Never say never, huh? That lead singer Michael Kiske and guitarist Kai Hansen would reunite with Helloween wasn’t exactly something you’d put your hard earned cash on. Kiske had while being absent from the band stated that he wasn’t interested in playing Metal anymore and his relationship with guitarist Michael Weikath was strained – to say the least. Hansen had his own successful band Gamma Ray and has shown no interest in rejoining Helloween at all. But lo and behold, back in 2016 Kiske and Hansen joined Weikath, bassist Markus Grosskopf, drummer Daniel Löble, lead singer Andi Deris and guitarist Sascha Gerstner for a tour that held the Pumpkins United moniker.
The reunion with Kiske and Hansen was something that many fans had longed for and when it stood clear that it wouldn’t only be a tour but also a new album, the reaction came fast – and it was an overwhelming one. While the line-up with Deris is a successful one, it’s the Hansen/Kiske line-up that is looked on as the classic one, much due to the fact that that was the one who released the two Keeper Of The Seven Keys albums, records that today holds almost icon status as true Metal classics. The new line-up released the ”Pumpkins United” single in 2017. It was recorded mostly for the guys to see if they could work together again and since they could, it was decided that a new album would be the logical next step – as a seven-piece band. To say that the album comes with expectations of astronomical proportions isn’t to exaggerate one bit. So would the band be able to live up to such expectations?
Speedy opener ”Out For The Glory” is an uptempo metal-blaster that screams classic Helloween all the way. A glistening and rowdy number, it sure bring on all those catchy melodies from the glory days and Kiske shines on in full glory. While Kiske’s voice is much part of the back-to-the-roots vibes here, I also hear some traces of modern Helloween which is a pivotal part of the song’s dynamic. With a direct chorus, the song really hits home for me. The single ”Fear Of The Fallen” continues the uptempo beats, punchy and kicking with a darker mood and some fierce guitar riffage. More big vocal melodies by Kiske and Deris proves the two of them work together like a charm. A laid-back and slow break-down comes in as a breather and the sing-along-friendly chorus is nothing but brilliant.
Also a single, ”Best Time” comes on in a mid-pace with an ”I Want Out” like riff on a more straight-forward note. I might get a beating for this but the verses actually reminds me of a Billy Idol gone Metal. Said verse comes on a bit held-back yet with a classic Helloween guitar-line. The chorus increases in intensity and the chorus, catchy as damn takes me right back to the 80’s and the band’s glory days. Terrific. ”Mass Pollution” is a fast, heavy and driving Hard Rock number with an undertow of Metal and the Deris era Helloween is way more prominent here. It’s more dark-laden with some frenetic fret-work and a shit-kicking rhythm-section. The chorus is quite catchy but it’s more straight ahead without creating a classic Helloween vibe. It’s good song, though.
Latest single ”Angels” starts out laid-back and mellow with a synth-bass, an organ and Kiske’s voice before it speeds up into a faster pace. The chorus slows things down again but with intensity and the whole tune shifts between faster and slower tempos. It’s a melodic tune with keyboards inserted and a memorable main-melody. The effective, catchy and direct chorus is the icing on the cake here. Very good. More in the vein of latter day, Deris-era Helloween, the fast and aggressive ”Rise Without Chains” gets a different dynamic when shared vocally with Kiske. It’s raw and edgy with a fast tempo but with hook-laden melodies all over. It’s not great but still a good tune.
”Indestructible” is a kicking and upbeat kidney-punch of a tune, fast tracked and in-your-face. Chugging guitar-riffing and a frantic beat, this one’s mostly Deris’ tune. It’s razor-sharp, heavy but still melodic enough. The chorus comes with some catchiness and even though it’s a competent number, it never really sticks with me. ”Robot King” is a classic Helloween metal-belter – fast, furious and hard-hitting with drums running amok and a bunch of gritty, rowdy guitars. A Speed Metal beast, the song has the band on full tilt and it can even be traced back to the earliest days of the band. That said, it contains a damn strong main-melody and the refrain catches on from first spin with a direct catchiness. Parts of the song takes a turn into the Deris era as well. Parts of the song are damn brilliant while other parts really could be better.
The ballsy and edgy ”Cyanide” is the album’s only skipper for me. Yes, it’s fast, heavy and it goes off like a wounded elephant with fierce drums, a punchy bass and guitars attacks from everywhere, so no problem there. It’s just that the chorus is only decent and the melodies has left the hooks at bay which puts this quite standard Power Metal bouncer on the forgettable side. Unfortunately also on the filler side lies ”Down In The Dumps”, another Deris-era metal-cruncher in faster tempo. Even though some of the vocal-melodies that holds Kiske’s voice goes back to his era of the band, the song fails to stick with me and disappears into oblivion even after many spins.
The instrumental slow-piece ”Orbit” is really nothing more than a prelude to the first taster of the album, the 12+ minute epic ”Skyfall”. The only Hansen credited song on the album, apart from ”Orbit”, the tune features lead vocals from both Kiske, Deris and Hansen and it’s a song with many faces. It kicks off with some muscular heavy riffing and a stompy beat, a clear reference to the old Keeper days – upbeat and tough but with some brilliantly memorable melodies. A slow and laid-back breakdown comes in where Kiske and Hansen goes into duet-mode. Deris joins in as soon the tune goes off on a higher speed before Hansen takes hold of lead vocals again. The fast and rough tempo returns this time with a symphonic keyboard in tow and the classic Helloween twin-leads comes in to take us to the big chorus again. It then slows down and brings out the acoustic guitars into a Melodic Rock ballad mode before it ends on a heavy note. It’s a fantastic tune and the 12 minutes goes by in no-time. What a way to close the record.
So. Has Helloween managed to create a masterpiece this time, then? Well, no, it’s no masterpiece but it’s still one helluva record. Twelve tracks might be a couple too many and there are a few songs that really don’t cut it all the way for me but mind you, there are no bad per se numbers here – and when this album is good – which it is mostly – it’s damn brilliant. I admit that I lost Helloween when Kiske bid his farewells and I think that the Deris era was good but never really struck a nerve with me full on even though I thought that My God-Given Right was a damn fine record. Maybe that’s why I hold this album Helloween’s finest effort since the Kiske days but that’s how I feel. I’m a little confused about the fact that the album only contains one real Hansen written track and that Kiske is a no-show at all in that department but I’m really happy that The Godfathers Of Power Metal are back with a great album which for me, promises a bright future ahead and I’m really looking forward to the next step for this band. Welcome back!