Friday, July 30, 2021

Helloween - Metal Jukebox (1999)

The idea of cover albums in power metal is no rarity; groups such as Hammerfall and Powerwolf have put out some pretty damn good collections, plugging their selections directly into their own sounds and ending up with something they could use positively to expand out their set lists and pay such tributes forward. When Metal Jukebox was first announces, I was naturally curious, since this was coming from a band that was a favorite of mine, and I wanted to hear what choices they'd make and whether they'd translate them into a proper Helloween feel or if they'd try to conform themselves a little more to the picks. I think, for the most part, they succeed in the former, with the caveat that this is nothing special overall and beyond its value of a curiosity, there's only about an EP's worth of material here I enjoy revisiting.

The opener is a scorcher, a cover of one of my favorite Scorpions tracks "He's a Woman, She's a Man", and the generally over-the-top Mr. Deris does a fantastic job applying his more schizo, crazy side to the original Klaus vocals without derailing, the slightly heavier approach with the drums and guitars really works on this one, and it's no surprise that it's probably one of the more obvious covers of the band you'd do beyond "Rock You Like a Hurricane", etc. ABBA's "Lay All Your Love On Me" actually comes off like a track from the Time of the Oath sessions...the production on the guitars isn't perfect, but adding the heaviness is awesome, and it's really atmospheric, with some great bass grooves. Focus' "Hocus Pocus" is a fun track to begin with, and while Helloween makes it sound even sillier than the original, it's still a damn fine cover and Deris really stretches his vocals here. Otherwise, there just aren't many that inspired me all that much..."Space Oddity", "All My Loving", "White Room", or Faith No More's "From Out of Nowhere", which is one of the bigger surprise inclusions, all do a decent job of emulating the originals and inserting Andi's voice, but they're all forgettable and taste-wise some of them are just too uninspired and generic as selections.

The others beyond that just aren't all that great, or a little disjointed and uneven like their "Locomotive Breath". Nothing here is terribly miscalculated, for instance even on some of the weaker covers they pull off a good guitar tone or vocal line, but it's almost like in showing the band's diverse influences and roots they end up making Metal Jukebox a less coherent or interesting experience. I've certainly heard far worse cover collections, don't get me long as you're into the Andi era and a lot of classic rock and hard rock tuneage, you'll be entertained for enough of a window that you won't regret the experience, but I almost wish they had ramped up the intensity with a few more ragers like the Scorpions cover, or some better, highly arranged adaptations of stuff like the ABBA track. At least this is a superior diversion for Helloween fans than the lamentable Unarmed album about a decade later.

Verdict: Indifference [6.5/10]

Tuesday, July 27, 2021

Helloween - The Best * The Rest * The Rare (1991)

The Best, The Rest, The Rare really walks the line between being a total label-driven bullshit retread compilation and something that was likely invaluable at the time, for fans like myself who weren't able to get our greedy paws on all of its more obscure gems and B-sides. It was not at all difficult to acquire Walls of Jericho or the Keeper of the Seven Keys albums in the early 90s, I had already had the cassette versions for years and would soon pounce on the CDs once I got my first disc player as a High School graduation gift in 1992. So right there, I can tell you that about 50% of the material on here is just lifted from those and ported over so it can offer up a 'greatest hits' for a band that was still rather in its youthful phase despite already being into its second and more popular phase with Kiske singing.

We didn't need another pressing of "I Want Out" or "Future World", or even "Judas", but of course it's in the name of the collection, and I can't fault them at least for their taste because all of these cuts are all time favorites and highly memorable. At least going into it, we knew that the diehards would only be focused on that last third of the title, 'The Rare', and to that there were a few treats included from singles that I didn't own or hadn't even heard the B-sides of. "Save Us" was my favorite, a raging anthem with amazing vocals and guitar melodies that was surely among the harder hitting tunes the band had put out at that time, and that chorus part...simply put, this is one of my fave Helloween tunes to this day, so even if had to suffer the cash grab component of this release it was slightly worthwhile. The similarly titled "Savage" was another highlight, and another really heavy track that was pretty much a thrasher but imbued with those great harmonic vocals, and a catchy chorus. "Livin' Ain't No Crime" is decent enough if you love Keeper of the Seven Keys Part I, and "Dont Run for Cover" is also alright, but for me the weakest of the tracks that were unique to me when I bought this tape.

