Review Summary: Straight out of their bag of old tricks.
Should artists be lauded or derided for sticking to a successful formula? Nickelback might be able to answer that one with a straight face, but it’s a question which fans of Helloween have had to ponder with increasing intensity over the last few years. I mean, if one buys into the idea that a band’s career arc can typically be divided into three distinct phases – self-discovery, refinement, and contentment – it’s virtually impossible to deny that the German power metal giants have fallen firmly into the final category since at least 2005’s Keeper of the Seven Keys: The Legacy
And a lot of this, I wager, has to do with the very nature of the power metal genre and the notoriously unfickle clientele that Helloween and their contemporaries typically play to. To wit, the trajectory that these bands have chosen is the logical conclusion of a genre that has focused on exalting, almost exclusively, dramatic and strong-chorused songs – pieces whose collective identity is further defined by their focus on fantasy-based subject matter, technically demanding guitar solos, and symphonic elements. When viewed through that prism, Helloween’s fourteenth studio release, Straight out of Hell
, is the perfect case study for what happens when the dynamics of a given genre are shoehorned into approaching factory levels of standardization.
So, basically, what we have here is Yet Another Solid Helloween Album, with the biggest tweak this time around being – frankly – the new titles slapped onto each of the songs contained herein. Each track is pretty much just all speed and layered compositions anyway, a continuous slew of whining guitars and frenetic drumbeats accompanied by thinly processed basslines, impeccable production work, and vocalist Andi Deris singing lyrics that no one really cares about, as long as it’s hair-raising enough to be metuhl
. While this is hardly a cause for disappointment, Straight out of Hell
isn’t much reason to write home about either.
Out of the lot, “Nabataea” – a seven minute-plus composition about the legendary Middle Eastern kingdom – probably hits the hardest, opening as it does with a shimmering guitar riff that’s probably the best one I’ve heard so far this year (I know that isn’t saying much, but then again, neither does this record). “Wanna Be God”, in turn, is at once the most surprising and adrenaline-inducing moment on the record, with drummer Daniel Loble being put to work on a set of tribal drums that do a remarkably good job at adding a cutting edge to Deris’ gruff vocal work. Elsewhere, deeper album track “Asshole” follows in the great Helloween tradition of displaying a lighter, more humorous side on their records. “You’re an a-a-a-a-a-a-ass
,” goes Deris at one point, his syllables thoroughly distorted by what may be the single most pointless use of voice programming ever.
It’s all pretty harmless and mostly agreeable throughfare, to be sure, but even when I gauge Straight out of Hell
against the rest of its siblings from the Helloween Contentment Plateau, it strikes me as a shade weaker than, say, the material on 7 Sinners
or Gambling With The Devil
. Chief examples of this are songs like the ballad “Hold Me In Your Arms”, which is essentially a poor man’s “The Smile of the Sun”, and “Far From The Stars”, which plays like a rip-off of “Far In the Future”, but with a lesser backing riff. This pretty much sums up the essence of the record: Helloween may be back, but there’s no vengeance.