Review Summary: Caveat Emptor.
It's the reviled devil child of Helloween's expansive discography; and a pretty delightful devil child it is.
Helloween pretty much put the imprint on the genre of power metal with Walls of Jericho, and especially both Keeper of the Seven Keys albums. Then the catastrophe that was Pink Bubbles Go Ape was released, marking a huge departure from their power metal roots, instilling much slower songs, and humorous lyrics. Chameleon continues with this change, but is far more effective. And as an album title, it is quite apropos.
Their signature sound isn't completely stricken from the record. "Giants" is really a fantastic track that would be welcome in any top twenty best Helloween song list. It begins with a brief five second orchestral section, and then a really great intro riff that should please any rock and metal fan. Michael Kiske's performance is very controlled, but very well-done, with a mid-tempo chorus and mid-tempo verses. The greatness of the song truly begins at approximately the 3:20 mark, with the instrumental break. Roland Grapow busts into a great solo here, without wankery or mindless shredding. The symphonic sound in the background fits perfectly. It's a definite highlight. "First Time" is another track which shows flashes of their roots, and although poppy and nearly emo at times, it's an upbeat, faster tempo opening track.
Yes, the rest of the songs are an extremely large departure from the days of headbanging to Eagle Fly Free or Twilight of the Gods. "When the Sinner" is the first true inkling that Chameleon wasn't going to be a return to Keeper or Walls. Utilizing a synthesized beat in the beginning, it segues into very poppy territory for the rest of the verse until the bridge, nearly reminding one of "I Want You" from Savage Garden in all ways, even with the chorus and its background horns. The solo here is tasteful, and pleasing to the ear, showing that Roland Grapow does indeed have talent with lead guitar duties. This is all heresy to the quintessential metal fan, but I find this to be a stand-out track because while they nearly eschew the category of metal here altogether, I still found myself nodding my head along, and playing some air guitar on my steering wheel.
Other standouts here include "I Don't Wanna Cry No More", which is a ballad done completely right, showing some maturity and emotion not really seen other than "The Tale That Wasn't Right". Particularly scintillating is instrumental break, starting off with some acoustic mastery, and blasting into a tasteful and competent electric solo, again showing that Grapow definitely has chops. "Crazy Cat" is also a nice addition here, almost creating a new genre in "swing metal" (Diablo Swing Orchestra not withstanding). The lyrics are questionable at best, but, it's sonically great, and a lot of fun after the first three tracks are laden with pop, electronic, and emo characteristics. "Revolution Now" reaches progressive metal territory, with a neat guitar groove, and interesting vocal work. It's one of those tracks that takes a few listens to appreciate, but, a worthy addition. "I Believe" is a good epic, and there is a fantastic closer in "Longing", a sensitive acoustic ballad.
But there are missteps here. "Windmill", is, for lack of a better word, lame, and "In the Night" is boring and uninspired, definitely showing they included two too many ballads here. "Music" has a decent chorus, but the rest of it is entirely forgettable and far too long for not offering a whole hell of a lot. "Step Out of Hell" was written about Ingo's drug and alcohol addiction, but it never has the effect it should have, and is merely a straight-up generic and disappointing rock song, despite a semi-decent chorus.
I feel that Michael Kiske and Roland Grapow really shine overall here. I like Kiske's vocal control, and some of the effects that were used. Grapow's solos never seemed to border on a Malmsteen shred-fest, but always remained relevant to the song. The bitch of it is, the album is actually well-produced, but it's such a drastic change from what made them famous, that it was an unfortunate critical and commercial failure, resulting in two firings, and a suicide.
Caveat Emptor, because if you're expecting machine gun drumming, high pitched vocals, and fast riffing and shredding, you're not going to get that here. But what you will get are eight well-produced and well-played tracks. And while the other four aren't very good at all, they're still worth a listen because it works in context with the album. Helloween's "Chameleon" is definitely that. It changes its colors all over the place. It's experimental, sad at times, fun at others. It has its missteps, but it has plenty more successes in my opinion. It's worth a shot.
I Don't Wanna Cry No More
When the Sinner
Step Out of Hell
In the Night