Fans the world ’round, rejoice! HELLOWEEN have reached their final, ultimate form. I, for one, am hesitant to even call this band HELLOWEEN anymore, as it feels like they should be called HELLOWEEN UNITED or HELLOWEEN+ or UBER-HELLOWEEN or something because… how can you take a traditional heavy metal band and stuff a bunch of past members back in and still call yourselves the same thing? It seems like so much more. Well, the ultimate HELLOWEEN – all silly name suggestions aside – is here and today we’re looking at the band’s first self-titled release, which is coming to you on June 18th, 2021, via Nuclear Blast Tonträger.
A self-titled release often marks a new chapter in a band’s history; in this case, the return of vocalist Michael Kiske and guitarist/vocalist Kai Hansen. These musicians have been involved with some of the most legendary HELLOWEEN albums and for long-time fans, this album is probably one of the most anticipated releases of 2021. The reunited lineup almost feels like the result of reinstated friendships and newly forged brotherhood, and that is precisely what this album sounds like: fun, without pressure, and organic. The Easter eggs (can you guess them all?) on the cover predict what you get on this record… “Helloween” may not be HELLOWEEN‘s best album, but it surely has an strong element of nostalgia to it.
The seven-piece clearly wanted to start this record with an instant banger, with “Out for the Glory.” The track starts off slowly with ambient, almost Halloween-y sounds, a guitar melody, and thundering drums (one must test out that whole kit before launching into a power metal extravaganza, no?), and then there is a riff that feels like part of METALLICA‘s “Fade to Black,” as if dressed up by IRON MAIDEN‘s “Hallowed Be Thy Name” and fits in nicely with a collection of heavy metal songs that feature a classic death knell, such as METALLICA‘s “For Whom the Bells Toll” and AC/DC‘s “Hells Bells.” The first track is pretty much everything you’d ask for from the “Pumpkins United” lineup. One might even call this a great “throwback Thursday” song, for all of its nostalgic elements from the band’s history of sounds. The bridge also includes some soaring screams that make this track one hell of a potential live song. If that is not enough, the nostalgic vibe continues throughout the next track, “Fear of the Fallen.” This piece opens on a slower note and the combination of Deris/Kiske is nicely complementary – neither one of them overpowers the other, but instead, their harmonies sound simply divine. There’s also a vocal blending towards the end that you’ll have to keep an ear open for.
The album takes a different turn with “Best Time.” This track was written by guitarist Sascha Gerstner and has a Billy Idol-esque sound to it, with a more poppy chorus with Gerstner himself singing at times. His vocal input is surprisingly interesting and unique, leaving his contribution feeling in line with powerful live tracks such as “I Want Out.” Feedback and some intense drums lead into an explosion of monster truck rally -worthy energy in “Mass Pollution.” It’s a punchy and – we keep coming back to this word, but – fun song that’s easy to dance or mosh around to. The slower-paced “Angels,” while an excellent track if you focus on drums and guitar frills, feels a bit lackluster in comparison due to its somewhat bland chorus. While there are nuggets of gold to be found in the track, the whole piece could’ve used a bit more spice to stand out more.
“Rise Without Chains” starts out on a very digital note as the vocalists each add something of their own. “Indestructible” is pretty classic heavy metal, with a good layer of harmonizing when the vocalists get together. Unlike other multi-vocalist bands, such as AMARANTHE, whose vocal trade-offs often sound like showdowns, in many of the songs on this album, the vocalists are simply each bringing something to the table, when the time seems right. There is no real lead, they just figured out who was creating the sound they wanted and went nuts. Bravo!
“Robot King” is an extremely weird song lyrically and pretty much great in every other way. It has classic power metal shredding and some tightly blended vocals. Nearly halfway through, this relatively long (just over 7-minute) song takes a little twist before allowing for some solos to sweep the listener around the guitar fields of Germany. One might argue that there’s an almost Yngwie Malmsteen level of guitar wankery going on with this many guitarists soloing so much; however, the skilled yet tasteful way in which these solos are done keep them consistently engaging, without feeling like too much. “Cyanide” has a sharp, fierce, and catchy chorus. Just don’t mishear the lyrics beforehand, lest it end up being a little silly. “Down in the Dumps” is a ferocious and slightly dirty track that dances around in the muck and grime of HELLOWEEN‘s lower end instrumentally, while soaring high on the vocal side.
As the album begins to reach its conclusion, “Orbit” offers an unusually spacey instrumental interlude, lasting just over a minute, before leading into “Skyfall,” which listeners already may recognize as the lead single from the album. This vast and diverse behemoth of a song contains everything from an IRON MAIDEN-y intro to almost nu-metal riffing, to possibly several references or nods to David Bowie‘s “Space Oddity.” It is a juggernaut of a song in its full 12-minute form. HELLOWEEN have written some fabulous epics in their time and there is no question that “Skyfall” may be able to stand among the best of them.
HELLOWEEN has truly walked one hell of a path (pun slightly intended)… from the early classics, the questionable pop era of which no one speaks, the epic ’90s and mixed ’20s, all the way to now, having brought a fantastic collection of great artists together to, it seems, have some fun. “Helloween” may have its highs and lows based on your favorite parts of HELLOWEEN‘s history, but it’s easy to say that it lives up to the lofty promises such a lineup offers. This album really feels like some of the most fun this band has ever had and it shines though in the fabulous performances across the board. The soloing is tight and inspired, while the hidden MVP could be Markus Grosskopf, who has a notable presence throughout the album that is groovy as hell. Another selling point of this album is the production: using the original drum kit of late drummer Ingo Schwichtenberg, as well as recording the album in the analog way, making this production organic and lively, while there is still a certain modern feel to it. It goes without saying that the trio of vocalists are something to behold, but fans of each of the band’s eras are likely to find something of interest here. This is one album of 2021 that you should not miss.
Written by Bear W. & Laureline T.
- Out for the Glory
- Fear of the Fallen
- Best Time
- Mass Pollution
- Rise Without Chains
- Robot King
- Down in the Dumps
Andi Deris – vocals
Michael Kiske – vocals
Kai Hansen – vocals, guitars
Sasha Gerstner – guitars, vocals
Michael Weikath – guitars
Markus Grosskopf – bass
Dani Löble – drums
Nuclear Blast Tonträger