After going through many line-up changes, and a draining court battle, Helloween have finally regained U.S. distribution rights and are back on the Heavy Metal scene. I spoke to Helloween's vocalist, Andreas (Andi) Deris, about their latest album, The Time of the Oath, scheduled for release on March 5, 1996 (according to Castle Records, their current label), their upcoming tour, and other things.
The Time of the Oath will be released in the U.S., and will be followed by a tour starting in mid-April in Italy. The tour will last about 3 months, while the band goes all over Europe and plays "selected festivals." Come September, they will be in Asia, touring most of Japan, Korea, and Malaysia. A visit to the U.S. is planned for October, and the tour has been scheduled, but not confirmed. Opening for them, at least on the European leg of the tour, will be Bruce Dickinson, the former vocalist of Iron Maiden. It should make for an interesting show, since Helloween's sound today is somewhat reminscent of very early Maiden, and Dickinson has deviated from that sound. A live album based on their shows in Europe is being tentatively planned for release in September, and they hope to release it as an interactive multimedia CD.
The album was recorded in Hamburg, and is produced with Tommy Hansen ("Never change a winning combination"). The songwriting, like Helloween's last album, Master of the Rings, is somewhat evenly split between Deris and Michael Weikath (Weiki). The recording process involved the band members putting together the rough ideas in their home studio, and then getting together to pick the best tunes and arranging them. Apparently they took longer to record this album than Master of the Rings, and the time they had to record this album definitely helped to produce "complex and interesting, but not an overproduced" release. He said the goal was to return to the "complex and difficult parts that Helloween is famous for, as in Walls of Jericho and Keeper of the Seven Keys 1 and 2."
The album has a concept: It is about Nostradamus, the French seer, and the predictions he made. Apparently Andi was reading a book about him and realised that Nostradamus had made some key predictions about the years 1994-2000 (which the prophet referred to as "the Time of the Oath"; thus the title). Apparently the thought that struck him was that "this is about our time, we should be doing something about it." And so he did. Nostradamus predicted that there would be a World War III, with loss of life and destruction and property, followed by a 1000 years of peace, based on the choices that humans made during the Time of the Oath. The Time actually reflects the kinds of choices that people make, since Nostradamus was by no means a fatalist, and he actually encouraged people to make the right choices to avert catastrophes. The songs on the album use this as a starting inspirational point. The cover of the album features the Keeper, and Andi said that based on the result of Nostradumus' predictions, you could either perceive the Keeper as synonymous with God, or as the Seventh Trooper (referred to in the song Before the War), who would be the epitome of humanity's "stupidity."
"Don't ask me if I believe all that." Apparently he'd rather not believe (given the outcomes predicted), but he did say it made for good inspiration for writing lyrics. He also ssaid regardless of whether Nostradamus was right or wrong, the philosophies he espoused are certainly worth paying attention to.
Regarding the issue of Castle releasing a back catalog, he mentioned that it would be great to have all the old albums re-released, but that they are in the process of "getting the license back." He really enjoys working with Castle, and said that it's like working for an independent company with the pressures of a major label. He said that Castle have treated them a lot better than their former label, Noise International with whom Helloween have had legal problems.
On the subject of the court case with Noise International, the whole issue of musicians doing their own thing and money-minded people trying to exploit them rings a bell with Helloween's vocalist. He mentioned how the band "wasn't allowed to interview with anyone or tour for 3 years" because of the court fight with the label: "In Germany, a band like Helloween has no law protection." He said the musicians aren't viewed the same as people in other professions are, and the court case dragged for a long time because of this. Finally the band gave up and left the label and didn't get any compensation for their previous efforts with the label. As such, he says working with Castle is a dream.
We talked about the transition from his former band, Pink Cream 69, to Helloween. Due to tensions between Weiki and former Helloween vocalist Michael Kiske (Michi), Weiki apparently had been trying to persuade Andi (who have known each other for 9 years now) to join the band. Meanwhile, the relationship between Andi and Pink Cream 69 had apparently been heading downhill since the rest of the band had "changed musically and personality-wise" and "it was hard to communicate with them." So when Weiki gave him a call at the end of 1993 to join Helloween, he accepted and as a result we had Master of the Rings and now The Time of the Oath.
Andi considers the albums Pink Bubbles Go Ape and Chameleon to the be the least favourite of all the Helloween releases. He mentioned that he felt sad after listening to the two albums and comparing it to past albums like Keeper of the Seven Keys and Walls of Jericho. He said they that they "now are making music for the sake of having a identity" that was colinear with the older Helloween sound. His favourite album is The Time of the Oath. He calls it "the perfect mixture between Walls of Jericho and Keeper", with some of his own influence thrown in (of course).
Interestingly enough, Andi didn't start his musical career as a vocalist. He learnt to play the guitar to KISS, but then was coaxed to sing even though he didn't want to. He cites Paul Stanley, Ian Gillan, and Rob Halford as vocal influences, and said that he has spent years trying to figure out how Halford can sing that high. In fact, one of the tunes on the new album, Steel Tormentor, is a tribute to Judas Priest. His favourite groups include Deep Purple and Uriah Heep, and he said that the new albums of both these groups "kick ass."
Regarding working with Michael Weikath, he said "Weiki is one of the most normal persons running around. It's hard to work with idiots; you need to be hard to yourself and others to not work with idiots." Apparently he feels that Weiki is stuck between a rock and a hard place, since he doesn't want to compromise the music he's making and he has to be tough in order to maintain this position. He mentioned that the feuding between Helloween and Gamma Ray has decreased signficantly. They have "rehearsal rooms that are 300 metres away" and that the death of former drummer Ingo Schwichtenberg has cooled down the tempers of the warring individuals.
Andi firmly believes that what we're witnessing is the rise of a New Wave of German Heavy Metal. He thinks the lack of media attention on Metal music is a good thing, since "they were influencing the people and not giving them a chance to make their own decisions." Actually, throughout my conversation I found that he had very strong "independent" tendencies (you know, the whole make music for the sake of making music---conditioning by commercial radio is bad---major labels exploit artists if you don't watch out---bit ) and it was very refreshing to hear that from someone in a band that has sold albums in the millions.
Finally, he was pleasantly surprised at the fact that there is still interest in Helloween in the U.S. He said the band wasn't at all expecting it, and since releasing The Time of the Oath, they've heard nothing but positive comments. He said "a very big hello to everyone all over, especially to diehard fans in the U.S."