I've been an obsessed hard rock/heavy metal fan and collector since the early 1980s. If it's got a good guitar riff and attitude, I'm in.
(Nuclear Blast Records, 2021)
Genre: Power/Speed Metal
12 tracks, run time: 64:57
The Pumpkin Heads Return...
Power metal fans around the world rejoiced when Helloween announced their "Pumpkins United" tour in 2016, which saw fan-favorite former members Michael Kiske (lead vocals, 1987–1993) and Kai Hansen (guitars/vocals 1984–1989) reuniting with the band's current lineup (guitarists Michael Weikath and Sascha Gerstner, bassist Markus Grosskopf, vocalist Andi Deris, and drummer Daniel Löble). When the tour came to an end (commemorated by 2017's Pumpkins United live album and DVD), the band announced that Kiske and Hansen would also take part in the creation of Helloween's next studio album. Naturally, anticipation ran high for such an ambitious "all-star" project, with many expecting a Voltron-style "coming together" that would result in the greatest power metal album ever made!
Originally set for a 2020 release, the album (simply titled Helloween) was delayed for nearly a year due to the worldwide COVID-19 pandemic, before finally arriving in June of 2021. Helloween immediately topped the album charts in the band's native Germany, and went top ten in Japan and across Europe. It even cracked the US Billboard chart in its first week, landing at #35. It was official—the Keepers of the Seven Keys were back!
...so was Helloween worth the wait?
I've been a Helloween fan since their 1985 debut EP (which was also self-titled) but the new CD was not an instant home run for me. This is the kind of album that requires several listens to "gel." On the first spin, I actually thought that Helloween felt overly busy, as if the band were trying too hard to create an "ultimate" album by cramming as much over-the-top '80s metal awesomeness as possible into every note. The album's many layers peeled away with subsequent listens, and though not every song on Helloween is a winner, it's a very well done, highly enjoyable album that compares favorably with recent pumpkin works like 7 Sinners (2010) and My God-Given Right (2015).
The seven-minute plus "Out For The Glory" kicks thing off in fine all-guns-blazing style, and the first voice we hear is Michael Kiske, whose soaring vocal style has aged gracefully. Kiske's voice blends nicely with Andi Deris' on the choruses of the frenzied rocker "Fear of the Fallen" and the catchy, bounce-along "Best Time."
The head banging "Mass Pollution" is my favorite track on the album thus far, featuring a nimble bass intro by Grosskopf, and Deris screaming above a wall of heavy metal crunch. I do kind of wish they'd given the vocal duty on this one to Kai Hansen, whose gritty shriek would have been perfect for it.
"Angels" and "Rise Without Chains" are both decent, if unremarkable, power/speed metal workouts, then "Indestructible" kicks the intensity back up several notches. Deris, Kiske, and Hansen all take turns at the mic on this one, and it's my second favorite track behind "Mass Pollution."
"Robot King" is another screaming, all-men-play-on-ten power metal monster but it feels overlong at a hair over seven minutes. (The chorus is kind of dorky too.) The chugging rocker "Cyanide" and the middling "Down in the Dumps" lead into the spacey intro "Orbit" and the album's massive (twelve minutes plus) closer "Skyfall," which carries on Helloween's fine tradition of lengthy epics like "Halloween" and "Keeper of the Seven Keys." Written entirely by Hansen, "Skyfall" (not a James Bond reference) relates the experiences of an alien who crash lands on Earth. Kai has been cranking out science-fiction tales like this for decades in his own band Gamma Ray, and when his story telling chops combine with the vocal tag team of Deris and Kiske, the result is absolute melodic metal bliss.
"Skyfall" (full version)
Befitting the band's heroic status in the Land of the Rising Sun, there are four bonus tracks on the Japanese edition of Helloween, all of which are worth seeking out - in fact, any of them would have fit just fine in the album's proper running order. The fantastic "Pumpkins United" (originally released as a single in 2017 to coincide with the concert tour) should have been included on all worldwide versions, as far as I'm concerned, but unfortunately, Helloween chose not to consult with me on the subject (sigh). "Golden Times" is a nice, typically Helloween power-metal gallop, Deris sounds great on "Save My Hide," and "We Are Real" is simply a fun "thank you" note to the band's faithful fans for their years of support.
Summing It Up
I doubt that any Helloween fan, no matter what "era" of the band they're into, will be disappointed by this release. Helloween is state of the art metallic ear candy and I hope that they continue to utilize the "Pumpkins United" configuration on future studio albums.
In short: buy it, or "be turned into a big ugly half price selling pumpkin!"
© 2021 Keith Abt