Posts Tagged ‘Deris’

Helloween – Keeper Of The Seven Keys: The Legacy

In 2005; 18 years after they changed the world of Power Metal forever by releasing their landmark album Keeper Of The Seven Keys Prt 1, the legendary German band Helloween released Keeper Of The Seven Keys: The Legacy… a lengthy double album which pays homage to that classic and its 1988 follow up.

It’s a bit of a strange move however. When people think of Keeper Of The Seven Keys 1 & 2, they usually (rightly or wrongly) think of the unique guitar work of Kai Hansen, the thunderous and unique drumming of Ingo Schwichenberg, and the unique (sensing a theme here?) vocal talents of Michael Kiske. Something about the strange alchemy of the mix of those people’s talents and their coming of age resulted in two of the genre’s most memorable ever releases.

It would make sense, sort of, that after some media people and grumpy long term fans accused the band of losing their way with the down tuned The Dark Ride and the very diverse Rabbit Don’t Come Easy albums, which weren’t to everyone’s taste no matter how good they actually were, that the band might want to recapture that magic and channel something that harkens back to those early albums which everyone enjoys. However; first of all, three fifths of the line-up were out of the picture (arguably the most memorable three members, rightly or wrongly), and secondly the band had done well finding their own sound and style ever since Andi Deris joined the band and reinvigorated them after a short identity crisis.  Surely the band hadn’t spent the last decade proving themselves, and making themselves modern and credible as more than just a nostalgia act, to all of a sudden remind everyone of the Keepr era and invite more comparisons, ignite more reunion demands, and generally play down all the good work they’d been doing since Master Of The Rings?

Well; that’s the choice that the band made. So the band, with Andi Deris on vocals, Sascha Gerstner of guitars and now debuting new drummer Daniel Loeb for the first time, attempted to make Keepers music in a new millennium with a new line-up. But wait, weren’t there two Keepers albums? No problem, make it a double album. Oh, wasn’t there a lengthy semi-epic on both those albums? No problem, put one on both discs of this new double album. Wasn’t it not actually a concept album and so difficult to make a sequel to? Well… make a lyrical sequel to the title-track then…and make a the album artwork look like a sequel and its close enough.

Yes, you can see how it looks like a sequel to those records and therefore why it would make fans who’ve been ignoring the band since those glory days check them out once more. I think this was a mistake though. All you’re going to do is make people who think modern Helloween is rubbish come out of the woodwork to say “Modern Helloween is Rubbish! And this isn’t as good as the Keepers albums.” Here’s why: You can do all you want to make it look like a sequel, but it doesn’t actually sound like a sequel. Why not let those people who already jumped ship just stay away, and instead concentrate on all the people who appreciate what you’re doing now and have the album be judged on its own musical merits instead of how it feels compared to an almost two decade old masterpiece made by mostly different people?

You see the frustrating thing about it all is that the worst thing about this album is that very fact. This album is a poor sequel to the Keepers. Its not a Keepers album. Gamma Ray’s Land Of The Free album is about the closest thing anyone has done to the Keepers since (incidentally it was written by Kai Hansesn and had guest vocals from Michael Kiske), and even that was a one-off. It might be unfair to overlook the contributions of Markus Grosskofp and Michael Weikath on the origionals but realistically, it was always the other three guys people talked about the most (again I’ll say, “rightly or wrongly”).

The main reason you’ll read so many negative reviews about this album is down to that fact… it more or less says it is Keepers 3, and it doesn’t sound like Keepers 3, so automatically people will say it has failed, and will more than likely say they don’t like it too.

The thing of it is though…. Keeper Of The Seven Keys The Legacy is a damn good album. It’s a damn good modern Power Metal album with Progressive Metal leanings (like fellow Power Metal heroes Blind Guardian and Stratovarius were already doing at the time). It’s a damn fine Deris era Helloween album. It may not be a good follow-up to Keeper 1 & 2 but it is an excellent follow up to Master Of The Rings and Time Of The Oath.

The album sees the band mixing their happy, pleasant, commercial Power Metal stylings of the recent decade with pianos/choirs/strings/Theremin sounds (all made by a keyboard though), as well as samples, and guest female vocals from Candice Night.

Both discs open up with an ambitious multipart track that’s length runs past 10 minutes, and the rest of the songs are a mixture of everything the band have been doing in the last decade mixed together. You’ll find some riffs that would be at home on Better Than Raw, some solos that sound straight off Master Of The Rings, song structures reminiscent of Rabbit Don’t Come Easy and even the odd beefy mid paced bit here and there that wouldn’t be too out of place on The Dark Ride. This album is really more of a culmination of everything good about the first decade with Deris in the band, rather than a throwback to the 1980s.

