Review by Xephyr for Helloween - Helloween (2021)
A Hallowed Reunion
I’ve been a big fan of Power Metal ever since I started seeking out less mainstream Metal bands, so it’s always awkward having to say that I think Helloween are a bit overrated for me. Granted, it took me a while to get to them amidst all the Avantasia, Edguy, and Blind Guardian I was listening to back then. Hell, I didn’t even know that Michael Kiske and Kai Hansen played major roles in Avantasia’s “Wicked Trilogy” nor did I know that Helloween basically spearheaded the Power Metal movement in the mid-80’s with their self-titled EP before releasing The Walls of Jericho. It felt like their appeal had flown right past me by the time I finally checked out Keeper of the Seven Keys in full. Helloween were fast, raw, and exciting, but I couldn’t shake the feeling that it all felt more than a bit dated compared to the rest of my favorite Power Metal acts despite its classic status. It isn’t a secret that Helloween’s quality took a nosedive in the 1990’s, resurfacing for brief gasps of air here and there with new vocalist Andi Deris taking the helm from Kiske. I’ve always had some issues with Kiske’s vocals, but Deris would really become an Achilles heel for me in regards to enjoying Helloween’s more modern content. However, I caught wind of a new self-titled album that promised a full reunion of the band and, upon seeing the painted cover art instead of the tacky 3D renderings, my interest was more than piqued.
That’s a lot to promise, though, considering Helloween is nearing their 40th anniversary as a band. It takes a certain group of musicians and just being in the right place at the right time to recreate the energy needed to produce a fantastic record 30 years after the band’s so-called prime, especially in a genre like Power Metal. I’m glad to say they pulled it off though, since Helloween might be one of the best self-titled returns to form ever spawned. It’s not going to reinvent the Power Metal genre, nor does it necessarily need to, but I can safely say that this album has something for every kind of Power Metal fan, whether they want a classic Helloween experience or a more modern, more Heavy Metal inspired style. Most of the Heavy Metal inspiration comes with Deris’ modern Helloween songwriting, with him being cited as responsible for “Fear of the Fallen”, “Mass Pollution”, “Rise Without Chains”, “Cyanide”, and partially responsible for “Best Time”. Even though these tracks grew on me after a few listens, they feel so much more straightforward than something like “Angels” or “Robot King”, especially “Mass Pollution” with its blatant stadium-anthem portions that make my eyes roll a bit. They’re still higher quality than average, run-of-the-mill Power Metal tracks though, thanks to great harmonies supplied by the three Helloween vocalists and admittedly addictive choruses and riffs. Although I never cared much for Deris’ voice and delivery, his rawer energy pairs well with Kiske when they sing together for extended periods of time in tracks like “Angels”.
In many ways, Helloween is a celebration of old meeting new and is far from a simple publicity stunt made to coast on the fact that Kiske and Hansen are listed in the credits. Kiske, Deris, and Hansen’s vocals intertwine and harmonize with one another in ways that feel fun and creative rather than just having them trade on and off, making this album feel like a real reunion rather than a fabricated one. Right from the start “Out for the Glory” has a very classic Power/Speed Metal with a fast, galloping drum beat behind Kiske’s more freeform vocal melodies which eventually leads to the big reveal of the multiple vocalists present on the album. Deris definitely steals the spotlight a bit more aggressively on his songs but it’s legitimately exciting to hear these two harmonize so well on “Fear of the Fallen” and especially “Skyfall”. The tradeoffs between the two are well written too, which admittedly appeals to me more than most since I’m such a huge Avantasia fan. Helloween does have shades of the metal opera that both Kiske and Hansen have been a part of in the past with its large emphasis on symphonic elements compared to Helloween’s old material. While Helloween may be a bit less shreddy and sadly has less bass presence, they cranked up the epic atmosphere with the help of a ton of choir and orchestration on “Out for the Glory”, “Angels”, and “Skyfall”, as well as a commonly used, heavenly atmosphere on certain choruses like “Robot King” and “Fear of the Fallen”. I can see why fans of 1980’s Helloween may shake their fists at this, but as someone who likes my Power Metal on the more epic side, this album is extremely well proportioned between having those epic elements and remaining sharp and exciting. Even though the album has some pretty generic Heavy Metal riffing on tracks like “Mass Pollution” and “Indestructible” I don’t necessarily find them boring and “Indestructible” has an especially cool solo section given the rest of the track is slightly forgettable. The more classic sounding Power Metal tracks are where the riffing really shines though, with “Out for the Glory” and “Skyfall” having more organic, shred oriented melodies with noticeably punchier bass volume.
“Skyfall” is the easiest way to sell this album, though, since it’s probably the best thing that Helloween has released up to this point. I’ve never been partial to “Halloween” or “Keeper of the Seven Keys” even though I think they’re perfectly fine epics, but “Skyfall” is absolutely fantastic and earns every minute of its 12-minute runtime. So many different riffs are explored, taking the track through a variety of twists and turns through furious Speed Metal riffing, to stripped down storytelling sections, to choir-backed guitar solos all while Deris and Kiske put their own unique flair into their respective vocal sections.
Even though I believe that Helloween is an incredibly solid album, I wouldn’t necessarily call it the savior of modern Power Metal or anything like that. While it’s exciting to hear Helloween return to some of their old songwriting tactics, the riffs and melodies aren’t the most engaging and some tracks could have used some more pop in places, especially during some of the transitions in “Cyanide”. That being said, this is a momentously fun album just to hear old and new Helloween collide head-on, which isn’t something you get to hear from bands too often. Despite parting with the band for assumedly various reasons in the past, these guys obviously still share some creative synergy that allowed them to do the unthinkable; they released a self-titled album that actually lives up to the promises of returning to a form that’s at least somewhat different than their modern material. Considering I can’t say I was a massive fan of modern or classic Helloween, this album is a huge win for the band on top of being immensely fun to listen to in general.