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Modern muscle - 85%

gasmask_colostomy, September 12th, 2015

I think the first thing to hit you about this album is so obviously the heaviness of the rhythm section and the weight of the guitars that I need to talk about it first. We aren't talking about ordinary power metal speed and sounds here, not even Helloween's own 'Gambling with the Devil' levels of muscle, but a whole semi-extreme bombardment of furious drums and crunching bass that doesn't let up on many of the songs here. Just listening to the deliberately over-the-top blastbeat section of 'Are You Metal?' could be enough to force some classic Helloween fans to drop this album and flee, and that's only if they made it past the downtuned groove riff of opener 'Where the Sinners Go'. However, the heaviness is as much welcome as unexpected for me, since after a couple of listens my initial confusion died down and I realised that there was a regular power metal album hiding beneath all the bare-chested pummeling.

The songs in general are constructed like any of the modern Helloween albums, averaging a little under five minutes and usually following verse-chorus-verse structure with plenty of instrumental time thrown in. The main alteration for '7 Sinners' is that the instrumental focus has shifted slightly from leads and melodies to whole-band pieces: there are rhythmic movements on the aforementioned 'Are You Metal?' and 'Long Live the King', generally more intense introductions and post-chorus parts, as well as a great focus on riffs. Maybe it's because the band are playing in a less melodic style than before, but I can pick out a lot more specific riffs than on some of the band's mid 90s or early 00s albums and most of them sound great. A few of them, like 'Long Live the King' and 'You Stupid Mankind' sound not only much, much heavier than previously (the former could pass on more than a few thrash albums from the last decade) but also a lot more modern than any of the other big power metal bands who started in the 80s. Sometimes Gamma Ray makes it to the same level of intensity, though they still retain the classic approach, and '7 Sinners' has an even heavier rhythm guitar tone than Dragonforce, to whom the drums are comparable. The solos have also taken more of a back seat, sometimes feeling like a toned-down version of the creativity that fans may be used to, yet still progressing songs and acting as more melodic diversions to the intense material. In fact, this is perhaps the only part of Helloween's sound that retains its classic edge, meaning that the solos sometimes sound too light for the song and don't have the same amount of destructive force.

Andy Deris is great here and it is his stellar vocals that help to shape songs and provide hooks. He pulls off the narrative of 'Who Is Mr Madman?', the call to arms of 'Are You Metal?', the reflective verses of 'The Sage, the Fool, the Sinner', and causes 'Far in the Future' to be hair-raisingly poignant in its building post-chorus section. His mid-range is always in control and powerful, his shrieks sound both sincere and vehement, especially on 'You Stupid Mankind', and his melodic choruses are some of the best from the band and rarely follow obvious formulas. Not only from him, but also from the heavyweight guitars, there is an exquisite sense of timing in some of these songs, almost like the way a comedian delivers a punchline to a joke, where the anticipation builds up and, just at the required moment, the final piece is added. 'If a Mountain Could Talk', for example, should end up a mediocre song according to its content (which equals nearly seven minutes of mid-paced riffing, a power chord and rapid drumming chorus, a slow, wandering solo, and a repeated vocal bridge to the last chorus), yet it exceeds these basic elements with a panache that isn't too showy, just well-judged.

This example more or less sums up the album, since most of the songs here are fairly unexceptional and go for hooks instead of virtuosity, though end up memorable, dynamic, and worth a headbang or two. There is a mild surprise in the flute solo in 'Raise the Noise' and the complete extremity of 'Long Live the King', but the real surprise is for a Helloween album to only have two unexpected moments. The only exceptions to the general quality on offer are the opener, which doesn't sound a lot like Helloween and has a rather dull and limp main riff, 'My Sacrifice', which is a rather mixed ballad with constant fast drumming, and 'Not Yet Today', which seems rather pointless as a short intro piece to the already lengthy and dramatic 'Far in the Future'. Of the other songs, 'Who Is Mr Madman?' and 'World of Fantasy' are the most fantastically catchy and fun, while 'Long Live the King' and 'Far in the Future' are the most intense, for musical and emotional reasons repectively.

Helloween's decision to make an album like '7 Sinners' could be called questionable because of its deviations from their former style, yet it works well and plays to some of the band's other strengths. Arguably, this aims for a more general metal audience than 'Keeper of the Seven Keys' or 'The Time of the Oath': the heavier and more muscular tone would make even metalcore fans feel comfortable, although the style is still much purer than Trivium or Lamb of God. Perhaps with the more modern guitar tone and dance-influenced sound on Stratovarius's 'Nemesis' (which followed '7 Sinners' by three years), we may have started to witness the old guard of power metal update their sound and try to compete with the younger bands. Either way, we get a very decent album from Helloween.