Its long, dense, complex and not all that easily digestible on first listen. It might take a bit of persistence to “get” but it is a really rewarding “grower” of an album that rewards repeat listens and has plenty of variety to keep your interest going. Its an album that sounds better a month after you bought it. It sounds better six months after that.

Highlights include the bright and breezy ‘Get It Up,’ the sing-along fun of ‘Silent Rain,’ as well as the fine balance of Prog and straight ahead Melodic Power Metal that is ‘The Invisible Man.’ ‘King For 1000 Years’ is probably the biggest, most interesting and most memorable moment of the record, its chocked full of excellent parts and tells a great little story lyrically.

Overall; if you come to this album expecting anything that sounds like Keeper Of The Seven Keys then prepare to be disappointed, and really, it was a bit of a daft idea for the band to set themselves up in that situation. However, in its own right, on its own merits, judged for what it is and who made it rather than against a peerless classic, ‘The Legacy is a fine collection of catchy, memorable, well-written modern songs that grow on you more with each listen. Basically the only flaws it has are to do with the length making it difficult to get into at first, and the aforementioned sonic difference between it and the Keepers being needlessly highlighted at a point of their career where it should no longer have been an issue.

If you like Deris era Helloween, pick up a copy. If you don’t, stay away. If you are new to the band and have a fresh copy of Keepers part 1 and 2 in your hands and don’t know where to go next… in all honesty I’d say avoid this for at least a year and pick up either Walls Of Jericho, Time Of The Oath or Gamma Ray’s Land Of The Free instead.

Hello and welcome once more to yet another edition of my blog series, Get (Into) What You Paid For; a series in which I blog about music and media I own, to distract myself from the fact that I am sworn off buying anything new for a month (or in this case, two months).

Its day 52. 52 days without buying myself anything. I think that’s a new record. I don’t think, since getting my first job at 16, ten years ago, that I’ve ever went this long without buying something along the lines of a book, cd, dvd, videogame etc. for myself. I’m a big old spoiled Western consumer of the hardest core.

I’m also tempted to break my pledge not to buy anything because Batman Contagion is on eBay at the minute for only £4 and that’s been on my wishlist for a year now. Time will only tell if I break my resolve and buy it. Maybe someone else will buy it first and the problem will go away.

I’ve also saw in town a shop selling In The Court Of The Crimson King on Vinyl. Its £17 though, and for my use of it as merely a poster for my wall, that’s not worth it. Why is no one selling it used for £3? Anyway…

Its been an excellent few weeks. I’ve been eating super healthy (constant soups full of dozens of veg, and smoothies full of dozens of fruit and veg, adding spinach to normal meals, eating less meat, massively reducing my intake of junk food, almost giving up chocolate completely) and I’ve been exercising a lot (going for walks almost daily, lifting weights frequently). Most of this was in the sun and away from the city, but even this last week when I did return to the city, I’ve kept it up. I even kept it up yesterday on my first day back at Uni. Next week, with a return to work, and full-week Uni, will be the real challenge.

At any rate, everyone is telling me I’ve lost weight. To the point where I actually believe it. Take home message: get more vitamins and go for walks = Thin Jim. Hopefully I can keep it up.

During this time, I’ve been experiencing the delights of Manowar, the new Down EP, a whole heap of Accept, some early Savatage, and trying out Minor Threat.

I’ve also been gifted a butt-load of comics related stuff which I shall try tonight after weightlifting. Those two things, lifting and comics, (with a healthy dose of Hammerfall in the background), should help me stay off eBay and avoid breaking my pledge.

Also, my house mates got me the newest Judas Priest and Trivium albums, as well as Ozzy’s Tribute live album with Randy Rhodes, and Soundgarden’s recently reissued debut EP, Screaming For Life/Fopp. I’ll deny myself these goodies now, and open them in a month, so I have something to look forward to in a month, and hopefully that will stop me buying any new music between now and then. Even if buying Raven or Tank albums on iTunes is tempting….

Anyway; here’s what else I’ve been up to, in order to distract myself from my materialism.

