Founding member Kai Hansen and iconic vocalist Michael Kiske returning to the legendary Helloween for a massive seven man lineup - including three vocalists - was an event unheralded that shook the power metal world. It’s been near a half decade since the legendary pumpkins united and set out around the world for massive touring, and finally the reunion culminates in new, original music. Appropriately self titled, Helloween is the band’s sixteenth full length and in many ways it dwarfs a lot of what came before it. Stylistically it’s still fairly close to the modern era Helloween in terms of sound and production, while some of the tracks obviously hearken back to the old school days of the Walls of Jericho (1985) (though less speed and more melody) and the two Keeper albums. The songwriting marks it as a diverse affair, and sometimes that diversity comes across as jumbled and struggling to find its identity. Great songs that immediately ascend to the pumpkin skies mingle with tracks that just seem to go by the numbers.
Massively lauded before its release, the album is definitely not the masterpiece early reviews claim it is, and I refuse to budge on this point. Too long for its own good, the album is basically bookended by its strongest material, with the middle pieces adding the brunt of the middle of the road safe play that pads the runtime. Among such soaring anthems as Out for the Glory and massive power metal bangers like Fear of the Fallen are more tepid and forgettable numbers as Angels and Rise Without Chains. These aren’t bad songs per se, they’re just not up to snuff to the greatest highs. From the 65 minute runtime you could easily cut three or four songs and land on a more concise album, removing the weaker material; it’s clear they’ve crammed as much as they could on here. Still, there is enough great stuff on here to mark this the band’s greatest album in quite some time. While it doesn’t possess the magic of The Time of the Oath (1996) or the infectious dark aura of The Dark Ride (2000) - let alone the original majesty of the original Keeper albums - it still shows the guys are having heaps of fun and know to play to their strengths.
Kiske lets loose much like Sammet’s had him do on his last couple of Avantasia guest spots, his high register and shouts having lost none of their potency. Meanwhile Deris holds a more reserved spot, letting Kiske take the forefront. He still shows his gritty chops and power in phenomenal moments like Fear of the Fallen and speed power fest Down in the Dumps. Hansen back on guitar duty alongside Michael Weikath is a thing of beauty in tracks like Out for the Glory and the massive Skyfall, with Sascha Gerstner pumping in more fuel for the fire. Hansen penned epic Skyfall is both lead single (albeit then in a slightly edited seven minute form) and the climax of the album. And what a tune. If the rest of the album held to this standard we’d be sitting on the power metal album of the decade, at least. Written much like an Avantasia epic it is the ultimate showcase of the Helloween tour de force; Markus Grosskopf’s thick ass bass lines bristle mightily alongside the triple guitar threat while the three vocalists all pick off each other in harmonic power. Easily one of the greatest tracks in an illustrious career. With a few cuts and twists this album could be the masterpiece some say it is. That’s not the reality we got, but it’s still a highly enjoyable venture to the skies and beyond for fans of any Helloween era.
Standout tracks: Out for the Glory, Robot King, Down in the Dumps, Skyfall