pop album to celebrate their 25th anniversary of making metal music?
Sigh. I guess it isn’t that much of a surprise. It isn’t like these guys haven’t always been about this kind of casual fuckery anyway. They have always been throwing shit at the walls – it’s just that it turns to gold most of the time, so nobody ever notices. But an acoustic album with pop renditions of their classic songs, with even a few newer ones thrown in for no apparent reason? I have no clue in the depths of Hell as to why they would do this, and especially not to commemorate their 25th anniversary as a band. This is what they want to be remembered by? I mean, I guess it could be a lot worse, but a lot of this is just kind of insipidly bland, lacking the eclectic chemistry and power that the original studio recordings with the electric guitars did.
It’s like the leftovers of everything that made them good in the first place. I mean, the work on making these songs likable was done for them; for this album, the band just had to strip them of…well, everything that made them likable. I have to give them credit for flawlessly transforming “Eagle Fly Free” into a pop song – or even more of a pop song than it already was – but the band assumes I even want to hear such a thing at all, which I do not. Just listen to the wretched “Perfect Gentleman;” was there ever a soul alive who thought this song was good even in its original form? It’s annoying as shit. The band’s two worst ballads ever, “Forever & One” and “A Tale That Wasn’t Right” sound somehow even worse in acoustic form, making you scratch your head and wonder why you like this band. Hint, just go listen to any of their better albums, rinse and repeat.
Some of the stuff here is alright. I kind of like “Dr. Stein” in its weird, goofy saxophone pop form, but that’s because this song was always goofy and silly, and I guess taking that to its extreme ends up enjoyable, somehow. And surprisingly the other tune I think is done well is “Where the Rain Grows,” transformed from its original Power Metal firestorm into a quite amiable acoustic ballad, with a somber, serious tone and Deris’ fantastic vocals lending it a huge helping hand. It’s strange, because this is honestly the one you would think would really suck, being so far away from its source form, but it’s actually really good. The 17 minute “Keeper’s Medley” is okay, but seventeen minutes is too long for a washy symphonic orchestral thing like this – it simply isn’t written well enough to remain captivating, and I wish they had just picked one of the three Keeper songs and done it like this instead of throwing them all in there.
So, yes, Helloween made an acoustic pop album to celebrate 25 years of music. It’s about as entertaining as watching paint dry, and you could spend your time doing several better things, the least of which is listening to better Helloween albums. But what I want to know is, how come they didn’t do an acoustic version of “Kill It”? Or perhaps “Escalation 666.” That would have at least been somewhat interesting.