The one other gem here was the Kiske-sung version of "Victim of Fate", which worked very well, even if I still prefer the more acidic Kai vocals of the original. If you were a Helloween fan around this time, there was no chance you weren't going to pursue this, just to hear that 5-songs, EP length chunk of value, and for that very same reason, you also didn't need the rest of the stuff which you likely already owned. If you were brand new coming to this without any prior knowledge of the band, then you probably would have been attracted to almost all this material, even most of the worthy rarities, so from that angle it's not that bad of a deal. A bucket of vomit has more value to me than a 'greatest hits' comp of any sort, and I am well on the record for that, but again, this one is conflicting because they snuck on the good shit that you wanted with other shit that you already had... These days, The Best, The Rest, The Rare is far less interesting since most of its handful of gems are available on CD or other re-releases of their classic albums, but for 1991 I took the good with the bad, just skipped past the songs I'd rather listen to in their native original album environments, and enjoyed the ones I didn't have.

Verdict: Indifference [5.5/10]

Saturday, July 24, 2021

Helloween - Pink Bubbles Go Ape (1991)

Even with the advance knowledge that Helloween had adopted a silly side with tracks like "Dr. Stein", I saw the cover and title for Pink Bubbles Go Ape and knew something must be wrong. A woman holding a fish in what looks like a hotel hallway? I don't really see any pink bubbles...or any apes, and the logo placement and the title font are butt fucking ugly. And then I saw it was Storm Thorgerson and Hipgnosis and all that highfalutin jazz, who have about a 50/50 rate of coming up with a very cool cover idea or pretentious rubbish for the rock world; this one falling into that latter category. The album was actually not too easy to get around my area, but I finally landed the cassette and was not happy with what I was seeing, and once I hit play, I wasn't terribly fond of what I was hearing either...

That little acoustic intro ditty title track is absolute nonsense, its boring and doesn't generate excitement whatsoever for what's coming, which is too bad, because at least with "Kids of the Century" you get a proper sounding Helloween track, with a strong and fresh sounding production, even if it lacks the really memorable hooks and chorus of the two Kiske-fronted albums before it. And putting aside the aesthetics of the whole affair, which are terrible, this is my chief complaint with Pink Bubbles Go Ape. The music here, even at its strongest, is simply not fit to lick the boots of Keeper of the Seven Keys, and for a band that was on the precipice of becoming ginormous, this was a colossal letdown and could have proven a career ender on many levels. I understand the group was starting to have some internal problems and the writing was on the wall, but that didn't exactly soften the blow when I was such a fan of that 1985-1988 period when they were among my champions. It doesn't lack for the metal, don't get me wrong, even though there's a little bit more of a hard rock influence coursing through cuts like "Back on the Streets", "Heavy Metal Hamsters" or "Goin' Home",  they still put the pedal to it.

In fact, if we cut off a lot of the chaff on Pink Bubbles Go Ape, we'd have a passable EP. I'd keep "Kids of the Century", and the surprisingly powerful "Someone's Crying" which maintains that anthemic Euro power metal quality we so loved, and then "Mankind" and "The Chance" would round it out, both of which are also fairly catchy and melodic. None of these is top flight Helloween, but it would have tided me over for a year or so. Maybe even combining it with the best from Chameleon, we might a solid but short album. Tunes like "Your Turn", "I'm Doin' Fine, Crazy Man", and "Number One" just don't cut it, even if the band is trying to show that they can spread their wings into even more accessible turf. And as outrageous as it might have been to have a new hit called "Heavy Metal Hamsters", the title of which is the only detail many people even remember about this album, it just doesn't deliver with that chorus, in which Kiske sounds like he's going limp. Kai would later pen "Rick & Famous" for Gamma Ray, which is a lyrically and musically a similar idea only 100x better. In fact, there are some parallels in a lot of the writing here to that first Gamma Ray album, but it's not as good.

This was actually a Chris Tsangarides production, sort of a legend in the hard rock/metal field, and I think he does a decent enough job of coming up with a sound that further modernized where the band was at on the last two. The details are all clear, from the bass lines to the drums and synths, and Kiske sounds pretty comparable to the prior outings. When I was younger, I remember thinking that at least it sounded pleasant coming out of the speakers, but the tunes were largely just a crushing disappointment. Even if you compare it to the reprinted, rarer material on The Best, The Rest, The Rare like "Save Us", which I got the same year, it comes up well short. The Death of Helloween Part I? We'll see...

