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In the right direction, but it needed more. - 76%

hells_unicorn, March 2nd, 2008

After the rather weird experiments that were the consequence of the early post-Kai Hansen era of Helloween, some line-up changes were made and the newly reformed power metal pioneers of German fame geared up for their 6th studio release. Upon viewing the cover of the CD and the rather intriguing storyline involving the main character of the "Keeper" albums found in the booklet, you can tell that a strong attempt was made to recapture the amazing spirit that defined their earlier work. However, some fine tunning would still be needed before the old greatness was fully re-kindled.

First it is necessary to focus on what has line-up changes have taken place since "Chameleon". First off, Ingo Schwichtenberg had been fired due to an inability to perform his drumming duties and a looming drug problem that would sadly claim his life 1 year after this album's release. Uli Kusch, who also had a brief run in Gamma Ray, has taken over on the kit on this release, and he does a hell of a job. Highlight drum performances include "Sole Survivor", "Where the Rain Grows", and "Still we go". Michael Kiske has also left the band in order to pursue a more musically eclectic solo career and has been replaced by former Pink Cream 69 vocalist Andi Deris. Deris' voice actually reminds me a bit of former maiden vocalist Paul Di'anno, and although I do slightly prefer Michael Kiske's voice, Deris' personality live is a bit more fitting for the Helloween concept. For further support of this, have a listen to Helloween's "High Live" album and compare it with the 1989 live album, Deris has a much better stage presence.

The final product of this revamped line-up is mostly good, but unfortunately it suffers from what I would call SMSS (Slow Middle Section Syndrome). It starts strong, ends strong, and lags a bit in the middle. Although many of the middle songs are strong, we have about 4 or 5 mid to down tempo tracks all crammed together between a set of faster ones. "Sole Survivor" and "Where the Rain Grows" both cook well, feature some amazing vocal sections courtesy Andi Deris, and some amazing solos. "Why" and "Mr. Ego" are both more mid-tempo tracks with some good moments, but tend to meander a bit. "Perfect Gentleman" is also mid-tempo, but has a more catchy melody and some rather witty lyrics.

Afterwards, the album starts to get a little bit silly. "The Game is On" has some goofy video game sounds on it, actually reminding me a bit of the old Tetris game I used to have on my Game Boy (the one from the late 80s that was in black and white and needed a flashlight to be seen in the dark). "Secret Alibi" and "Take me home" have their moments, but the lyrics are a tiny bit in the cheesy love song vain and are largely forgettable.

The closing two tracks are, ironically, the highlights of the album. "In the Middle of a Heartbeat" is probably my second favorite ballad by this band ("Light the Universe" off of "Keeper of the Seven Keys: The Legacy" being my favorite). A very memorable acoustic riff and some rather poignant lyrics, followed by a classically influenced nylon string guitar solo that gives me goose bumps every time I hear it. "Still we go" is a rather impressive rocker with some brilliant musical moments, particularly in the drums, although it does have a rather comical intro. The lyrics carry the theme of not giving up or compromising, and underscore the many storms that Helloween successfully weathered in the previous years in order to get back in the saddle again.

This album is essentially half awesome, half mediocre. I recommend it to core Helloween fans and people who don't mind having only 4 fast songs on a release. Anyone looking for it should definitely shop for it at $9 or less, as I can only really say that 6 songs on here are stellar. Time of the Oath was the real recovery from the 4 year slump these guys fell into after Kai left the band.