In 1991, Helloween released their fourth full length album, Pink Bubbles Go Ape. It was mostly a dud, save for one song. That song was Heavy Metal Hamsters, and in all likeliness a joke track keeping up with the band's age old tradition. However, the song aptly describes Helloween's own career in a few of its silly lines. Case in point, lines such as "Sitting in a field / and play like hell" and "But all the songs they play / they sound so well" could obviously refer to their early days with Kai Hansen, when they really did play like hell, inspiring a whole generation of hungry musicians. But the last verse of the song frighteningly enough, could refer to the 90's, a decade that the band spent in the power metal abyss. Particularly lines like "What is wrong with our Heavy Metal Hamsters" and "Where is the field to run for our Heavy Metal Hamsters." While listening to abysmal albums like Chameleon or Better Than Raw, one might indeed ask him or herself what has happened to the once great German quintet. But nothing lasts forever, and Helloween's slump finally ended with The Dark Ride. Full of aggressive, heavy riffing, it was a welcome change from the irritating sound that plagued Better Than Raw. But despite this, it would be three years before the Germans would release another new album.
Helloween's tenth album was to be titled Rabbits Don't Come Easy. Despite the strange album title which made me a little nervous, I decided to check out the album anyways. Disappointingly, the new album sported a change in sound from its predecessor, The Dark Ride. The dark riffs that were found on the previous album are not used quite as often in Rabbits Don't Come Easy (fittingly, if you judge music by their titles…), in favour of a happier, more traditional sound. But that isn't to say that they've disappeared completely. Every now and then, such as in the song Liar for instance, some heavy riffage is thrown in to add some variety to the music. This actually works out fairly well, and for the first time in quite awhile, it feels as though Helloween has added some variety to their music. This goes a long way in increasing the album's appeal, and it makes Rabbits a lot easier to listen to. My favourite part of Helloween was always the two guitarists. Particularly on the shred fest that was Halloween on Keeper of the Seven Keys Pt.1. Though there are no Halloween's on Rabbits, Michael Weikath and new guitarist (lightning would strike in one place twice before Helloween got a stable line up) Sascha Gerstner trade off several well done leads and solos throughout the album. As is the standard of German power metal, many of the tracks have some sort of powerful solo which rocks the boat of the listener. However, while listening to some of the leads, they sometimes feel a tad bit weak and uninteresting. Sun 4 the World is one song where this seems to be the case. The song is a very Egyptian flavoured track, and while the rest of the musical piece is very well done, Gerstner's solo does not fit the themes of the song very well, and feels out of place. But aside from that, there are few things to complain about Rabbits Don't Come Easy, musically.
One member who particularly stands out is vocalist Andi Deris. I thought he had a good showing on The Dark Ride, but often times before the year 2000 alum, he sounded a bit generic and, well, pretty bad. But on Rabbits Don't Come Easy, he ups his vocal performance to new heights. He keeps to the lower rage, sometimes opting for a raspier technique as in Liar, and other times attempting a more melodic approach in the likes of Sun 4 the World or Hell Was Made in Heaven. Naturally, I am more of a fan of the later, as his melodic vocals are a lot easier to listen to. And also a lot more fun to listen to as well, but that might just be me. Though he doesn't compare with the genre's mightier vocalists like Michael Kiske, Kai Hansen, Ralf Scheepers, or Hansi Kusrch, he still does an excellent job, and manages to add a valuable vocal presence to the album. Interestingly, he sometimes reminds me of fellow power metal vocalists Dirk Thurisch, formerly of Angel Dust, and Harry Conklin of Jag Panzer.
Helloween's career has been pretty up and down, thus far. It reached amazing heights early on, sank to amazing lows later on, and now days seems to be turning for the better. As the title implies, rabbits are quite difficult to take out of hats, and do not come very easy at all. Similarly, top notch albums do not come easy either, has Helloween and Helloween fans have learned. To make a great record, many factors are involved, and it seems that the newer generation of Helloween is finally realizing this. The band has definitely had the skills to put together great power metal records; it was just the matter of them putting it all together. Songs like Sun 4 the World and Back Against the Wall showcase this edge that the music has over some of their past material. Rabbits Don't Come easy is definitely a great album that you should check out after hearing some of the band's more essential releases.
Sun 4 the World
Open Your Life
Never Be a Star