First off, for my own entertainment, and your information, I’ve complied the following list:

Albums I Have Fallen Completely Obsessively In Love With, in roughly chronological order of it happening:

Protest The Hero – Kezia
Gallows – Grey Britain
Helloween – Keeper Of The Seven Keys Parts 1 & 2
Queensryche – Operation Mindcrime
Accept – Stalingrad
Rishloo – Feathergun
Chimaira – The Infection
Mastodon – Crack The Skye
Kiss – Alive
Genesis – The Lamb Lies Down On Broadway
Jethro Tull – Thick As A Brick
Gentle Giant – Octopus
Pink Floyd – The Wall
Arctic Monkeys – Whatever People Say I Am’
Forbidden – Forbidden Evil
Megadeth – So Far So Good So What
Anthrax – Among The Living
Pantera – Vulgar Display Of Power
Powerman 5000 – Tonight The Stars Revolt
Jetplane Landing – Once Like A Spark
The Libertines – S/T
Mudvayne – The End Of All Things To Come
Slipknot – S/T
Green Day – Warning

I also had huge Led Zeppelin, Nirvana, Napalm Death and Monster Magnet periods, but no single album ended up getting the focus of that huge obsession. Zyklon, Carpathian Forest, Mars Volta, Riverside and Gamma Ray are all almost up there for an album each (Aeon, Defending The Throne Of Evil, Ochtahedron, ADHD and Land Of The Free) but I can’t bring myself to fully commit to writing them down for some reason. Motley Crue’s Theater Of Pain is kind of getting this way at the minute so we’ll see how it pans out, its probably the newest name on the list. Some that are up there have faded, but some are as strong as ever.

Now here’s what I’ve been distracting myself with recently, excluding the aforementioned birthday gifts (I’ve been absolutely hammering Manowar, and that new Fratellis album):









I really like the Alice In Chains demo “Social Parasite” …its quite good fun.

I’m thinking of digging into some really under-listened albums next, like the Napalm Death covers albums, Anathema’s Falling Deeper, Sodom’s debut, Fear Factory’s Soul Of A New Machine and Forbidden’s Green. Then I think, maybe I listen to them so little because they aren’t good.

I remember going back and listening to all my Nu Metal albums like Static X and Spineshank and Ill Nino for a similar reason, but I never blogged about it because I was so snowed under with Uni essays at the time. I found that to be be a worthy exercise for surprise enjoyment (“Ostego Undead” is more fun than I remember), so maybe listening to records that I think of as duds may prove worthwhile too.

I’ll let you know what I chose. Right now I’m off to lift weights while watching the Justice League cartoon. See you soon…

Hello and welcome once more to yet another edition of my blog series, Get (Into) What You Paid For; a series in which I blog about music and media I own, to distract myself from the fact that I am sworn off buying anything new for a month (or in this case, two months).

Its day 40, and I haven’t spent anything new in the last three days… hey, I’m getting the hang of this! Maybe if I keep this going long enough I’ll be able to break free of the habit of spending so frequently. I could use that money for fresh fruit and vegetables! (I’m on a health kick at the moment and that seems like the best use of my money in my current state of mind). I’ve also been experimenting with baking and online grocery shopping with mixed results. I’m planning on being a more successful human being for the next year, more organized and nourished and with more strings to my bow.

Continuing this self-improvement theme, I’ve also decided to cycle for 20-minutes after work every day from when I return to work following my current time-off, all the way up until Christmas. To sure-up this decision, I spent last night making dozens of 20-minute playlists in iTunes for cycling to. (Well, most of them end up being 22 minutes). The main theme of each playlist is pick about 5 songs from about 5 different artists within one subgenre.

So for example: 1 Saxon song, 1 Diamond Head song, 1 Iron Maiden song, 1 Angel Witch Song, 1 Motorhead song…. and then call that playlist “NWOBHM 1.”

In this spirit I have made: 9 Classic Rock Lists, 9 Thrash Metal lists, 9 NWOBHM/Early Metal lists, 9 Thrash Metal lists, 8 Glam Metal lists, 6 Power Metal lists, 5 Metalcore lists, 4 Groove Metal lists, 2 NYHC lists, 2 Indie Lists, 2 Nu Metal lists, 1 Stoner Rock list, and 1 Melodeath list.

Oh yeah, and two lists of Thrash bands’ ‘90s hits…like “Symphony Of Destruction,’ ‘Only,’ ‘Enter Sandman’ etc.

I only chose jaunty up-tempo songs; no ballads, no interludes, no intros, no doomy songs, nothing proggy… just stuff that would make me want to continue cycling. Its basically that I always get a shower when I get home from work, but I am always hesitant to do any exercise once I’ve had a shower because it’s a waste of water and therefore money, and so I’ve decided that I could squeeze in a small bit of exercise after each work day so its not too tiring (and get rewarded by hearing 5 or so classic songs) but since I’ll still work up a sweat it would be advisable before my usual post-work shower. Hopefully it makes me squeeze in exercise all the time, rather than doing it properly when I’m in the mood, but more often ending up doing nothing when it can’t be done right… as they say: “Don’t let Perfect be the enemy of Good.”

