Whether or not you've come to accept Andi Deris as the voice of Helloween in the past 16 years, he's now been at the microphone for well over 50% of the band's existence. While their most legendary albums will undoubtedly always remain the first three, fronted by Kai and Kiske, there is simply no denying the massive contributions of this man's tenure, especially since the band have been on fire for years, producing some of their most memorable attacks that are practically the equal of the band's formative period. Sleek, modern, melodic and aggressive, Helloween have long since shucked off the ill will of their career low Pink Bubbles Go Ape, and we're all the richer for it. Master of the Rings, Time of the Oath, The Dark Ride, Keeper of the Seven Keys: The Legacy, and Gambling with the Devil have all ranged from good to superb, and barring the occasional experimental compilation (like the recent Unarmed), they've proven that they still thrive at the leading edge of the genre.
Thus, I had pretty much every confidence that I was going to enjoy 7 Sinners, the band's 13th full-length studio foray (discounting Metal Jukebox, the covers album), it was just a question of how much? As much as I've love to lavish intense praise upon another Helloween masterpiece, unfortunately that's just not so here, but what you're left with is a great effort that takes a few tracks to really warm up. "Where the Sinners Go" is an aggressive lead-in with resonant, huge percussion and a decent chorus, but unfortunate the guitar riffs are very basic open chord power metal with some minor chugging, and never all that catchy. The lamely titled "Are You Metal?", which was released as a single prior to the full-length, is pretty short on lyrical value, but it does have a pretty raging bridge and chorus, at least in structure, with heavy use of synths an aggressive momentum reminiscent of The Dark Ride. "Who is Mr. Madman?" will sound familiar to the Helloween veteran, since it incorporates a synth melody straight out of "Perfect Gentleman" from Master of the Rings in its intro, but it's otherwise not all that bad, and Deris pulls off a fine pitch.
The album really starts to pick up steam with "Raise the Noise", though. Monolith guitars jarring along to the band's power atmospherics, and we finally start to hear that same fervent melodic overdrive that we had on the last album with wonders like "Paint a New World" or "As Long As I Fall". "World of Fantasy" works itself up through a glazed, driving anthem to a dense, thundering chorus, and "Long Live the King" is concrete pounding heavy metal mania, with savage riffs in the vain of Judas Priest's Painkiller or fellow German monsters Primal Fear or U.D.O. "The Smile of the Sun" is a layered, power-prog ballad, worthy evidence that the band are not and never will be done tweaking and experimenting within their base framework, and then they level you back to the ground with "You Stupid Mankind", which even spews forth heavy as hell bottom feeding thrash grooves you'd expect more out of earlier Nevermore, with one of Andi's best bridge/chorus sequences on the album.
From here, the album continues at an orgasmic pace, cycling through straightforward, beautiful power fare like "If a Mountain Could Talk" and the grooving "The Sage, the Fool, the Sinner" or the more theatrical, Queen-like shine of "My Sacrifice". I hold a special place in my heart for the nearly 8 minute closer, "Far in the Future", which has some of the best written riffs and carefully plotted majesty on the album. Extremely impressive, and had the entire album lived up to this quality we'd easily have another masterwork on our hands. As it stands, though, 7 Sinners can only be accused of being damned thorough, modern and crunchy like an intersection between The Dark Ride and Gambling With the Devil. The musicianship is top notch without being self indulgent, the production is enormous and yet another hint that the band are not afraid to move forward, never looking back outside of thematic departures. Any fans of the band's 21st century material to date are going to find little to complain about here, and the bulk of the album (about 8-9 of the tracks) is good enough to hold us over until the pumpkin next flies free.
Verdict: Win [8.5/10] (someday the next generation will pay)