Review Summary: It may be “better than raw”, but there are much better Helloween releases than this.
Helloween, the band that helped create and popularize the Power Metal genre throughout Europe, has always experimented with their sound. Whether it is the rapid decline into more melodic genres of metal from their debut through Chameleon or the eventual hardening of their sound, they never released the same thing over and over again. Let’s skip ahead to 1998, and you’ll find an almost entirely new band which created two Power Metal of varying quality albums after Andi Deris and ex-Gamma Ray’s Uli Kusch joined the fray. The new album, Better Than Raw, takes from both of these releases to become a significantly faster and heavier band while not straying too far away from the Power Metal formula.
One instance that pushes their sound to new heights is the first real song on the album: Push. Andi Deris has never sang quite this well again in his entire career, and the quick-tempo works together with the performances from Mr. Kusch and the furious fretwork of Roland Grapow and Michael Weikath. The combination of incredible performances on this song alone foreshadows the later frenzied tracks of this album, and makes this an incredible early highlight of this album.
The change in style becomes most evident on the very heavy “Don’t Spit on My Mind,” and the epic “Revelation” (unrelated to the Gamma Ray song of the same name). These songs take the band’s style to a new level; experimenting with significantly lower tempos on the former song while using progressive, hectic riffs and song-structure to create an atmosphere of beautiful cacophony. The 8-minute length only supplements the brutality the song applies, and makes for yet another enjoyable highlight of not only the album, but Andi Deris’s entire career in Helloween.
Yet another instance of the newfound ruthlessness is the album closer, “Midnight Sun.” Though it happens at the dusk of the album, the “Midnight Sun” is bright enough to make up for the many disappointing ending songs of the past few Helloween albums; obliterating “The Time of the Oath,” and “Still We Go” in quality. Everything in this song is fantastic; the shredding (especially the soloing segment in the intro), the rhythm department, and, once again, Deris’s rage-filled vocals. The harsh environments of the song create an incredible effort of anger and insanity, and it is almost unnecessary to say that this is a Helloween song everyone should listen to.
Helloween did not completely forget “Master of the Rings”-era Power Metal, however; creating songs that could easily fit on that great piece of Power Metal history. “Falling Higher” and “I Can” are typical Helloween songs that revolve around strong verses and catchy, fun sing-along choruses. The latter track especially has a cheery and energetic chorus that is certainly one of the most fun Helloween songs made within the 90s; while still having good backing executions by Deris’s comrades.
As awesome as those songs are, the LP is not perfect. Fortunately, none of these songs are outright disasters like some songs on Rabbit Don’t Come Easy, as each song suffers from one misplaced or poor element. “Don’t Spit on My Mind,” mostly faults from cheesy backing vocals in the chorus, and is not up to par of the band’s other technical and aggressive works. “Hey Lord” suffers from poorly-used technological effects on Andi’s voice, and makes the verses particularly difficult to listen to (along with pedestrian musicianship by everyone else). The other tracks on the CD are just unremarkable, especially the abysmal and boring “Lavdate Dominvm,” which is pretty bad.
Fortunately, these flaws can be overlooked, as Better Than Raw is a pretty good album that should be purchased by any Power Metal fan who has an insatiable hunger for more; along with fans of Deris-era Helloween. However, those looking to get into Power Metal or Helloween should look elsewhere, such as the much heralded The Dark Ride; the follow-up to this.