Anyway, enough health propaganda, on to the main article:

Since my recent birthday, I’ve been describing how I’ve been reading Martin Popoff’s Top 500 Metal Albums book, and this has not changed. I’ve been happily reading away at this yesterday too, now up to around number-300. It’s a damn good book and I highly recommend it. Even if there are a few small mistakes (eg. he said that Michael Kiske was the singer on Helloween’s Walls Of Jerhico, but it was really Kai Hansen) and sometimes his sentences lack all grammatical logic or you can tell he forgot to type words here and there, it is still a very entertaining and well put-together product.

I’ve also spent the last few days listening to the following albums:

I decided to put this record on again because I recently read an article online which was about biggest disappointments/flops. Untouchables was in it. I thought to myself…”surely not?” I remembered at the time, everyone loved it. They filmed the successful comeback show with loads of songs from it. People on Metal podcasts I listened to remembered it fondly. I listened to it again last night, and yeah, there’s a wee bit of filler (like EVERY Korn record) but it is in no way a weak album for them, plus lead single and album opener “Here To Stay” is just an absolute smasher! Oh yeah, and I looked it up on Wikipedia this morning and that also suggests it is one of the band’s most popular albums. What about the verse to “Embrace” ? …or the chorus to “Wake Up Hate” ?

Disappointment? Pfft…

This album is a weird one for me; I listen to tracks from it almost daily on shuffle, but I have this weird “I don’t listen to this album enough” feeling all the time because I don’t sit down and listen to it in its entirety often enough. Well, I tried to put that right, and its one of my favourite Motorhead records when you add up all the songs I like (although I just usually don’t listen to them together… something it shares in common with Faith No More’s Angel Dust as a matter of fact). Some people called this one a disappointment, or dislike the production. Not me, I love it. Love it all. So many great tracks. Great atmosphere. Its charming. “(Don’t Let ‘Em) Grind Ya Down” is especially fun. Heck it all is; no filler!

I listened to this yesterday whilst weightlifting because I have elderly neighbors in my temporary accommodation and I didn’t want them to have to hear Hatebreed, which is what I was really in the mood for at the time, but I’m a considerate neighbor when all is said and done.

I remember I bought this for super-cheap (around a penny I seem to recall, or maybe one pound at an absolute maximum!) just to have something to talk about with a coworker in my last job, who had an Alkaline Trio tattoo. I’m not really keen on it. I always liked their single “Private Eye” but unfortunately its about the only song on this album that is memorable. Its all competent but its just a bit bland and forgettable. Oh well, a Penny for a few conversations and “Private Eye” …not too much of a waste. Its not like I’ll have to quit doing fucked-up shit.

I’ve mentioned before about how I got this in 2010 and never felt like I’d listened to it enough. I still feel that way. Even with a recent attempt at a revival of it by adding it to my phone on work trips and during my Dutch holiday. To its credit, there are some great songs on the record, like the Title Track, “The Alchemist” and “Talisman.” I just somehow never feel like I give it enough attention though. I’ll keep trying, because it is good, its just… demanding.

This was a birthday gift. It’s the modern Helloween line-up trying to do their version of the Keepers’ albums. BOTH Keepers! It’s a double album, each with a 10 minute epic, a few fast thrashers, a ballad each, and a fun off-the wall song.

Its kind of exhausting. I can tell there’s good stuff on it, because I like Deris-era Helloween a lot anyway. But, its just a huge amount to take in at once. Without the mental division of individual albums the way the original Keepers Part 1 & 2 had. You feel overworked listening to it.

Some people are down on sequel albums, especially those late in a career. I like Operation Mindcrime 2 and Thick As A Brick 2 though… so I’ll give this one a chance as well. It just might take a long time to absorb.


I went for a run the other day, and the soundtrack to this sweaty affair was the suitably sweaty Manowar albums I got for my birthday, all together (Not just the one pictured, but Triumph Of Steel and Fighting The World too) on shuffle. These albums are really growing on me. Sure the drum solos in “Achilles” are pace-killers and that spoken word track is too long, but this is a seriously fun band with some seriously great Metal songs to offer. All of their fast songs are almost instant-favourites of mine, catapulted into Best Of playlists already. This is a good boxset and these albums are showing some real promise to join the best of Helloween and Gamma Ray at the top of my Power Metal pile… almost eclipsing Stratovarius already!

Absolute masterpiece. I’ve spent enough time talking about it. I think its one of the best records ever made, by anyone. I just need to listen to it regularly because I don’t want it to slip out of listening. (Once I let “Crack The Skye” go, it didn’t come back the same).

Another birthday gift. Very fun, pleasant, upbeat and happy record. Perfect listening for this sunshine, and for this good-mood inspired by the exercise and healthy-eating zone I’m in. Also nice and brief, lightweight and succinct. Easily digestible, quick and cheerful stuff for instant gratification and no-brains smiles being put on my face.