Verdict: Indifference [5.75/10]

Wednesday, July 21, 2021

Powerwolf - Call of the Wild (2021)

Call of the Wild sadly doesn't offer up anything new or nuanced as far as the Powerwolf formula. From the songwriting to the very samey look to the cover artwork, if could be mistaken for any of the last 4-5 albums they've released, and that seems such a shame, for a band which puts this much effort into its material to play it so safe, when the formidable talent they've got could be applied more creatively. More musical tones, more color tones, new concepts. I notice too that this seems to a trend among the European power sect, even my most beloved bands do enter these long ruts of redundant releases, you could have said the same for a Running Wild or U.D.O. Fortunately, they both still put out a lot of kickass albums over the majority of their career, and ALSO fortunate is that Powerwolf have at least come up with a more fun set of originals than they have in years. Combine that with the pretty amazing 3CD-set they've put together for their fans, and Call of the Wild, despite my misgivings, is still probably my favorite album they've wrought upon us since the first three.

You pretty much know the drill if you've heard anything they've produced over the last decade or so, the transition into the more orchestra-focused bombast of the Goth horror alternative to Sabaton continues, though even at their worst I think I enjoy what Attila and company come up with far more than most of the Swedes' material. Big, soaring heavy/power metal riffs, entertaining and often innuendo-strung lyrics and choruses, constant orchestration which almost always resembles the Wagner school, and Attila's distinct vocals which are delivered at the same quality and pitch they always have been, the guy shifting between his operatic tricks and the weight and volume that he needs to secure himself among that whole class of character-driven German power metal vocalists like Rolf Kasparek, Hansi Kursch, Kai Hansen, Andi Deris and Chris Boltendahl. The mix of strings and choirs is probably a notch higher quality than their previous shots, although it doesn't distance itself much structurally. The leads and riffs are good if not totally standout, the drumming is potent and the entire atmosphere of this could be heard to diamond cut the band's style into its most coherent yet. All of the songs here are fun enough, beyond the initial singles you've got stuff like "Varcolac", "Dancing With the Dead", "Sermon of Swords", "Undress to Confess" and "Reverent of Rats" which I'd be happy to mix into any Powerwolf playlist, and as with a lot of records, if you're new to this symphonic/operatic style of metal I think you'll easily be blown away by how professional and comfortable they sound in the niche.

Beyond the fact that it's 'more of the same but better', the bonus content here is quite excellent. There's a second disc of 'hits' from the band's catalogue in which they're joined by a number of other popular vocalists. A few of them try the wedge in 'extreme' vocals of folks like Alissa White-Gluz, Johan Hegg and 'Speed' Strid to mixed results, White-Gluz in particular sounds cheesy but then I've never been a fan of her style. The cleaner approaches taken by Euro power metal royalty Ralf Scheepers and Doro Pesch are quite though, and I was quite surprised by the results when they used some more Goth vocals like Chris Harms. All in all though, I enjoyed listening through this a lot, its another example of how the band gives its audience their money's worth, I mean if you're going to shell out $20-25 for the 3CD or 3LP it's just not something you'll regret. The final disc is the usual purely orchestral treatment of the new tunes, and some of them really shine here, especially at the end with the trio of "Sermon of Swords", "Undress to Confess" and "Reverent of Rats", all memorable enough to toss on your speakers when you're running your epic fantasy RPGs or wargames. Again, Powerwolf is all about the value, and these extra discs might end up getting at least 50% the play as the core album.

I will reiterate that I wouldn't complain if Powerwolf took some risks to evolve a little, maybe even 'devolve' a little back to the superb songwriting of their masterful Lupus Dei sophomore, still my fave after all these years. There were surely some symphonic elements, but they felt more restrained back then and I'd love if if they got back to more guitar-centric territory. New color palettes and artwork also wouldn't hurt; Zsofia Dankova's extremely talented and I think she could mix it up a little if they wanted her to. But as far as the overall Call of the Wild impressions, it's rock solid and I've certainly enjoyed the time I've spent with it so far, it would make a great crowning jewel to transition into territories even more haunted, atmospheric, lycanthropic, and hopefully, surprising.

