When autumn rolls around, one of the best albums I can recommend putting on is HELLOWEEN‘s “The Dark Ride.” While some people are big fans of the band’s earlier material, those who prefer Andi Deris on vocals to Kai Hansen are receiving some of his best on this album. Songs like “Time of the Oath” (“The Time of the Oath,” 1996) paved the way for this album, which in turn has paved the way for some of HELLOWEEN‘s best sounds in later albums, like “Where the Sinners Go” (“7 Sinners,” 2010). I may be biased as this was my first HELLOWEEN album and it remains a very dear album to my heart, but this album is damned near perfect. As such, we’ve gone over it track-by-track for its anniversary today.
“Beyond the Portal” is one of those intros that 100% sets the tone for the album. I have always adored the eerie “abandoned carnival on Halloween” vibe to this song and it perfectly blends into “Mr. Torture” without requiring “Mr. Torture” to come next to make sense, which I love.
The aforementioned “Mr. Torture” is one of my first favorite metal songs ever and I think, to this day it is still one of my favorite metal songs. I love every second of this song, from the creeping intro to the chugging guitar parts, BDSM lyrics amazingly sung by Andi Deris, and overall really fun, heavy sound. The flow of this song and rather menacing way of portraying the subject matter make everything about this song perfect. Plus I had that added fun moment of realization when I one day learned what BDSM – and this song by association – were all about. The masterfully broken drum kicks in this song were one of the first and only drumming bits that I can ever recall thinking were cool, as someone who knows next to nothing about drumming. This, with the creeping intro part, as well as the other guitar riffs, mix together to create a feeling that is nothing short of perfect.
Having never been a big fan of HELLOWEEN‘s cheesy power metal, “All Over the Nations” is one of the low points of the album, thankfully showing up early. It’s not a bad HELLOWEEN song bad per se, but the issue is that it is completely out of place in the context of the whole otherwise dark and Halloween-y album. The fast-kick, perky energy, and choral chorus contrast significantly against the dark and heavy tones that the rest of the album is mainly comprised of. Unlike some of the other borderline cheery songs on this album, this song lacks the prominent heaviness completely. I might’ve enjoyed this track better if it had been on another more power metal -centric album, but as it stands, I can’t get into it because it totally throws off the flow of the album for me. To their credit though – very nice solos in this one.
That intro – dah-da, dah-da, dah-da, dah-da, dah-squeal! So good! On this album, there is what I call a trifecta of heavy songs: “Escalation 666,” “Mirror Mirror,” and “I Live for Your Pain.” This could likely include a few more songs, but there is something about these three songs that makes them feel like they belong with each other. It’s partly the feeling and ambience of them all, as well as to some degree the lyrical content, which creates a lot of the overall atmosphere on the album. We get a good view of how high-pitched vocals can still be used to create heavy sounds in the chorus here. Plus, when Deris goes raspy and low, it’s pure magic.
Heavy intro, ominous first verse, hard n’ heavy chorus… “Mirror Mirror” rides up and down on my favorites list from this album. Sometimes it’s just good, sometimes it’s really great. This is perhaps the heavier side of HELLOWEEN as the second song in my trifecta, even if it does have its contrasting parts (“no, my life is beautiful!”), and I can’t get enough of those deep, chugging rhythms. The chorus of this song is perhaps the heaviest of them all, which is great because HELLOWEEN are awesome when they go gritty and dark.
After complaining about “All Over the Nations,” you might wonder why I don’t find “If I Could Fly” out of place on this album. Perhaps it works as the “token ballad” on the album (incidentally, ever notice how often albums slow down around track 6?), but I wouldn’t really call this a light and airy power metal song either. The lovely piano melody with the still-totally-heavy-metal-guitar pairing prevent this song from being too peppy for the album’s dark sound. Or, maybe this song is great simply because it is equally relevant to a nerdy metal-discovering teenager as it is to an adult. There might be a deeper meaning to this track, but I think the lyrics in the chorus have the potential to speak to literally anyone: “If I could fly / like a king of the sky / could not tumble nor fall / I would picture it all / if I could fly / see the world through my eyes / would not stumble nor fail / to the heavens I sail…”
The other miss on the album for me is “Salvation.” It’s almost as perky as “All Over the Nations” but isn’t quite so… power metally. I mean it is – it still has the super duper power metal drumming and the deliciously cheesy choral chorus. I think it’s actually in Deris‘ vocals; they’re not going full-force high-screams during the verses, which manages to keep this song from going too deep into the power metal pool to throw off the album again. It’s not my favorite, but it’s a pretty fun, energetic song.