I’ve tried once more last night, despite feeling like it wasn’t very good and even with new attention, I just don’t really like this album much at all. I really like their debut, don’t get me wrong, its not just thoughtless Poison-bashing here, I just don’t like this Posion album. This one is just a bit empty. There’s nothing in the style I want from them, and there’s no catchy perfect fun in an alternative style to the one I want either. Its just very bland and unexciting. Nothing “grabs” me.

Halfway between the first and the third. Not just as memorable as their debut, or as forgettable as their third album, this has stuff going for it, but isn’t “wow, this album is great!” either. An enjoyable listen, that will eventually be boiled down to just the best few tracks and mostly ignored otherwise. I like “Back On The Rocking Horse,” “Bad To Be Good,” and “Look But You Can’t Touch” as well as the Kiss-esque hit single “Nuthin But A Good Time” of course.

I used to listen to this all the time last year. It got pushed out by new purchases. I still tend to listen to the post-Ralph albums a lot, but the first three of their albums have done a runner from my limited-storage-space phone long ago, which is a shame really, they deserve more attention. I’m pushing them back in now though. How can you argue with “Money” on a sunny day?

I’ve been listening to this constantly since its release, and so this listen here is just another go-round, rather than any attempt to appreciate an under-appreciated hidden gem. I’ve been constantly listening to it all year because its really good! …Even their absolutely shoddy live gig this time last year didn’t stop this being a good record in my eyes.

I enjoyed listening to it out in the sun today whilst chopping down (or rather trimming to acceptable tidiness, its not like I actually felled them with an axe) the trees surrounding my current accommodation, in the glorious sunshine. The title track and “Fall From Grace” are brilliant cheerful songs to hack trees by! (Although maybe I should’ve listened to Rush, now that I think about it… that’d be good, ey? I wonder if the neighbors would’ve got the joke?).

It took a long time to trim those trees. This was the second album I put on, because its not too-heavy for neighbors. I love this album, any excuse to listen to it is fine by me… even if my thumbs are covered in blisters afterwards! Good album. “Sleeping By Myself Tonight” is superb.

Man, I just never listen to this. I’ve owned it at least a decade, and I think I’ve listened to it fewer than twenty times in all that time (shame it wasn’t Somewhere In Time so I could use yet another “time” in that sentence), with about ten of those listens being made in the same month I bought it.

I love the title track (man, title tracks are usually great, aren’t they?) and “Be Quick Or Be Dead,” which I will always love for its Carmaggeddon 2 memories! (It was in that game’s soundtrack beside “The Trooper” and “Man On The Edge.”) Other than those two tracks however, I almost don’t even recognize over half of the record. I wasn’t even all that fond of it when I listened to it yesterday again either. I must try yet again tomorrow! Maybe it’s a grower, and I’ve never put enough time into it?

This album is fantastic. Its taken me years to think that though. A bit of backstory: I bought Cowboys’ and Vulgar’ on the same day on a Dublin holiday when I was about 12 or 13. I loved Vulgar instantly and forever. The high screams and weird production (and infuriating lack of snare drums on “Primal Concrete Sledge”) on Cowboys however, at the time made me think of it as being bad and cheesy and out-dated and un-Pantera, and for about two years afterwards I only liked the title track. (Title Tracks again, see?). Over the years I’ve liked more and more of it, and getting into thrash unlocked more of its charm, getting into Maiden unlocked yet more. Getting into Priest unlocked the final missing piece. Now I love every second of it… it just took me a while. A kid who mostly listens to Powerman 5000 and Limp Bizkit doesn’t have the palate suitable for “Heresy” or “Psycho Holiday” just yet. Well, it was worth the wait!

Another “I am listening to this all the time anyway” album. I’m surprised how much I’ve come to really enjoy this record. It’s also “unlocked” the band’s first two albums for me, and I can appreciate them as real music now, instead of just a clown-parade of druggy chancers and womanizers writing 80% filler and getting unnaturally lucky with a few hits, like I used to view them. Moving on…

Yet another “I am listening to this all the time anyway” album, like the above. This is my definite album of the summer. It will likely be my album of the year at this rate. Every listen and it gets better, just like Stalingrad did. I’ll be watching the free Blu Ray a lot over the rest of the year too. Good value. I’ve been avoiding new albums recently because I can get boxsets of albums for the same price as individual new albums, and about 5 cheap old albums for the price of one new album, so it just seems wasteful to buy new albums…. This one however was unarguable value for money considering how much enjoyment and use I got out of it!

When I first got the boxset of Dokken’s first five albums (well, four and a live album), I sort of overlooked this one a lot. I’m slowly rectifying that oversight. “Paris Is Burning” and “Live To Rock (Rock To Live)” are excellent jaunty Judas Priest-style Speed Metal tracks (although with a softer production, admittedly).

