Have you ever wished one of your favorite metal bands had been a completely different genre? Well, if you want to know what that would be like, look no further than HELLOWEEN‘s “Unarmed: Best of 25th Anniversary,” which was originally released on December 23rd, 2009/January 29th, 2010, via Victor Entertainment / SPV/Steamhammer, and is now being re-released as a remastered edition via Nuclear Blast Records on September 4th, 2020, along with “7 Sinners“ (2010) and “Straight Out of Hell” (2013). The album promises a vast array of different sounds and production styles that have very little to do with what listeners were used to from the band.
This entire review could just be a love letter written from me to the new arrangement of “Dr. Stein.” While the original song is a classic, I was never personally a big fan of pre-Andi Deris HELLOWEEN, so on one hand, I simply love this track because Deris is singing it. On the flipside of this, this version features saxophone by Albie Donnelly and an entirely different vibe than the original, which makes it one of the most unique adaptations of a metal song I’ve ever heard. On every occasion, I would rather hear this version than the original. Truly, this song is a masterpiece of, “so the label wants some weird? We’ll give them fucking weird.” I love everything about it. Why was there only saxophone on one track on this album?
So, on to the rest of the album. This was certainly a weird one. While having enjoyed singing in a different way, Deris is known for having called this album a label-pushed “rape” of their music, saying that, “…if I would like to have an acoustic album, I would have bought an acoustic guitar in the first place.” The new version of “Future World” is bouncy, yet lacks a bit of the necessary power the heavy version contained, particularly in the chorus. “If I Could Fly” is one of the band’s best and most fan-beloved tracks and, as it treads near ballad territory, the use of backing synths starts the song off well, but the whispers of “if I could fly” are a bit weird and the new groove is not bad, but just feels a bit… inappropriate? Also, not a big fan of the autotune on Deris‘ vocals.
The acoustic version of “Where the Rain Grows” is frankly just weird as it’s far too slow, which loses a lot of its oomph, particularly in the bridge prior to the chorus, which ends up sounding a big lame and cheesy when stripped of its power. It really goes to show what production and style will do to a song. “The Keeper’s Trilogy” – a medley of “Halloween,” “Keeper of the Seven Keys,” and “King for 1000 Years” – clocks in at just over 17 minutes, with choirs and backing synths added in an effort to add a further blast into the track, as well as the Prague Symphony Orchestra. Deris‘ vocals are tight, though it’s hard to imagine fans of old HELLOWEEN enjoying this adaptation, as creative as it is. In many ways, there’s a bit too much going on at times, making a bit of a cluttered sound, particular with the choirs. This could have been truly fantastic if it had been fine-tuned and stripped down a bit more. Sorry, Yngwie Malmsteen, but more is not more.
Sounding more like a pure acoustic track, “Eagle Fly Free” features female vocals by Harriet Ohlsson [Hellsongs] and arrangements by her other bandmates, Kalle Karlsson (guitar) and Johan Bringhed (piano), which is nice, though it would have been cooler if they had adapted it more into a duet than simply having her harmonizing lightly in the background. While “Perfect Gentleman” could have been really cool in this iteration, there’s a poppy element to it that makes it kind of lame compared to its original. There’s a great piano intro to “Forever and One (Neverland),” though I consider this a strange choice to include – it’s a great ballad, but what could you possibly do to it to make it better? While highlighting Deris is nice and this is one of the least offensive new tracks thanks to the beautiful piano melodies, it doesn’t top the original.
“I Want Out” is a truly great freedom anthem, but the addition of a youth choir in this track is horrifyingly cringe-worthy. Worse, this acoustic version could have actually been really cool but the youth choir just does not fit with the sound whatsoever. Yuck. “Fallen to Pieces” was one of my favorite tracks from 2007’s “Gambling With the Devil” and this is a bit of an odd, almost disco-y version (at times) that is a bit more of an atmospheric track that kind of works due to its unusual percussion by Nippy Noya, and is one of the few rather decent songs on “Unarmed.”
“A Tale that Wasn’t Right” is one of HELLOWEEN‘s classics, converted into a slower piece with some backing orchestration. The song becomes very dramatic, perhaps too much so, though Deris does some interesting things with his voice. The album then finishes up with another “Master of the Rings” classic, “Why,” which again just doesn’t feel appropriate to the original with unusual electric guitar parts and a very bouncy, peppy feel.
This is probably the most baffling album I’ve ever encountered. While the slightly jazzy/funky version of “Dr. Stein” is delightful, many of the songs feel like too much, not enough, or just don’t work with the different speeds and styles. It seems to show that Deris, as one of the band’s main songwriters, wasn’t particularly into this release; also, the auto-tune regularly present on his voice can have an annoying effect at times. While I appreciate the creativity in here, even the album’s credits suggest that a lot of the arrangements were done, not by HELLOWEEN themselves, but guests. Were they chosen by the band or label? I’m not sure. Regardless, this album very strange and feels rather inappropriate to the original music for the most part.
Written by Bear Wiseman
- Dr. Stein
- Future World
- If I Could Fly
- Where the Rain Grows
- The Keeper’s Trilogy
- Eagle Fly Free
- Perfect Gentleman
- Forever and One (Neverland)
- I Want Out
- Fallen to Pieces
- A Tale that Wasn’t Right
Andi Deris – vocals
Michael Weikath – guitars
Sascha Gertsner – guitars
Markus Grosskopf – bass
Dani Löble – drums
Nuclear Blast Records
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