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7 ways to win, too - 100%

Xyrth, August 2nd, 2018
Written based on this version: 1988, CD, RCA

By 1987, Teutonic metal outfit Helloween were on the rise, the logical development ever since their tremendous debut LP was released in 1985, the speed metal benchmark entitled Walls of Jericho. The addition of vocalist Michael Kiske the following year only provided the band with greater potency, as mastermind and main composer Kai Hansen had a curious voice... half unique, half irritating. Thus came to be the first Keeper of the Seven Keys, Part I, another milestone in 80s metal, this time with a greater emphasis on melody and catchiness, without totally surrendering the energetic speed of the debut, and of course, featuring one of the most ambitious compositions attempted by a metal band this side of “Rime of the Ancient Mariner” and “Satan's Fall”; the iconic “Halloween”.

But in 1988, the combined talents of this five Germans, all 25 years old or younger, proved to easily surpass their debuting 1-2 LP killer punch with an even superior third masterpiece, the one that finished to carve their name in the holy obelisk of metal greatest deities: the Keeper of the Seven Keys, Part II. The natural evolution from album #1 to album #2 just carried on in magnificent fashion for album #3, and again, the melody and catchiness were dialed up to 11 without sacrificing all the intensity of previous works. Helloween's third album easily became the band's signature work, highlighting their combination of power, memorability, instrumental dexterity, quality singing and a quirky sense of humor. One of the crowning moments of the European version of power metal, that ironically came to be more of a stereotype for the whole genre than the previous, slower but equally epic USPM, perhaps due to the fact that this new breed was further removed from classic heavy metal thanks to its mixture of intensity and mellower traits.

After a pseudo-symphonic intro, one that would inspire countless of similar style (e.g. Rhapsody), the powerful “Eagle Fly Free” bursts into our eager ears, one of the most potent album openers in existence, famously including guitar, bass and drum solos. The rhythmic section in particular is noteworthy, especially the steady fast drumming of Ingo Schwichtenberg, one of many great metal soldiers lost too soon. After that overdose of euphoria, the album slows down a tiny notch with “You Always Walk Alone”, in which the mighty voice of Michael Kiske takes full control, with Hansen and Weikath's serpentine riffs and solos following close. “Rise and Fall” and the amusing classic “Dr. Stein” take the record into happier, lighter endeavors, despite the latter’s grim lyrical finale. But don't let the humorous approach fool you. Musically, all the compositions are masterful examples of fast melodic metal with a serious degree of complexity, especially during the soloing sections.

“We Got the Right” is one of the more serious tunes, with a slightly melancholic approach… though it's still Helloween. With that one and yet another massive classic in the fist-pumping, catchier-than-flu “I Want Out”, Helloween showed a degree of social comment, the importance of both the strength of collective masses and of the individual thought and will. For an album this funny, those are serious themes, and the combination of the unusual lyrics with its positively energetic musical form, make it all more interesting. Bonus track “Save Us” and fast paced number “March of Time” further explore spiritual and existentialist topics, respectively, but of course, the main and most flavorful plate is left for the end. “Keeper of the Seven Keys” is arguably the second greatest epic classic metal tune ever crafted, after Iron Maiden's well known “Rime”. It’s just as complex as “Halloween”, with better story-telling of the confrontation of good vs evil featuring the band's own created lore; the mythical Seven Keys and a chosen evil-vanquishing warrior, likening it in theme also to Iron Maiden's own ’88 epic, “Seventh Son of a Seventh Son”. Traversing through several seas of acoustic calm and metallic turmoil, the 13+ minute title-track warrants by itself alone the mandatory purchase of this album.

So, Lucifer's gold wasn't enough and he got his satanic ass kicked all the way back to Hell in a more efficient manner than the whole Stryper discography ever could. Helloween's influence after this release was tremendous, prompting the ascendancy of the European power metal scene, and making it felt still through the subsequent decades, the downside being that power metal hasn't really evolved nor branched out as much as other metal genres, with a loyal fanbase that seems content with newer bands just releasing their own Keeper of the Seven Keys, Part 372. As for Helloween, the inevitable decline awaited, with major disputes and direction disagreements. They wouldn't fly as high or free again, but at least managed to salvage their career by mid-90s with a new frontman, amongst other new members. The death of talented skin-basher Ingo was another high price for reaching these glorious heights and then rebuffing them. But still 30 years later, Keeper of the Seven Keys, Part II just reminds us that light can be as powerful as darkness, even in a metal record.

“And mankind, live up, you're free again
Yes the tyrant is dead, he is gone, overthrown
You have given our souls back to light.”