This still isn’t my favourite Dokken album, or one I’d share with any friends who don’t listen to this sort of thing to convert them, but it’s a nice enough album and worth my time.

This is a classic, everyone loves it. Its not hard to see why. Phil’s voice is excellent here, Pepper and Kirk’s riffs are really memorable and everyone loves a bit of Bower Power, that Bonham-esque groove he can inject songs with really putting the cherry on top.

Good songs (most of a Down setlist most times, ey?), great performances, faultless production… pretty good record. Its not even monotonous, there’s plenty of variety from the brief stunners like “Lifer” and “Hail To The Leaf” and then the acoustic “Jail,” for variety, yet further diversified by the unique genre-of-one in hit single “Stone The Crow” and then topped-off by the big weighty monolith of an album-closer (and live-favourite) “Bury Me In Smoke.”

Its just all good, and there’s a nice mix so you aren’t bored or wore-down. I just need to remind myself to listen to it as often as I listen to Pantera or C.O.C. I’ve been constantly hammering The Purple EP all year, or at least its highlights, so I’ve probably been getting enough Down overall that I didn’t notice the dip in NOLA plays, but Martin Popoff’s book just reminded me to go back to the reason I liked Down in the first place.

I listen to the title track (how many times with the title tracks?) and “Rock N Roll Rebel” all the time, and I have it on Vinyl mounted on my wall, and I listened to the whole record all the time for about a year after I got it… but I’ve noticed a massive decrease in listens recently. I’ve just put it on again (another Popoff inspired move) and noticed that apart from the aforementioned hits, I’ve forgotten most of this record, and there’ actually a lot more good moments on here than I’ve been giving it credit for recently, certainly since last Christmas I’ve not listened to it in full. Well, now I have once more, and it was entertaining. Not the best Ozzy album, but better than the two-tracks-only footnote that I’ve been treating it as! Also the bonus track “One Up The B Side” is great, despite its cheesy joke title.

I bought a set of the first two V.O.D. albums a while back, around the same time I bought the boxset of Life Of Agony albums (I remember mixing the two bands up because of their triple-word names with “of” in the center, their association with ‘90s American Hardcore, and both having tracks with “River” in the title. This “River” song has a guest appearance from Phil Anselmo, Life Of Agony’s didn’t.

I ended up becoming a real fan of the Life Of Agony material… but upon initial listen I wasn’t keen on V.O.D. much at all. Their albums seemed like an exhausting barrage of samey, brash, rough-around-the-edges violence. To be fair, that’s still true, but its more of a compliment than an insult. This album is full of absolutely brilliant tracks. Each one, in isolation, is a blow-away-the-cobwebs breath of fresh air… intense, threatening and very very lively. Their singer reminds me of Chimaira’s Mark Hunter a little… but a less melodic, more screamy version.

Highlights for me are “Jada Bloom,” “Twelve Steps To Nothing” and “Landslide.” I’m warming to this album, its just a bit exhausting all at once… they’re still a band I can only take in small doses.

Another Popoff inspiration. I bought this record around this time last year, wasn’t amazingly sold on it really, and kind of just listened to it in small doses here and there from then on, with decreasing frequency until its now mostly ignored altogether. I stuck it on yesterday and was really impressed, there’s a whole heap of stolen Anthrax, Megadeth and Overkill parts and apart from the slow, grungy tempos and Rob’s unusual voice, this is pretty much a nice Thrash album. “Thrust” and “Black Sunshine” are good. The only problem with the album is that the band seem a bit too relaxed, too calm, holding back a bit. V.O.D are too unhinged and aggressive and abrasive, put this is the opposite end of the spectrum… its very chilled out and softened-down. You can tell the songs are good though, it’d be cool to hear them covered by someone with a bit of energy. Perhaps V.O.D. could cover them and split the difference?

This album is associated with sunshine for me. I was listening to it in the wonderful sunshine in the zoo in Rotterdamn, and I listened to it today whilst going out on a long walk in the countryside while trying to put more of this healthy stuff into action and make the most of this last week away before its back to early 4am work mornings and grey city sludge. The whole album is so bright and clean and uplifting that really sunshine is the only environment in which you could take it seriously… you already need a big smile on your face before it even starts.

What about the record itself? I used to think it was pretty samey, pretty bland, and lacking in the x-factor of its more famous cousin Inhuman Rampage. Listening to it carefully for the first time today, I guess that’s only half true… there’s a little more to things here than I initially credited it with, and while it can wear a little thin all at once its pretty much an honest record with good intentions. Not soon to become a favourite, but worth a few more listens at least.

