|Helloween - 'Straight Out Of Hell' (Spinefarm Records)|
|Written by Matt Phelps|
|Thursday, 17 January 2013 02:00|
I've been partial to a little bit of Helloween in my musical diet now for near enough twenty five years. After my initial introduction to heavy metal came via Iron Maiden, Helloween were one of the main bands that pulled me further into this riff crazy world and my shelves now bow under the weight of the assorted digipaks, picture discs and treasure chests that I have accumulated along the way. So I guess in all honesty saying that I'm only partial to "a little bit" of Helloween is maybe something of a massive understatement as I've become pretty rotund gorging on the wholesome flavours of Germanic pumpkin rock over the years.
It goes without saying then that any new album from Helloween is dutifully snapped up and aligned lovingly alongside the rest of my well played, dog-eared collection. Over the years, like with most people's relationships with the bands they love, we've had our ups and downs. I bought the Keeper Legacy album but found it to be, as I feared, a soundtrack to the desperate act of barrel scraping. Dragging the classic 'Keeper Of The Seven Keys' title back into use as a weak linked connection to past glories with Michael Kiske, Kai Hansen and Ingo Schwichtenberg. My least favourite of all Helloween albums but maybe that's just the Kiske era fanboy in me feeling bitter. Who knows?
That said I did find their 2010 release, 'Unarmed', to be an absolute breath of fresh air. Diving back into some choice cuts of their finest moments and re-recording them with acoustic, orchestral and even jazz like elements showed that they were still a band not afraid to take a risk and possibly alienate some of the more...um..."obsessive" metalheads that follow the sign. Helloween are at their best when they do what they want to do and although what they wanted to do on that occasion turned out to be slightly similar to what Michael Kiske had already done on 'Past In Different Ways' in 2008 'Unarmed' reminded me once again exactly what it was about the core of the band that made me fall instantly in love with their style when I first spun my pumpkin stamped flexi disc from RAW magazine sometime back in '88.
But ups and downs aside a new album from Hamburg's finest is always a great way to enhance any year and kicking off 2013 with studio album fourteen will certainly, well hopefully, set the standards pretty high for the rest of the year. I say hopefully because on the first few listens it's not the instant knock out I was hoping for but it is safe to say that throughout its thirteen rounds 'Straight Out Of Hell' does, in places, hit hard like the heavyweight you fully expect it to be. The drum heavy Deris penned outburst of tribal beats that pulse through 'Wanna Be God' standing testament to that.
Recorded in Tenerife with Charlie Bauerfeind at the helm, the production has been taken towards a thoroughly solid and well rounded assault that positively explodes out of the speakers and 'Far From The Stars' rekindles some fast paced memories of killer tracks like 'Eagle Fly Free' and 'Mr Torture'. The powerful barrage of drums that fire throughout the high flying chorus proving that the Helloween skins are still one of the few things left in this world that get hit more times than Rihanna. The duel guitar tones of Michael Weikath and Sascha Gerstner trading licks through the hour long album are a sheer joy to listen to.
Only four of the thirteen tracks though were written by original Weeners, Weiki and Markus Grosskopf, with Sascha and most notably Andi taking the lions share of the writing. Andi's 'Waiting For The Thunder', a piano intro'd piece of excellence sits as quite possibly the album's finest track. Managing to wrap up all of Helloween's finest attributes in a little under four minutes it stands as a defiant, standard bearing anthem that's sure to become a live favourite. '...Thunder' is easily the finest moment on 'Straight Out Of Hell'. Equally the quintessential, but no less relevant, ballad from Sascha, 'Hold Me In Your Arms', gives a chance for breath and reflection amidst a sea of metal madness.
Elsewhere, Weikath's 'Years' and Gerstner's 'Asshole' (Titter ye not!) are rock solid foundations sure enough but not show stealers. But bass invader Grosskopf, whose trusted song writing pen was responsible for the aforementioned 'Far From The Stars', pulls another gem out of the bag and provides the fantastic charging title track. A speedy melodic high point only eclipsed by Deris' '...Thunder'. 'Straight Out Of Hell' may not be the strongest of the Deris fronted releases Helloween have put out, especially when compared to the all round excellence of albums such as 'Master Of The Rings' and 'The Dark Ride' (in my view anyway). It is however still an extremely solid and well executed album that is definitely something of a grower.