Review Summary: Undoubtedly the greatest power metal album ever released. You don't even need to listen to any other power metal albums, because they sound exactly the same as this except not as good.
After their self-titled debut EP and first full-length Walls of Jericho
, Helloween was going to experience a change, and a big one at that. Co-founder and creative leader Kai Hansen, who had been handling both vocal and lead guitar duties up to the band’s first two outputs, experienced strain and felt he could no longer bear the burden of two departments. Stepping away from the microphone, Hansen and his fellow band mates went looking for a brand new singer.
Little did they know that this was going to radically reinvent their sound.
For a very interesting twist of fate happened to overcome Helloween. As they went looking for a vocalist, one particularly caught their interest: the then-18-year-old Michael Kiske. Being already in a band called Ill Prophecy
, Kiske initially turned down the band’s request to be their new front figure, although he eventually yielded to the temptation of fame and success, which he very well might find in the more established band.
But Kiske was not in the slightest bit similar to Hansen. Where the former had employed a very raw tone, Helloween’s newest addition completely turned the tables. He was an operatic-sounding singer, very similar to the likes of Bruce Dickinson (probably able to reach some even higher notes than him, but inferior as far as range and intonation are concerned), and with him, Helloween was already sounding like an immensely different band.
That doesn’t mean the instrumentalists were doing their tricks over again, however. In fact, the band’s first release with Kiske, Keeper of the Seven Keys (Part I)
was going to be a genre-founding milestone. In order to eventually achieve such influence, Helloween began incorporating more melody and less gruffness in their sound, moving away for their early NWOBHM inspirers. Adding to this the brand new vocals, it is the first Keeper is where this band truly began to play what would become known as power metal.
And Keeper I
is not just one of the first and founding power metal albums. It accounts to the genre’s very classics, and has been far more often put superior in comparison than it has been equalled or bested. Keeper Part I
may actually just be THE quintessential work in its field, and that is for a great number of reasons.
For starters, Hansen’s compositions are nothing short of formidable. Responsible for almost all of the material on the album, he knows how to enthral the listener with catchy riffs, melodies and harmonisations, silly but funny lyrics and impressive shredding solos. Variation is abound in enough measure, and the order of the tracks is well-placed. Although Keeper
runs at only 37 minutes, all of those are made full use of by the band, who luckily chose not to bother with decent but irrelevant material to fill up the gaps. The album's main portion is fitted between the less-than-two-minute intro and outro, Initiation
and Follow the Sign
, respectively. Those obviously fail to fall into the essential category, but serve their purpose extremely well in the context of the album. The real opener I’m Alive
leaves no doubt about the actual quality, opening with a shredded riff that has an indescribable power in it. The rest of the song sums up the features of the album very nicely: Kiske’s high vocals, which are very impressive, especially during the chorus, catchy melodies and harmonies, a pounding drum beat provided by the underrated Schwichtenberg and over-the-top soloing. In short, Keeper Part I
has everything a classic power metal album needs.
The remaining 5 tracks each hold their own and never fail to keep up the consistency. Next to the mainly Hansen-penned material, both Kiske and Weikath get their shot at a song, A Little Time
and A Tale That Wasn’t Right
, respectively. The former, which takes a more real-life lyrical perspective than the fictional-themed songs dominating the album, turns out to be an undisputed highlight, with its vocals (including the brilliant thickly-accented backing vocals during the chorus) providing the main appeal. The latter is a ballad, and while perhaps the weakest track present (once again showing Weikath’s inferiority to Hansen’s writing talent), it is about as great as a ballad from the genre gets. The only complaint is that Kiske might have wanted to consider stepping away from his operatic style for the song, as the vocals get too dramatic for the song's own good.
Twilight of the Gods
is positively upbeat, and Future World
is insanely catchy, but Helloween leave the best for the last: the mega-epic Halloween
, clocking at more than 13 minutes. Without doubt, it is the band’s very best creation of their career, and also one of the genre’s. The iconic ‘AAAAAAH, it’s Halloween!’ chorus, the best guitar interplay and solos on the album, the continued silly lyrics, it all comes together in this very, very well-executed song (best part: starts as soon as Kiske sings ‘It’s shining on meeeeeeee!’). Fitting as it is, their almost title track truly defines and epitomizes Helloween.
It is almost a shame then, that they would also reach their peak so early, only with their second full-length. We would get a so-called sequel, of course, but due to Hansen’s lesser and lesser involvement with his band, that would turn out to be an major disappointment, leading to the eventual demise of what was shortly one of the best bands in power metal. Part I of Keeper of the Seven Keys
still proudly stands as that band’s ultimate legacy, and that will remain so. An essential album for any metal fan.
A Little Time
- Michael Kiske ~ Lead Vocals
- Kai Michael Hansen ~ Lead & Rhythm Guitar, Backing Vocals
- Michael Ingo Joachim Weikath ~ Lead & Rhythm Guitar, Backing Vocals
- Markus Grosskopf ~ Bass Guitar, Backing Vocals
- Ingo Schwichtenberg ~ Drums