Ok. That’s enough for one article. I’ve dropped my thoughts on most of the albums I’ve been listening to in the last three days; I’ll leave discussions of Death, Carcass, Cro-Mags and Deicide to another time as I’m pretty sure most people will’ve stopped reading by now anyway.

Oh well, it stopped me from splashing out on Spiderman comic collections, Early ‘80s American Hardcore bands’ debut albums, Musician’s biographies (Five Finger Death Punch’s drummer has a book out!?) and all the live concert DVDs going at the minute (or indeed b-sides and bonus tracks to albums I have but haven’t got all the bonus material from.)

‘Til we meet again…

Here’s a quick list, and series of thoughts, on all the blog-related purchases I’ve made in the last while. I haven’t had time to give them all their own articles yet, so I’m going to give them all a short round-up here:

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Helloween - High Live

Helloween – High Live

High Live is a concert DVD by the legendary German Power Metal band Helloween, recorded in Milan, Italy (and Gerona, Spain) in 1996 on the Time Of The Oath tour.

The main feature is a scorching 84-minute concert, in which an energetic and totally on-form band blast through a lot of material from Master Of The Rings and Time Of The Oath to an enthusiastic crowd. Just going off the performance, this is an absolute 5-star live album.

Songs like “Sole Survivor,” “Before The War” and “Power” sound absolutely blistering here, and I’d highly recommend checking it out on that basis. Andi’s vocals on his own material are absolutely excellent on this release, and Uli’s powerful, understated drumming absolutely kills.

There are a few downsides to the overall product however, such as the picture being a little soft and not the sharpest. The sound is pretty great in one way, and you really get that “live feel,” but you have to turn it up fairly loud for it to become clear, as things can sound a bit muddy on low volumes. Nothing show-destroying though.

The other potential downside is that at the end of some songs, it stops, when they cut to the other concert (eg. from Italy to Spain) and the transition isn’t perfectly smooth, which may interrupt the flow a little. Luckily this never happens in the middle of songs or anything outrageous like that, and for the most part isn’t actually too disruptive.

Apart from that, this is a pretty great main feature all round, and shows the band proving why they are still one of the biggest names in Power Metal. In terms of bonus features: There is a text “History” feature, a discography feature and a photo gallery. All your standard ‘90s DVD extras that don’t add too much really, but look good written on the back of the box.

There is also a five minute “review” feature by Malcolm Dome, which is a brief Metal Evolution style history lesson with a mixture of archive footage of the band and talking-head footage of Dome. The dialogue is a bit stiff and the audio is a bit muffled, but as a free extra its still worth a watch.

The track-listing for the main concert is:

1. We Burn
2. Wake Up The Mountain
3. Sole Survivor
4. The Change
5. Why
6. Eagle Fly Free
7. Time Of The Oath
8. Future World
9. Dr. Stein
10. Before The War
11. Mr Ego
12. Power
13. Where The Rain Grows
14. In The Middle Of A Heartbeat
15. Perfect Gentleman
16. Steel Tormentor

Overall; If you like the band, especially if you like the Deris era, then it’s a pretty worthwhile purchase. It shows the band at their Europe-conquering best, dripping with enthusiasm and playing like they mean it. The sound and editing are a tiny bit imperfect, but the band themselves more than make up for it.

Helloween - Straight Out Of Hell

Helloween – Straight Out Of Hell

Helloween’s fourteenth full-length studio album, Straight Out Of Hell, is a damn strong release that sees the legendary German Power Metal band at the top of their game, doing what they do best and doing it well. For me, this would definitely rate as being in the top half of their discography and something that all but the most casual Helloween fans should definitely pick up and give some serious attention to.

Maybe it was the line-up stability (fourth album in a row with the same line-up!), maybe it was the fact that the band were nearing their thirtieth anniversary or maybe it was simply serendipity, but this album really nails what this band are all about and what they should be doing at this stage in time. The 2013 album does a remarkable job of balancing “dishing out more of the core Helloween sound,” with playing in different moods and mixing things up just a little. You can hear brief touches of the sounds from every Helloween album since Deris joined the band. The fast, the slow, the conservative, the experimental, the happy, the serious, the heavy, the mellow… its all in here; in a tasteful and well-balanced, cohesive whole.

‘Straight Out Of Hell,’ ‘Far From The Stars,’ ‘Burning Sun,’ ‘Years,’ and ‘Make Fire Catch The Fly’ are all exactly what you would want or expect from Helloween. That sort of happy sounding, melodic Power Metal with catchy sing-along choruses, thundering double kicks, lots of gorgeous dual-guitar harmonies and virtuosic lead guitar playing. (‘World At War,’ is that sort of style as well, only with extra heavy verses reminiscent of Helloween’s earlier The Dark Ride album added in there too for good measure). So if you want traditional Helloween, you’ve got it, in spades.

