What pumpkins have united, let none tear asunder.
For those with any degree of familiarity with power metal, whether it is the European variant alone or its slightly older and originally western hemisphere born cousin, the name Helloween is a ubiquitous one. Originally a somewhat typical adherent of the German speed metal scene of the mid-1980s that would make their first appearance on the obscure “Death Metal” demo alongside early extreme metal forerunners Hellhammer, their evolution into one of the most consequential names on the lighter side of the metallic spectrum has been something of an enigmatic one. Following the end of the 80s and the fall of the style from prominence west of the Atlantic, this up and comer outfit would be dogged by substantial lineup changes that would drastically alter their stylistic direction further, with guitarist and co-songwriter Kai Hansen’s departure proving more consequential than Adrian Smith’s exodus from Iron Maiden, and the subsequent case of front man Michael Kiske’s leaving at least matching that of Bruce Dickinson’s from the same iconic heavy metal group and Rob Halford’s departure from Judas Priest at around the same time period.
With such a rich history developing around an expansive number of contributors, the Helloween brand being treated to a reunion of the originals while keeping the newer fellow travelers on board after the model of the one Iron Maiden experienced back in 1999 seemed to literally be in the cards. Thus was the now widely celebrated Pumpkins United tour that spanned much of the late 2010s and gave a hint of what would be possible in a studio capacity, namely a convergence of the band’s classic late 80s sound with the modern incarnation that would pick up the torch beginning with 1994’s “Master Of The Rings” and carrying it through the next couple decades, with 3 guitarists and the same number of legendary singers leading the way to boot. This is the core concept behind the eponymous 16th studio album that has now been offered up to the steadfast masses who may have thought that this grand reunification would never come to pass, and interestingly enough, the resulting songs prove to be a well measured collection of hook-steeped, fast-paced and reasonably accessible anthems, completely side-stepping the temptation of turning into a bloated exercise in overkill.
In terms of scope and ambition, this album compares the closest to the 2005 attempt at resurrecting the band’s epic late 80s era in “Keeper Of The Seven Keys: The Legacy,” albeit shortened to the point of not requiring a 2CD physical release and featuring the soaring voice that breathed magic into the original episodes of said series. Truth be told, the way that Michael Kiske’s massive, high flying pipes interact with the grittier displays put on by Kai Hansen and Andi Deris are the chief draw of these songs, often upstaging the brilliant guitar displays put on by Hansen, Weikath, and particularly newer member Sascha Gershner, who shreds his heart out at every opportunity as if he has something to prove to the entire world. Occasional hints of that signature funky slap bass gimmickry is trotted out by Markus Grosskopf, often functioning as a sort of comic relief yet being wildly impressive in the process, while drummer Dani Loble makes quite the ruckus while channeling the spirit and style of Ingo Schwichtenberg and giving these songs the speed metal edge that originally set Helloween apart from most of the melodically driven metal acts of the late 80s.
The assortment of songs that culminate in this extensive foray into the past and present of power metal prove to be fairly diverse. On the longer side of things are a part of intricate speed-infused anthems in “Out For The Glory” (which curiously starts on a mysterious note and almost sounds like a power metal answer to Slayer’s “South Of Heaven” until things get going) and the campier yet highly compelling cruiser “Robot King”, each featuring Michael Kiske shattering the stratosphere of the human vocal range as Andi Deris does an impressive job of matching his former predecessor turned vocal foil at every opportunity. The more mixed up rollercoaster that is “Fear Of The Fallen” shuffles through some jarring changes in feel with Deris injecting a Dracula-like swagger into the more subdued moments. The shorter mid-paced banger “Best Time” leans in pretty heavy on the “I Want Out” tendencies almost to the point of being a sequel to said late 80s radio hit, while “Mass Pollution” and “Cyanide” reach for more of a fist-pumping, rock-based brand of crunch with a lofty vocal overlay. And one would naturally be remiss not to mention the colossal 12 minute closer “Skyfall”, which stands as something of a successor to the band’s long ones of old, though the chorus hook rings fairly similar to a melody that Kai Hansen originally brought to the finale of the Avantasia epic number “Seven Angels”.
If there is one drawback to this massive studio endeavor, some long Persian Flaw that keeps it from matching the towering accomplishments that stand in Helloween’s massive back catalog, it is that this album is a near perfectly even hybrid of where things were before Kiske and Hansen left with what has occurred since. Every fan who has ever partaken of this band’s nearly 40 year history of output will find something about this album to like, but those coming to this album expecting to hear a full on reenactment of where things were back in 1987 won’t find it, though it should be fairly clear by the continued involvement of both Andi Deris and Sascha Gershner that this would be an album with one foot still firmly planted in Helloween’s present. As a fan of the 80s output of this band first and foremost, I found this a more than impressive continuation of an era that didn’t really have enough chance to full blossom given the circumstances of the day, though I wouldn’t quite go so far as to say that it has surpassed the prime movers that were “Walls Of Jericho” or the two “Keepers Of The Seven Keys” albums it’s certainly up there in the short list of the best material this band has ever produced. It’s an album that’s cut from a different time and is in a class all its own, and those approaching it with tempered expectations should get more than their money’s worth.
Released By: Nuclear Blast Records
Released On: June 18th, 2021
Genre: Power Metal
- Andi Deris / Vocals
- Michael Kiske / Vocals
- Michael Weikath / Guitars, vocals
- Kai Hansen / Guitars, vocals
- Markus Grosskopf / Bass
- Sascha Gerstner / Guitars
- Dani Löble / Drums
- Out For The Glory
- Fear Of The Fallen
- Best Time
- Mass Pollution
- Rise Without Chains
- Robot King
- Down In The Dumps
The iconic union under the banner of the immortal pumpkin, combining both new and old, unleashes their long promised full-length onslaught to the starving masses, channeling much of the magic that was there during the “Keeper Of The Seven Keys” era, all the while still maintaining a sizable remnant of their more recent stylistic quirks