If you had given up hope on Helloween after their release of Pink Bubbles Go Ape and Chameleon, then you should definitely check this release out (which has recently been released with a bonus disc by Castle Records). The album contains music that attempts to find the path back to Helloween classics such as The Walls of Jericho and The Keeper of the Seven Keys 1 and 2. Right from the opening classical-sounding Irritation, through songs like Sole Survivor (which has a nice syncopated drum beat à la Deep Purple's The Mule, but is faster), Where the Rain Grows (interesting bass line here), Mr. Ego (cool dissonant harmonies), Perfect Gentleman (straightfoward, but catchy riffing), and The Game is On (great Noise), the music really rocks hard with some complex guitar work coupled with a strong rhythm section. Deris' vocals fit in really well with the music and his range is pretty impressive. The dual guitar work by Michael Weikath and Roland Grapow is somewhat reminscent of Iron Maiden's Adrian Smith and Dave Murray playing off of each other. Overall the band sound a bit like old Scorpions, but faster and heavier.
The first track of the bonus disc is called Grapowski's Malmsuite 1001, appropriately named, and is an intricate and melodious guitar instrumental. The next two tracks are also fairly decent. However, the fourth song (Closer to Home) really sucks (it brings to mind images of Hootie and the Blowfish), and the rest of the CD is okay (the cover Kiss' I Stole Your Love is decent, but is mistitled). Together, the CDs are definitely worth the money.
This is a true return back to Helloween's past form, with some Pink Cream and Gamma Rays thrown in for a good measure. Continuing in the direction of their previous effort, Helloween have succeeded in capturing the "raw power and aggression of their original sound." The album contains a lot of fresh-sounding riffs, vocals that fly in and out, and intricate and interwoven guitar work, all done at a reasonably fast pace. The thing that is different in this album from Master of the Rings is that the music is faster and heavier. Andreas Deris' voice is a bit grittier and it adds a harsher edge to the music. The guitar work appears to be more thought-out and the two guitars really play well off of each other. The drumming (Uli Kusch) and bass work (Markus Grosskopf) are also excellent, and are helped by a strong "Metal production." Among the tracks, We Burn, Steel Tormentor, Wake Up The Mountain, Power, Before the War, A Million to One, Anything My Mama Don't Like, Kings Will be Kings, Mission Motherland, and The Time of the Oath are all fast-paced and crunchy tracks. Forever and One and If I Knew are the only tracks that could be called ballads, and both these tracks have great guitars and/or vocals. All the tracks are excellent!
The album is a concept album inspired by, and based loosely on the prophecies of Nostradamus, the French prophet. I think the music and the lyrics fit his version of doom quite well. If you ache for the sound that was around during the beginning of the New Wave of British Heavy Metal with a faster, harder, and modern touch (the whole album reminds me of Iron Maiden's self-titled first effort speeded up), then this band and album are for you.
While it may be somewhat true that Castle Records plans to bank on past successes of the various bands on it, the good thing about it is it constantly puts out releases by those bands. This year has been a good one for Helloween, and High Live follows their latest studio release The Time of of the Oath with a live album containing a few classics (Eagle Fly Free, Dr. Stein, Future World all from Keeper of the Seven Keys part I and II) and many searing versions of tracks from their latest releases (Mr. Ego (Take Me Down), Soul Survivor, Where the Rain Goes, Perfect Gentleman, In the Middle of a Heart Beat, We Burn, Why, Wake up The Mountain, The Time of the Oath, Before the War, Power, and Steel Tormentor). This is their first live album in seven years. The performances are quite good, and there is some good screaming by Deris at the beginning of Mr. Ego. The raw production captures the energy of the live show well, and the faster versions of the songs enhances this effect. The liner notes include a plethora of pictures of the band playing live, as well as lyrics of the album. There is a lot of crowd chanting which has its moments but which also gets annoying at times. The two-disc release has captured the feeling of a live show really well---in fact, as I was listening to it, the impression that a Helloween concert was actually happening. For now, I guess that's the best we in the U.S. can get!
Helloween's latest effort is more neo-classically oriented than any other previous release (for example, the first track Deliberately Limited is a classical music composition in its own right). At the same time, this is also one of the hardest albums Helloween have released, deviating from their standard speed metal style into more a brutal/aggressive one. This means the guitar riffs themselves might not be as catchy as in the past, but the songs do have their trademark sing along choruses and searing guitar solos. The biggest problem with this album is the vocal mix---Andreas Deris sounds like he's singing a mile away from the rest of the band. Other than that, the chemistry between the band continues to be excellent! A great follow up to Master of the Rings and The Time of the Oath.