Verdict: Win [8/10] (breaking down the altar and the verse)

Monday, July 19, 2021

Helloween - Chameleon (1993)

Chameleon is widely considered the nadir of Helloween's career, even more lowly than Pink Bubbles Go Ape, and I can entirely understand and even sympathize with that sentiment...but I don't agree with it. Like its esteemed predecessor, I had to find this one on import, because if the 90s musical trends weren't enough to stick a fork in the trajectory of a European power metal band, Pink Bubbles certainly was. Aesthetically it's another instant facepalm moment, the four splashes of paint and the quaint little logo placement and title font make this look like some sort of 80s prog pop album by someone like Paul Simon, Peter Gabriel or The Police. It does not inspire confidence, and it's not the only weird choice made for this album, but at least when I look at it I don't want to leap off a building like when I saw the prior album artwork. It's just a boring minimalism that only slightly matches up with the qualities of the music.

I have to disclose here that I do have a soft spot for Chameleon because it contains one track which I count among my all-time Helloween favorites, and that is "Giants". Atmospheric, gorgeous, and powerful, it has this more airy feel to it than anything I had heard them do before, but still driven with a great, heavy guitar riff and a similar anthemic melodic nature, just delivered in a more spacious format. That chorus sends an emotional chill right down my spine, the bass playing is great with the fills, it's got a cool orchestrated breakdown in the bridge, and there's just not a second I'd change of it, sheer excellence. And it's this atmosphere which actually extends across a lot of the album, also showing up songs like "First Time". This feels like a Helloween evolved (or devolved), for better or worse, and its offering something its predecessors didn't. It's not exactly experimental, but it definitely dips its toes into a little of the proggier rock that the cover hints at, and the band even tries some non-ironic attempts at pop or soft rock with cuts like "I Don't Wanna Cry No More", "In the Night" and "Windmill", and I'm not so much a fan of those, but the band does a reasonable enough job with them that I can't bring myself to hate it.

Other cuts like "Revolution Now" bring in a bluesy, Zeppelin hard rock influence and mesh that in some some of the spacious, acoustic moments and it's at least catchy the first few times through. It's almost like Chameleon is trying to live up to its namesake, and that is ultimately one of the reasons I still count it among the lower rungs of their studio efforts, because it's all over the place, and other than the general mood created by the production, it's often incoherent. Like with Pink Bubbles, I could put together a good EP's worth of material that I like to revisit, and an even better one here ("First Time", "When the Sinner", "Giants", and "Step Out of Hell"), but it's really not one where I find myself ever wanting to listen straight through. "Giants" will always remain in my Helloween playlist, but I don't think anything else here is quite so vital to me. Certainly I could understand how so much of this was a turnoff for a lot of fans who were probably already dismayed with the fourth album and were digging Helloween a plot that was two feet wide and six feet deep. As history would dictate, though, nobody should've been too quick to lay on that topsoil.

Verdict: Indifference [6.25/10]

Friday, July 16, 2021

Helloween - Master of the Rings (1994)

Master of the Rings might not technically qualify as a 'comeback' album, since the band never really went anywhere, but it as sure as fuck one of the best 'bounceback' albums I've ever experienced, the survivors of the Pink Bubbles/Chameleon Apocalypse reemerging with new members and an honestly fresh take on the power metal they had so pioneered through the 80s. If I complained about the prior two albums lacking in any real 'hit' power, Master of the Rings is almost nothing BUT tracks that hang around in your head long after the playtime has winded down. I picked this up instantly upon seeing it at the local metal section, and immediately thought they had done some kind of new play on the Seven Keys legend, but with rings instead. Little did I know that I would end up one day appreciating this even MORE than the second half of that conceptual duology that broke them onto the radars of heshers everywhere about 7-8 years prior.

This album has it all...the subdued synthesizers of "Irritation" explode into the knockout combo of "Sole Survivor" and "Where the Rain Grows", two of my favorite songs in the entire Helloween catalogue, and they were on fire with this inexhaustible energy they hadn't had in years. Blazing melodic riffs lead the charge, with Michael Weikath and Roland Grapow offering a wide range of attacks, with few misplaced notes and a song selection that's nearly as diverse as Chameleon before it, only this time it's all fantastic. But we really have to give some credit to the inescapable charms of Andi Deris, who crossed over to the band from the unfortunately-monikered Pink Cream 69, a band dwelling on the border between catchy heavy metal and sleazy MTV near-glam, who already had a number of good under albums beneath their collective belts, so it's no wonder this guy was an attractive choice. He's got much of the range of his predecessors, and yet a more silky intonation which is quite unique, and his performance here ranges from soothing ballads to atmospheric screams. What are the fucking chances that a band gets not two, but three amazing vocalists in its lifetime? If you think about it, that's usually something that only happens to the mega hard rock and prog rock acts.

