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I'm a John Wayne Man! - 75%

Twisted_Psychology, August 18th, 2009

Only a band like Helloween could emerge from an influential lead singer's departure and an original drummer's tragic suicide with an optimistic outlook kept in tact. The first album to feature new vocalist Andi Deris and Masterplan drummer Uli Kusch, it is often considered the band's major comeback. Not only did this release see the band return to more grounded territory after the two confusingly eclectic efforts before it, it also gave the band new life and signalled the beginning of a whole new era of Helloween.

As expected with a lead singer switch this drastic, the music and style are much different than on past efforts. Those who are expecting another album like the "Keeper Of The Seven Keys" releases will be quite disappointed with Deris' vocal approach. In contrast to the high-pitched singing of former vocalist Michael Kiske, Deris has a much rougher style that has been endlessly compared to the likes of Paul Di'Anno. His voice definitely wouldn't have fit in on previous albums, but his style works well with the band's new elements.

Of course the rest of the band gives an unsurprisingly solid performance. The drumming might not be prominent as it once was but it still throws around some technical fills and the guitars churn out plenty of cool riffs and solos. Unfortunately the bass could've been a little more out there, especially since the bassist was one of the only original band members at this point and to this day...

Musically, you could describe this album as sounding like a fusion of the band's old power metal sound and 80's hard rock. There aren't too many ultra-fast double bass driven anthems to be found here, but just about every song is made memorable by means of upbeat riffs and great hooks throughout. "The Game Is On" and "Still We Go" are probably the closest things you'll find on here to the old sound with energetic tempos and uplifting choruses.

While this album never reaches the eclectic experimentation of "Punk Bubbles Go Ape" and "Chameleon," there are a few songs that break away from the album's standard mold. "Mr. Ego (Take Me Down)" is a dark number that emphasizes slower tempos, "Secret Alibi" completely embraces a sleazy hard rock sound, and "In The Middle of a Heartbeat" is a solid power ballad similar to those before it. Also worth noting is the infectiously strange "Perfect Gentleman," which brings in a bouncy whistling melody and a particularly comical vocal performance.

In terms of lyrics, the band's famous comedic style has been kept in check and dominates tracks like "Secret Alibi" and the aformentioned "Perfect Gentleman." There are also themes present related to religion ("Why?") and video games (The Game Is On").

All in all, this is a solid album that falls of short of classic status but is still worth checking for power metal and hard rock. It certainly combines the two genres in a way that sounds better than bands like Edguy would in the future...

Pros:
1) The new members fit in nicely
2) Memorable songwriting and hooks
3) Welcome experimentation

Cons:
1) A little shallow at times
2) The bass is lacking
3) The vocals may take some getting used to for "classic era" fans

My Current Favorites:
"Soul Survivor," "Where The Rain Grows," "Perfect Gentleman," "The Game Is On," and "Secret Alibi"