Review Summary: Helloween releases an adventurous yet flawed progressive album. Fans give it much more flak it deserves because of its deviation from the Power Metal sound. The band's looming schism is hastened.
For those unaware, Helloween is one of the pioneering Power Metal bands, with their main claim to fame being the classic Keeper of the Seven Keys
(Pt. 1 released in '87, Pt. 2 in '88). They went through rough times as lead guitarist and figurehead Kai Hansen left the band in '89 to form his own band, the acclaimed Gamma Ray - Ronald Grapow served as Hansen's replacement. Two years later Helloween churned out Pink Bubbles Go Ape
, a sillier, softer, more hard-rock oriented record which came roughly fifty miles away from even coming near their previous, epic records. Unexpectedly, it proved to be a failure with critics, fans and stores with main criticism being the "forced" humor within the lyrics and poor songwriting. Now, frontman and lead singer Micheal Kiske and his pack had two alternatives - a return to their Power Metal roots (most fans wanted that after the failure of Pink Bubbles Go Ape
) or press on and further explore new sounds. Helloween picked the latter. Boy, what a dangerous, against-the-odds gamble that was.
In '93 Chameleon
hit the stores. During the supporting tour, drummer Ingo Schwichtenberg became unable to properly perform due to his schizophrenia and drug problems while an already existent feud between guitarist Micheal Weikath and Kiske turned real ugly. Several months later Kiske and Schwichtenberg were fired from the band - the former singer chose to adopt a solo career and stayed away from metal music in general whereas the former drummer's mental condition worsened and he committed suicide two years later. After the group regained its composure with the arrival of the new singer and drummer, Andreas Deris and Uli Kusch (respectively), your average Helloween fan assumed the following stance, kind of like Metallica fans did with St. Anger
was an atrocity! Worst one ever!"
Why did so much bad stuff happened after the release of Chameleon
? Why is it so vehemently hated by the bulk of Helloween's fans?
The main reason is that Chameleon
takes the music exploration which started at Pink Bubbles Go Ape
and takes it to a new level. Fortunately, it does not contain the silly lyrics that contributed to Bubbles
' failure. Unfortunately for most fans there are few traces of power metal in there - double bass drumming, palm-muted riffs and solos flying at the speed of light are nowhere near as present as in previous records. To fill the void, horns, synths, strings and acoustic guitars all play prominent roles in the album and even some jamming can be found within. As one would have guessed, this means that the sound found within is much softer and lighter as well as belonging to a wholly different genre - this is more of a progressive rock work with some hints of metal spread around.
The quality of the music did not help sway the fanbase's opinion, which could have been made slightly more positive if Helloween pulled a say, Buckethead, and managed to release excellent albums regardless of the genre they played on. Chameleon
turned out to not be an outstanding record and thus was universally rejected by the band's followers while they held on tightly to the Keepers
and Walls of Jericho
. Yet the woe-bringer is actually not as bad as "hardcore" Helloween fans would like to make everyone else believe and deserves some merit, at least for trying to expand Helloween's musical boundaries and being successful at several spots.
Heavier tracks such as Giants
and First Time
are probably the best ones on the album. Being the ones that are closest to Helloween's original sound it is no wonder that those turn out to be the finest ones. They contain sufficient drive to keep the flow going, the trademark Kiske choruses which can catch an ear's attention like no other due to their cheer energy and thankfully have the blazing guitar solos which fit well with the songs - Weikath and Grapow both put quite the performance. Step Out Of Hell
is not as special but is a decent straight up rocker. Other songs fail to achieve their intent - Music
and I Believe
, per instance, have interesting ideas but drag on for way too long (7 and 9 minutes long, respectively) - the momentum created by new ideas simply disappears with the sluggish interludes that go nowhere. Revolution Now
does not even have potential and is more like a bunch of unused material mashed together in hopes of making something of 8 minutes.
When it comes down to the more cheerful songs, Crazy Cat
works nicely with its jazzy feeling, enhanced by well-placed horns and again features fast, great guitar soloing by the duo. On the other hand, When The Sinner
's enthusiasm is damaged by the excessive packing of different instruments - the horns are a pointless addition in top of the rhythmic guitar and just makes it all too noisy and the sudden entrance of an acoustic guitar takes away some of the vitality within. And then there are the ballads, which this album seems to be replete of. I Don't Wanna Cry No More
are efficient and has some emotion placed behind them. Windmill
is sort of sad and over the top, but softer hearts might enjoy it. In The Night
, however, has no salvation due to its lack of inspiration and spirit.
All in all, Chameleon
is an acceptable progressive album. While it hits a fair share of sweet spots it also contains some mediocrity and two tracks miss the mark completely. What compensates for the occasional piss-poor composition is the production of the album, which is top-notch and actually expands the soundscape - as well as no lack of technical competence coming from the band.
Many will say that Helloween got it completely wrong by releasing an album almost wholly outside the power metal sphere and thus its place in the garbage can, but for more open-minded Helloween fans it might be an interesting listen - just to check out the places their idols went. Prog-music fans might find a bit of enjoyment in this one as well. There is no doubt Chameleon
is one of the weakest releases from the Metal legends but it is undeserving of its "utter junk" reputation - maybe some resent the fact it was the catalyst for the Kiske-Weikath schism, but then again, it would've likely happened eventually and could have prevented Helloween of releasing something even worse. In hindsight, someone should've slapped some sense into Kiske and attempted to drag Schwichtenberg out of his miserable condition - maybe the world would've been rewarded with an awesome power metal album. Who knows? If time travel is ever possible...