I’ve had a lot of “favorite songs” in my life, but “The Departed (Sun is Going Down” was perhaps the longest-standing of them all, lasting from about 2002 through 2008 (when it was then dethroned by the discovery of “To Holmgard and Beyond” by TURISAS). I love the lyrics, which largely seem to be about getting betrayed by your best friend, but that riff in the beginning with its echo and the keys in the background… it just feels so apocalyptic, like someone in a lull during a battle, who eventually is turned on by someone they trusted. The guitar solo is passionate and unique and Deris‘ vocals are perfect. This song is the climax of a great story never written. This song is the summary of an amazing movie never seen. If you want to know why I will always have a special place in my heart for HELLOWEEN, just listen to this song.
Oh, that bass intro! Of the trifecta of heavy songs, this is the last on “The Dark Ride.” This is a song where Markus Grosskopf shows his skills and takes the spotlight. Surely, the guitarwork is great in this track, with yet another fantastic solo, but this song wouldn’t be what it is without that sweet, sweet bass. I feel as though this is just a very well-put-together song. Everything works, from the drum rolls to the backing vocals, to the sinister lyrics… just everything.
I feel like there’s another story in this song, albeit less of a dark one than some of the other themes on this album. What is it about this song that feels so dark, even through the overall bright soundscape? It could be the deep bass lines and the chugging guitars in the verses. Even the solo is quite light-sounding, but I can’t shake the feeling that this song fits in with the dark themes. It feels like it’s in the right place on the album, following a particularly heavy song (perhaps breaking things up for fans of the lighter side of HELLOWEEN). As well, the song feels like a positive build-up, as though its on the way to a big climax. This song makes me excited to keep going.
I confess that I’ve been teased for liking “Immortal” so much. To be true, lyrically it is a little cheery/cheesy and “tonight we are stars” sounds a bit like a line from one of those touchy-feely wannabe-deep coming-of-age dramedy films that are so popular these days (can you tell I’m not a fan?); however, I like the epicness of this song. Just listen to that gentle guitar intro, the power in the build-up, and the grandness provided by the added keys. It feels less like cheesy bullshit to me and more like… high fantasy, which to be fair is its own type of bullshit, but one that I’m far more open to.
Random fact: two of my family members died when I was listening to the titled track of The Dark Ride. Somehow that feels very appropriate. I’ve always likened “the dark ride” to death and this very black-and-white, Halloween-y album, with all its dark themes, feels like it should be completed by a song about death. First of all, the creepy carnival intro followed by the voice that makes it sound like you’re selling your soul (another potential metaphor for this song?), followed again by the strong riffs and heavy bass and drumming just makes this song great. Deris‘ vocals are at their best and I love the addition of the “dark voice” now and then. This song has everything I want, from the powerful chorus to the great solo, over to the slowed-down C-part that turns around once more to the darkness and another solo. This is a perfect example of proper dramatic arcs in a song and is exactly the sort of epic finale that this album needed.
Overall, this album takes everything I like about power metal (which isn’t a whole lot, to tell the truth), but adds enough unique heavy sound to make it something completely new and hugely unique for its time among power metal albums. HELLOWEEN were surely at their prime when they created the masterpiece that is The Dark Ride, one that I’ll be amazed if they ever top. It’s the kind of album you can return to any time for some nostalgia and heavy epicness.
Written by Bear Wiseman
- Beyond the Portal
- Mr. Torture
- All Over the Nations
- Escalation 666
- Mirror Mirror
- If I Could Fly
- The Departed (Sun is Going Down)
- I Live For Your Pain
- We Damn the Night
- The Dark Ride
Andi Deris – vocals
Michael Weikath – guitar
Roland Grapow – guitar
Markus Grosskopf – bass
Uli Kusch – drums
Nuclear Blast Records