There’s also a fair amount of variety on offer here too. Opener ‘Nabatea’ – a history lesson about an ancient race of people called the Nabateans; is a brilliant, energetic, slightly progressive tune that goes through a lot of different moods and flavours. It might take a few active-listens to get the full effect, but there are some seriously excellent parts on this track. The bit behind the lyric ‘though they had no slaves, believe it or not!’ is absolutely joyous. I remember hearing the chorus to this around the time of the record’s release and not liking it, and so delaying purchasing this album by a few months – big mistake! This is a very good song indeed and really impresses upon closer inspection.

Closer ‘Church Breaks Down’ is also a multi-faceted, semi-progressive number, which feels like it would fit well on their classic Time Of The Oath album. There are hints of piano, and slower parts layered in amongst the happy-sounding speed metal influenced sections.

Then bringing the speed down further, there’s the track ‘Asshole’ which has a kind of bouncy, Master Of The Rings feel to it at times, as well as ‘Live Now!’ which is very much the traditional Helloween single, (like previous singles ‘Mr. Torture,’ ‘Mrs. God,’ or ‘Perfect Gentleman’). You know the kind… It’s not very representative of the album’s direction overall, as it’s the only song that sounds this way.

‘Waiting For The Thunder’ is another mid-tempo, keyboard-tinged melodic number that initially seems like its going to be a soppy ballad, but is actually a pretty driving track once it gets going. Then of course comes the actual ballad ‘Hold Me In Your Arms;’ there’s always at least one per album, and here its quite a tasteful one – if you liked ‘If I Could Fly’ then you’ll probably get along with this just fine. Finally in the variety stakes, there’s the brief experimental track ‘Wanna Be God,’ which is a rhythmic, tribal call to arms that sounds like the score from the scene in a movie where the barbarian army are flexing and showing off before the actual fight.

The large mix of styles found on the record is offset well by the continuous reintroduction of up-tempo, gloriously happy sounding speed metal sections. This cements a feeling of consistency. When combined with the quality of the musicianship and the well-structured songs it all really adds up to something even better than the sum of its parts.

On top of that, the whole record is just an absolute guitarist’s dream. The leads and solos are absolutely wonderful; at times fun, at times impressive, at times evocative and interesting. Backed up by up by Löble’s weighty drumming and a clear production job, these songs really “pop.” There’ll always be that extra something in there that will allow a song to stand out, but everything will always feel like it belongs.

All in all, this is an excellent release. Lapsed fans should consider picking up a copy to see what the band are up to nowadays, casual fans should consider picking up a copy to find out why they should become more than casual fans, and active fans simply should not be without this strong and succinct distillation of everything that’s great about modern Helloween.

Helloween - 7 Sinners

Helloween – 7 Sinners

In 2010, Helloween decided to take things in a darker, heavier and more serious direction with their 13th full-length studio album, 7 Sinners. While still unmistakably a Deris-era Helloween record full of gorgeous dual lead guitars, thundering double-kicks and character-filled vocal performances, the overall attitude is just a little less fun and a little more aggressive. The guitar tone has a harsher bite too.

For the perfect example of what the band are doing here, listen to the single “Are You Metal?” and pay attention to the music underneath the guitar solo. Then listen to the first heavy riff on “Who Is Mr. Madman?” – See? It’s the Deris-era Helloween sound, but darker, harder, and heavier. Songs like “Long Live The King” still have huge sing-along melodies and soaring triumphant guitar lines that you want from Helloween, but they simply crush as well.

It sounds kind of like a mixture between the heaviest parts of 2000’s The Dark Ride and 2007’s Gambling With The Devil albums.

Ok. So its heavier than their usual style, but is it also good? Yes. Yes, its very good. There are memorable choruses in spades, great guitar solos, fun drum fills and a very smart balance of consistency with variety. You won’t get bored, but it feels like a cohesive “whole.”

Standout tracks include Grosskopf’s fantastic contributions “World Of Fantasty,” and “If A Mountain Could Talk” as well as the fist-pounding, anthemic “Raise The Noise” which they should have made a concert staple. Its an absolute stormer. It even has a Jethro Tull-esque flute solo that doesn’t feel cheesy, token or forced.

A lot is said about Helloween’s frequent line-up changes, but this third album by the Löble/Gerstner/Deris/Grosskopf/Weikath line-up (the longest-lasting and most stable line-up in the band’s 30-year career) more than stands up to scrutiny, and shows progression and development without “missing the point” of the band.

Overall, if you wanted to pick up the harshest most savage Helloween album, this would be your best bet. If you want to pick up another good Helloween album this is still a great bet.