Review Summary: As much as Unarmed is a cool idea, it doesn't work.
Give Helloween credit, Unarmed – Best of 25th Anniversary
isn't a mere re-release of the band's greatest hits. The concept itself isn't bad; it's a genuine stab at reimagining a handful of classic power metal songs. The album will undoubtedly be considered anathema by ultraconservative fans, as Helloween explore a variety of acoustic, symphonic, and "jazz-y" (as in, they have a saxophonist) stylings, but regardless, it's a respectable idea. Problem is, it doesn't work. The more cynical among us saw this coming; Helloween's experimentation on Pink Bubbles Go Ape
was an utter failure. Given that those records were released almost twenty years ago, in a far more tumultuous time of the band's history, one couldn't be faulted for hoping it would be different this time around.
There's some good to be heard on Unarmed…
, but unfortunately it's few and far between. That "Fallen to Pieces", off 2007's Gambling With the Devil
, makes the smoothest transition shouldn't be much of a surprise. Although lacking the excellent metallic edge of the original, the acoustic arrangement compliments the song's ballad-esque structure rather well. Oddly enough, the same can't be said for the similar sounding "If I Could Fly"; Andy Deris' vocals are far too high in the mix, the strings lack substance and the song fails to convey any of the emotional power of the version from The Dark Ride
. Where the new version "Fallen to Pieces" added to the original, "If I Could Fly" simply meanders around before ending.
Of the Keepers
songs, only "Eagle Fly Free" is done any justice. The issue here isn't that power metal can't translate into other styles. Helloween just isn't very good at it. Much of "Future World" is over reliant on Deris, whose singing style doesn't fit the song, and the short instrumental break is too unsubstantial to make up for it. "Dr. Stein" is the opposite; the song's heavy usage of saxophone does not mesh well with the song's rocking (and goofy) vibe. It's certainly classier than the original, but considering how silly the original was, that isn't saying much. As for "The Keeper's Trilogy", well, symphonic power metal has always been terrible, and the seventeen minute medley consisting of "Halloween", "Keeper of the Seven Keys", and "King for a 1000 Years" does nothing to change this. Admittedly, the rearrangement of "Halloween" is fairly good; it maintains the track's creepiness and epic sounding structure. But the remainder is nauseatingly fruity in the way only symphonic metal gets, and at seventeen minutes it's almost unlistenable.
"Eagle Fly Free" is the embodiment of what Unarmed…
should have been. Stripped down to acoustic guitars and light piano, the track perfects the unplugged dimension, while remaining faithful to the general mood of the original. This is something that Unarmed…
ultimately lacks more than anything else. This isn't for any lack of effort; through nine of eleven songs, the results simply just aren't that good. For what it's worth, the only Helloween members featured on "Eagle Fly Free" are Deris and guitarist Sascha Gerstner (the remaining musicians are from rock band, Hellsongs). I'll let you draw your own conclusions, but it's interesting. But as much as Unarmed – Best of 25th Anniversary
is a missed opportunity, it sure makes me want to listen to the originals.