Review Summary: The title of Helloween's eleventh studio album is somewhat misleading, as the German power metal band doesn't really take any risks, but it's a solid album none the less.
While these days Helloween seems to have descended to the ranks of what one could label as generic Euro power metal, they still manage to produce some decent material. Their last couple albums, particularly Keeper of the Seven Keys: The Legacy, can attest to that. With that in mind, Helloween isn't my favourite power metal band by far. That title rightfully belongs to former Helloween guitarist Kai Hansen's Gamma Ray. Given the close connection between Gamma Ray and Helloween and that both artists were to release albums this year, I was rather looking forward to seeing how both bands rank up against each other in today's metal scene. Now, of course Land of the Free II just had to get delayed until January, but considering just how solid Gambling With the Devil really is, I guess I'm not complaining too much.
Gambling With the Devil was a pretty surprising album, to be honest. While the past couple albums are definitely quality slabs of power metal, as I mentioned earlier, they in a way lacked the strength and aggressiveness of some of their older material like Walls of Jericho or even some of Gamma Ray's music. While Helloween isn't exactly putting out their own Painkiller here, they have managed to inject a lot of energy into their efforts. Songs such as Kill it, The Bells of the 7 Hells, and Paint a New World are all fast paced numbers, and among the best Gambling With the Devil has to offer. Each of these tracks are quite straightforward and to the point, as they are mostly carried by their thrashy, adrenaline filled riffs and vocalist Andi Deris' surprisingly savage sounding, lower range vocal efforts. The upbeat, grandiose sound which Helloween normally makes use of isn't really made us in these songs, so while guitarists Michael Weikath or Sascha Gerstner do manage to throw in some nice solos, the noodling is kept to a minimum.
Helloween, however, doesn't totally immerse themselves in later-Gamma Ray era/Grave Digger-esque speed metal on Gambling With the Devil. A number of songs take the happy-go-lucky route which Helloween has grown accustomed to playing over the years. There aren't any silly joke tracks ala Dr. Stein, Heavy Metal Hamsters, or Mrs. God, but songs such as The Saints, Can Do It, and Heaven Tells No Lies do take on the lighter approach. However, with the exception of Can Do It, these songs don't have that same passive feel like most of the 90's era Helloween tracks had. Though perhaps not as energetic or beefy as the likes of Kill It, such tracks retain this intensity through their more melodic nature. Simple harmonies and catchy, memorable song structures generally play the largest roles in the both The Saints and Final Fortune. It's quite formulaic, but then again, it's Helloween so what would you expect? In other tracks, particularly the last two songs, Dreambound and Heaven Tells No Lies, Helloween opts for more extravagant song structures, as both Weikath and Gerstner spend a fair bit of time during the combined thirteen minutes shredding. However, such antics remain fairly tasteful and the band isn't really (too far) over the top. DragonForce, take note.
Of course, it wouldn't be a Helloween album without the complimentary ballads, but thankfully the band keeps these to a minimum. Yeah, they're pretty hit-or-miss and one certainly won't be faulted for dreading such moments. Gambling With the Devil doesn't really do anything to change this. The album's first ballad, As Long As I fall, is by far the album's sappiest song, and easily one of the worst Helloween songs since their comeback in 2000. The chorus is ripped from a pure, unadulterated 80's power ballad, complete with bombastic guitars, a corny, feel-good lyrical theme and Deris' worst vocal effort of the album. It's pretty embarrassing, to be honest. Remaining ballad, however, Fallen to Pieces, is a far better effort from the Pumpkinheads. Quite reminiscent of If I Could Fly (though with a heavier, more metallic edge), the song is pretty smooth, relying mostly on Andi Deris' voice. As with a good portion of the rest of the album, Deris performs admirably, offering up one of the finest performances in his career. His vocal tone, which has greatly improved over the past few years really makes the song worth listening to as it helps build up the song's sombre, yet relaxed themes.
Gambling With the Devil isn't without it's faults, of course. As good as it sounds, Helloween's brand of Euro power metal isn't exactly the most original of sorts. Though the album's sound is split up into different varieties of power/speed metal, the Germans don't really offer up anything that hasn't been heard before. Final Fortune sounds like Gamma Ray. Kill It reminds one of Running Wild. The Saints sounds like something Helloween would have previously written. Can Do It could have been written by Hammerfall and As Long As I Fall might have very well been borrowed from Edguy's Rocket Ride album. As good as it is, it's kind of difficult to rate the album anything above 3.5 (which is great, so it isn't like that's a poor rating) due to the unoriginality, but hey, what can you do?
Gamma Ray's Land of the Free II was definitely my most anticipated album coming into 2007, and given the band's track record mixed with my love of power metal and, well, that shouldn't be so surprising. That one of the genre's biggest bands in Helloween was releasing a brand new record and I didn't hear about it until about a month ago, well that's kind of surprising. Even more surprising is just how forceful the album really is, as the agglomeration of melodic and German power metal proves to be very entertaining in a number of ways. The title of Helloween's eleventh studio is somewhat misleading, as the German power metal band doesn't really take any risks, but Helloween it's a solid album none the less. Quite simply, Gambling With the Devil is Helloween doing what Helloween does best.
The Bells of the 7 Hells
Fallen to Pieces