Let's talk production, because it was quite different. There's a more modern, compressed bite to the rhythm guitars which feels like the band was joining a new century rather than attempting to just mimic their past works. However, they add some nice tones and effects to the leads that counteract the low end for some awesome atmosphere. This is a band whose leads can literally take an already great track to the next level. Markus Grosskopf's bass lines strut along happily, he's got plenty of room in that mix, and drummer Uli Kusch was another colossal pickup, coming over from, ironically, Kai Hansen's Gamma Ray. There was not a weak link among the roster here and despite whatever friction occurred later, this might have been the greatest pool of raw talent they'd assembled until arguably the recent Pumpkins United years. Ever cylinder is firing, from the gorgeous charging and chugging of "Still We Go", to the almost obnoxiously catchy "Perfect Gentleman" with its whistle-sounding melodies that almost come off like the anthem for a beer company; we're talking "I Want Out" level catchy. Even the freaking power ballad, "In the Middle of a Heartbeat", is a raging success.

What's more, if you got the awesome 2CD version from Castle Records, you got an additional 35 minute desk featuring a couple of leftovers like "Can't Fight Your Desire", which is nearly good enough to be on the album proper, as well as a trio of covers, my favorite of which is naturally Thin Lizzy's "Cold Sweat", but they do justice to KISS and Grand Funk Railroad too. It might be little more than an afterthought or a bone thrown to the fans to keep the sales up, but it feels pretty elaborate for a bonus disc...there's certainly thrown into the instru-metal shredder "Grapowski's Malmsuite 1001 (In D-Doll)", you have to imagine that might have been something planned for an album proper. I'm often stunned by some of the lukewarm reactions this album occasionally gets...I was hooked from the moment I laid ears on it, and these day's it's got to stand as one of my top 3-4 Helloween efforts with ease, and the beginning of an impressive 25+ year streak which had only a few fumbles. The diehards will always revere Walls of Jericho and Keeper of the Seven Keys, and sure, I am among them, but if I'm keeping count, this is the beginning of their most consistent and prolific era and some of its works demand just as much respect.

Verdict: Epic Win [9.25/10]

Monday, July 12, 2021

Helloween - Helloween EP (1985)

Ah, the original EP with the green logo and the hideous face inside the smashed pumpkin. Helloween has evolved so much through it's 36 years that occasionally I forget just how good they were in the first place. In the middle of the 80s they were arguably aggressive as they'd ever be, and that was the rule, not the exception. Sure, they've had plenty of fast and comparable tracks throughout their catalog, but most of the stuff prior to Keeper of the Seven Keys gives off a vibe very similar to a lot of the other speed and thrash metal acts of the time, only with the catch that it was much more precise and I daresay even technical. I often liken this s/t EP to the earlier Exciter albums, or a lot of the old stuff populating the rosters of Combat, Noise and Metal Blade, only Helloween played it faster and with a virtuosity that was dizzying when I was a kid.

It's not always going all-out in the mph department, but the 27 minutes rarely ever let up, whether it's the frenetic and head-spinning of "Starlight" and "Murderer" or the trotting Maiden-on-Crank of "Warrior", the last of which sets up a lot more Gamma Ray than you'd think. I'd say for most people, "Victim of Fate" is the best known track here, it's certainly got the catchiest chorus with the vocals that shift into that scream, and then that mellower breakdown (again, very Maiden) with the whispers, but this one's not much less savage than its neighbors, just a fraction more melodic and built to be the classic that it has become. "Cry for Freedom" is also worthy, the soft intro escalating into another frenzied melodic piece with the great chorus vocal accompanying the shrieking. Obviously one of the most distinct features here was the vocal ability of Kai Hansen, who had this pinched, nasally timbre, with plenty of range to it, but definitely rough around the edges and coming across almost as psycho as stuff Slayer in the day. His narrative stuff is also a treat as he's snarling and growling out the lines before the bluesy lead busts out in "Victim of Fate"; another trait he'd use again in his post (and pre-) Helloween output...

