Happy, happy Helloween, Helloween, Helloween! Happy, happy Helloween, Helloween, Helloween!
With these lines began the legendary career of arguably the first power metal band, Helloween. It seems like a pretty silly way for such an important band to begin their debut album, but it shouldn't surprise anyone who knows the band. The German power metallers released their first album, Walls of Jericho in 1985. Though perhaps not as critically acclaimed as their next two albums, Keeper of the Seven Keys Pt 1 and 2, today it is regarded as a classic in both power metal and speed metal. At this point in time, Helloween was comprised of power metal ace Kai Hansen on guitars and vocals; Mike Weikath on guitars; Markus Grosskopf on bass; and Ingo Switchtenburg on drums. Today, Helloween seems to be a revolving door for band members, as only two of the founding members remain. The famous phrase "if it ain't broken, don't fix it" might as well refer to Helloween, as the material of the Kai Hansen era is significantly stronger than what the band is doing today, and utterly blows away anything that Helloween did in the entirety of the 90's. Though to be fair, the departure of Kai wasn't exactly the band's doing, nor was that of Ingo's mental anguish. But the extreme difference in musical quality between the likes of Walls of Jericho and Better than Raw is definitely notable, and quite easy to notice.
Like pretty much every Helloween release, save for Chameleon, Walls of Jericho is rooted in power metal. Only, this time it was different. Unlike Rabbits Don't Come Easy or Better than Raw, Helloween's debut album was very new, very fresh. At this point there was only one band playing a similar style to these ambitious Germans. This band was Iron Maiden, and even then, Helloween played at a much faster, more aggressive pace. Indeed, speed plays an important role in the music, though it is by no means the basis of Helloween's sound. No, like their British influences, Helloween is a very well rounded band. Their twin guitar tandem of Hansen and Weikath combines the necessary speed, heaviness, aggression, and melody to make any metal head smile. And there will be smiling all around as listeners travel scale the Walls of Jericho. Right from the beginning it is evident that both Kai and Mike have talent, play with the best of them, and not look out of place. The two combine to produce seemingly effortless harmonies, crushing Germanic riffs, and screaming solos that'll have fans headbanging furiously. It's that good. Pretty much every full length song has some infectious occasion where Kai Hansen and Mike Weikath show their skills, as Walls of Jericho is an extremely consistent album. This consistency is evident with such memorable tracks like Murderer, Walls of Jericho/Ride the Sky, Gorgar, and Heavy Metal is the Law.
Another characteristic that the album carries could just as easily be considered a curse, as it can be considered a blessing. This lies in the rawness of Walls of Jericho. The album is extremely raw, and seems to add to the fun that is Heavy Metal Is the Law or Phantoms of Death. Each member is still fairly easy to hear (though the bass is somewhat hard to recognize sometimes), and the raw, under produced nature of the album gives off a very metallic, if not sometimes chaotic, feel to it. Kai Hansen's vocals are perhaps the most affected by this trait. Today, Kai makes use of the production tools available to him, and is one of my favourite vocalists. But back on Walls of Jericho, his efforts are slightly different. One can detect traces of his modern vocal technique in this album, but at the same time, he sounds much more inexperienced (which he is, by the way). With that said, I still greatly enjoy his performance. Kai has a strong, charismatic voice and utilizes it excellently, bursting out with confidence and passion. Just check out Metal Invaders. Quite the enjoyable singer.
If you were reading carefully, you might remember me mentioning that people who know Helloween should not be surprised by the intro to the album. This is because Helloween is not a totally serious, all work no play, kind of band. Though new listeners might look at their name and think "HELL-oween? How metal of them!", reading the band's name as HELLO-ween wouldn't exactly be farfetched either. These crazy Germans have always tried to add a touch of humour to their music, and the Walls of Jericho album isn't at all different. For instance, the song Gorgar is about a pinball machine. If that doesn't convince you, there's always the chorus, which consists of "Gorgar will eat you!/GORGAR!/Man you'll never win!/ Gorgar will eat you!/GORGAR!/But you keep on playing/Hey!" Personally, I find light hearted material such as this very enjoyable (the chorus of Gorgar will never cease to make me giggle), and helps change up the mood. Perhaps some may not like this humorous approach, but I feel it's an important part of the band, and will continue to be important, as long as the track is still a quality song.
Though they might not be as good these days, back in their Kai Hansen era, Helloween was once a major player in metal. And with releases like Walls of Jericho, how could you not be? One of the very first power metal albums ever recorded, Walls of Jericho is a very good indicator of why Helloween is regarded so highly. Memorable melodies, plenty of shredding, strong rhythm, raw vocals, the German quartet looked to have a very bright future in store for them. Their fresh, new sound would have a very large inpact, especially in Europe, perhaps even more than they ever would have expected.
Walls of Jericho/Ride the Sky
Heavy Metal is the Law
Victim of Fate
Gorgar will eat you! GORGAR!