Review Summary: The celebration of two eras.
The announcement in November 2016 that Kai Hansen and Michael Kiske would rejoin Helloween for a world tour took the metal community by storm. At last, we would get to see once again on stage a substantial part of the line-up that wrote one of heavy metal's most iconic and influential chapters. And even though it would be impossible to reproduce the chemistry of old without the late Ingo Schwichtenberg behind the drum kit, the fact that Kai and Kiske would be back on stage with Markus and Weikath was cause for celebration. In this sense, the 'Pumpkins United World Tour' was a nostalgic experience for metalheads who, like me, grew up listening to Walls of Jericho
and Keeper of the Seven Keys (I and II)
, both responsible for laying the foundations of speed and euro power metal. Out of the band's heyday, I would highlight Keeper of the Seven Keys Part II
, which I regard as a masterpiece of the genre, on par with classics such as Powerslave
or Operation: Mindcrime
. There's a special kind of magic to this album that mirrors not only the soul of an era but also one of the happiest times of my life. Helloween
aims to recapture that look and feel by reconciling human, musical, and technical aspects, either using Ingo's original drum kit or via its fully analog recording. This "back to the roots" revival and its bridging with the Deris-era are thus the ultimate goals of Helloween's new chapter.
This spirit of compromise was embodied in both singles that preceded the album's release. While 'Fear of the Fallen' emanates Deris-era's vibes, Kai Hansen's twelve-minute epic, 'Skyfall', harks back to Keeper of the Seven Keys'
memorable title track. Despite their different approaches, both coexist peacefully in the same soundscape, just like two complementary tones that touch each other in the middle of the composition. Opener 'Out for the Glory' is another moment that takes us back to the eighties through its 'Keeper meets Walls of Jericho' formula, in which we can enjoy Kai Hansen's Jericho-ish vocals that contrast with the 'Eagle Fly Free-esque' chorus that predates it. This segment, along with 'Skyfall', is probably the album's most nostalgic moment and the template that, in my opinion, the band should have followed throughout Helloween
. That is, the blending of different aesthetics in the same song. Something that would enhance some contrast while adding some audacity to the songwriting. Instead, we are faced with songs that express the individual character of each protagonist rather than a common feeling. Even knowing that reconciling several egos is no easy task, the producer must find a way to make it happen.
Despite my previous remark, it is important to note that Helloween
has enough ingredients to please both old and new fans. While old-timers like me are sure to cherish a song like 'Best Time', which isn't too far off from 'I Want Out', or the ferocious chorus of 'Down in the Dumps'; younger listeners will gladly welcome tracks such as 'Cyanide' or 'Rise Without Chains' that mirror the best of the Deris-era, with the latter even featuring nuances of the band's classic period. The harmony guitar lines, and split solos, are also among the album's highlights as they effectively reflect not only one of Helloween's strengths but also their most recognizable trademark. And even the three-singer formula, which could have turned into something burlesque and cartoonish, works relatively well, much like the live outcome.
Overall, the lads did a good job, I can't deny it, but there is a difference between good and great; between what we expect and what we get. It's one of those inevitabilities that we must learn to live with. In addition to the lack of some creative flair or greater artistic audacity, there are some songs like 'Robot King' or 'Indestructible', which although not mediocre, have a rather trivial songwriting; and even a track like 'Down in the Dumps', that features a powerful chorus, has a relatively poor structure, relying basically on one big multisided chorus. At the risk of being unfair, I would say the album has some 'b-side' tracks that somehow undermine the overall result.
At the end of the day, it all comes down to what each of us is expecting from this pumpkin gathering. Should nostalgia and sheer entertainment override creativity, passion, and artistic relevance? As far as I'm concerned, as much as I enjoyed seeing Kai, Kiske, and Weikath together again, I felt neither the magic nor the spontaneity of old, and to be honest, I didn't expect it either. The boys became men, and no longer possess the fire or enthusiasm that shaped their glorious past. However, this inevitability is by no means synonymous with mediocrity, since Helloween
is indeed an enjoyable release that, to some extent, gathers the band's various chapters while simultaneously celebrating two eras. And even if the pumpkin magic isn't what it used to be, we should all rejoice, for one of heavy metal's most iconic collectives is back on stage, and I already have my front row ticket.