Most people forever equate the band with Michael Kiske due to his presence on their breakout albums, and Andi Deris has had his lengthy and iconic presence within the roster, but it's hard for me to put either of their styles above Kai's...nd when you add his incredible guitar playing and songwriting abilities? Fo'get about it. Kai is the True Metal God+++ of the Helloween canon, and there couldn't be a stronger initial exhibition of that than this EP. That's not to say the others are slouches...Michael Weikath matches his playing quite well, and contributes to the writing. Markus has always been a bassist's bassist, playing to the song but managing to get a few hints of his own skill level, and poor Ingo was highly energized here with fast beats and fills that support all the mayhem. Like so much of the material put out during the 80s, this one sounds eternal, I don't think it has aged at all as I listen through it again; Helloween remains just as exciting and 'next level' and awe-inspiring as I felt when I was a kid, and its still as great a place to start as any in their catalogue.

Verdict: Epic Win [9.25/10]

Friday, July 9, 2021

Helloween - Judas EP (1986)

The only thing working against the original Judas EP was that it only had one new song to offer. A friend and I used to love these old Combat cassette issues of stuff like this or Celtic Frost's Tragic Serenades, we'd sit around on our skateboards in his basement, back when that was our thing, and just toss these things in the boom box and wonder. I seem to remember they didn't even have much by way of J-cards, or at least some of them didn't, they were just the cover and the inside of the cassette cover was just bare white. It wasn't an issue, but this one really stands out to memory with the simple mouthless pumpkin image and the green classic logo on the little flag sticking out from its 'brow'. I mean how could it get any cooler? A band that performed music this exciting, AND with an aesthetic connection to Halloween, our favorite day of the year?

These days most have experienced this one as part of that full-length compilation version which includes all of the original s/t EP, Walls of Jericho, and this one new tune, without the bells and whistles that were on the Combat EP. And don't get me wrong, that's the way to do it, you get the most bang for your buck and the official studio material of that era all in one place, with the exception of one track from the Death Metal 4-way split in 1984 they did with Running Wild, Hellhammer and Dark Avenger, and for all I know there's some other version that also includes that. But I'm approaching this for what it was, an EP or single with one new tune and some extras. WHAT a song that was, "Judas", another scorcher the likes of which you heard on those earlier releases. A fast beat with lots of double-bass characteristic of what drove the power metal general into its own niche beyond just the traditional heavy metal. Awesome bass lines and fills, and riffs even more rich and catchy than all the previous material. It's also just a little bit more evolved in the arrangement, with that pre-chorus and chorus perfectly placed, and it serves in a sad way as Kai's swan song as the front man with the band, since they'd pick up Kiske after this and Kai would focus more on his writing and guitars (but he wouldn't be able to avoid the helm for long!)

By far one of my favorite Helloween tracks, with the perfect ending where Kai spits out those elevating screams and it ends with that little swell of choir. There are two 'live' tracks from Walls of Jericho, "Ride the Sky" and "Guardians", and this was great as it was my first opportunity to hear the band 'live', and man did they sound awesome...nearly studio perfect? Probably because it was, these must just be the studio tracks, maybe washed out a little in the mix, with crowd noise added in. But at the time, I liked to imagine they actually sounded this great. The Combat cassette also had two tracks lifted from the original EP to flesh it out, "Victim of Fate" and "Cry for Freedom", which are arguably the most popular, so I guess if this was your first introduction it was offering a good pair of samples and then "Judas" to top it all off. Rating this thing is a little hard, because obviously I love the title track so, so much, and the cover, and have that nostalgia...but the other material is basically all a re-tread and it doesn't have much place as a product anymore.

So "Judas", the song? 10/10. Everything else about it, not so much...

Verdict: Indifference [6/10]

Tuesday, July 6, 2021

Helloween - My God-Given Right (2015)

I'd love to know what the band was thinking when they came up with some of their cover art choices...a post-nuclear-winter New York City being ruled over by robotic pumpkin-headed snowmen? It's kind of a neat idea, although the digital artwork is a little cheesy and dated. I also like this version of the logo with the central pumpkin wearing the Statue of Liberty's crown. But you dudes are German! As for the actual musical contents of My God-Given Right, they are definitely not fooling around, because it's another solidly crafted modern power metal album with all the flourishes you'd expect: ace musicianship, polished and powerful production, and Andi Deris flexing his vocals all over the spectrum with another charismatic performance that continues to quell his doubters.

This one goes for the throat immediately with a bunch of harder hitting, anthemic pieces anchored by some pretty heavy guitars and drums, then just built upon with the vocal harmonies and proggy guitar leads. The melodies might not be the catchiest they've ever conceived, but if you're a fan of records like Master of the Rings, Time of the Oath and Gambling With the Devil then this one delivers that particular style in spades, with perhaps a bit more heft to the rhythm section in the mix. I think some of the most memorable tracks come a little further in, with the rousing, mid-paced "Stay Crazy" and that absolutely awesome higher pitched vocal line in the chorus, followed by "Lost in America", which might answer my question above about the cover choice when they're from across the pond. That tune has a pretty plain buildup, but another epic chorus and then some really awesome lead tradeoffs in the bridge. "The Swing of a Fallen World" is another contender here with a groove to it that felt fresh and unique amongst the Helloween canon, and "Creatures in Heaven", "Claws" and "Living on the Edge" will take you surprise once you arrive there...totally hook-laden and formidable.

When this one first dropped, I wasn't too terribly impressed when comparing it with a lot of their other post-millennium works, but it's certainly more than merely solid, and repeated listens have continued to reward me, so it's kind of a shower AND a grower. Then newer Helloween guys Sascha and Dani have really settled into the lineup at this point, and the former even writes a bunch of the songs and lyrics, so we're faced with a group that hasn't really had much of a misstep since the earlier 90s, and they just keep laying it on with quality effort after's almost the point that its become exhausting. Even where I don't fully connect to a track enough that its going to possess that timeless quality in my collection, there is no possibility I could sit there and listen through this one without thoroughly enjoying it. Approved!

Verdict: Win [8/10]

Saturday, July 3, 2021

Helloween - Rabbit Don't Come Easy (2003)

Rabbit Don't Come Easy is probably the only 21st century album in the Helloween catalog that I've seen some smack aimed at, and I can't quite fathom why, because I think it's for the most part another satisfactory expedition into that modern, anthemic style they launched into with the Andi Deris era, Master of the Rings and Time of the Oath. Do I like the tunes as much as those? Probably not, but certainly there was no effort spared here to come up with an impactful, well-performed set of tunes. I also realize that, next to Pink Bubbles Go Ape, this one has the silliest title and cover artwork, but it's not really all that bad...judging by this band's sense of humor, the title kind of makes sense and the artwork does at least fit it, my only question is the robotic hand and android look of the magician, but I'm sure there's some 'deeper' meaning to all that.

One of the best things about discography reviews is forcing myself to get back in touch with those albums from some of my favorite bands that I probably never spent enough time with, and this is absolutely one of those cases. Bought it day one, listened to it a fair amount at first, discussed it a little but it just never quite left the same mark on me as some of their others. Revisiting it now, though, I think it's pretty sweet, with some tight and powerful tunes like "Just a Little Sign", "The Tune" and "Never Be a Star", the last of which is cut from that same uber-catchy stock as a tune like "I Want Out" or "Perfect Gentlemen", in fact it does sound probably a little too much like the pacing and melody behind the latter, however the way the lyrics and vocal harmonies are fit over it is quite different, so it's not too big a deal. As I sit listening to it again, though, I can't say there are too many weak numbers...I mean the power ballad "Don't Stop Being Crazy" is no "In the Middle of a Heartbeat", but it's not so bad that I feel the urge to skip it. Even as deep as "Listen to the Flies" I'm hearing some vocals that turn my head. Some of the lyrics are rather generic and weak, but I think they're at least delivered with conviction because Andi has a ton of great melodies and harmonies throughout, and this is a solid exercise for his full range.

The guitar riffs are generally good, and it should be noted that it's the first album with ex-Freedom Call string-slinger Sascha Gerstner, who brought some youth back into the fold, and I think it shows with all the energy they embedded into this and its successors. Roland Grapow is not an easy man to replace, and I don't think this is the album where we can say we were definitively satisfied with that change, but this guy is beyond competent, and I can only imagine the thrill of transitioning from an act that many consider a bit of a Helloween-clone to the genuine article (not to sell Freedom Call short, they've got some good stuff), and as you'll see from future offerings, the guy isn't just here to fill a seat on the bus and dance around a stage, he's also a huge writer and contributor going forward, and he fits this squad like a glove. But overall, all performances are's not their most varied attack, and it's not as good as The Dark Ride, Keeper of the Seven Keys: The Legacy or Gambling With the Devil, but so what? Not much is, my friends.

Verdict: Win [7.75/10]