Helloween – Straight Out Of Hell Review

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.

Black Sabbath – 13 Review

Black Sabbath - 13

Black Sabbath – 13

13 is (counter-intuitively) the nineteenth full-length studio album by the legendary British Heavy Metal band Black Sabbath. It was released in 2013 (which explains the album title). It was produced by Rick Rubin, and saw original singer Ozzy Osbourne return to the band for the first studio album in 35 years, and original bassist Geezer Butler return for the first studio album in 19 years.

Despite a very public campaign to have original drummer Bill Ward rejoin too, Rage Against The Machine’s Brad Wilk provides the drums for this record, and despite having a different feel to Ward (and a very skeptical public), provides a very good performance.

It’s a very weighty album. Five of the album’s tracks are over seven minutes long each, and only one, the acoustic number ‘Zeitgeist,’ is less than five minutes in length. Its not really the sort of album you can just stick on in the background or take at face value, might take a few listens to really get to grip with what the band are doing here.

The record opens up with a very doomy, slow riff deliberately designed to evoke the self-titled opener of their debut. After about two minutes it kicks up a gear and gets livelier, slowly evolving through a few different moods and shedding comparisons to that eponymous track. There’s a few riffs that could be on the Sabbath Bloody Sabbath or Sabotage albums in there too, and an odd breakdown with the now famous line “You don’t want to be a robot ghost…” that wouldn’t actually be totally out of place on Technical Ecstasy or Never Say Die. There’s plenty of lead guitar action throughout, and the high-in-the-mix bass from Geezer brings a lot of character out.

That’s how most of the record goes… starting off sounding a bit like a deliberate attempt to remind you of past songs, shifting gears through different Sabbath eras after a while, and then ending up as relatively fresh overall somehow. Sure; you might think that part of “God Is Dead” is meant to remind you of “War Pigs” or “Fairies Wear Boots,” but then they’ll do something that would never fit on the Paranoid album, and then add bits that almost even sound like something off of the Dehumanizer album briefly at other times.

“Loner” for example quite obviously channels the spirit of “N.I.B” when it starts off, but even that takes a turn to sound like some sort of modernized “Rock N Roll Doctor” (or something) halfway through, but with a guitar solo that would maybe be more at home in the band’s Dio-era material.

It’s a clever way to get around fan expectation really. Suggest the past just enough so that people can’t say it doesn’t sound like the old days, mix in just enough of the post-Ozzy Sabbath sound so that fans of that can’t say its too regressive and then the loud modern production combined with Ozzy’s aged vocals help make it sound new enough too.

The only track which perhaps is a little too close to the bone is the aforementioned “Zeitgeist” which is a modern track but with the feel of “Planet Caravan.” While most other tracks mix in tails or drum fills from different Sabbath eras, because of the quiet, simple, sombre vibe they are going for, this can’t really happen here, and so for a lot of fans this is just going to sound a bit too close to “Planet Caravan” for comfort. If you can get past that though, its actually a pretty neat song.

If you are a huge Sabbath fan already or just getting into Sabbath for the first time and still in the excitement phase then I can imagine that this album is something you will automatically love. It ticks all the boxes of what you would want or expect from them. If that’s the case though, you’ve already bought it haven’t you?

If you are a bit skeptical and unsure of whether you might like the album however, I can fully understand. First of all, when the band reunited the last time, they stated that they didn’t have good new material within them anymore. Secondly, now that the album has been released and reviewed everywhere, it is very easy to see terms like “riff recycling” or “living in the past” or “Not as good as The Devil You Know” written online or in print and get worried that this album isn’t worth your time at all.

When I first got this album, I wasn’t really keen on it. I flip-flopped between disliking it for being a pandering exercise and half-enjoying it but not really paying it any attention. When given the attention that the album requires, and repeat listens for it to grow on me however, the album finally “clicked” and its virtues began to outweigh its drawbacks. Once it actually has clicked, it’s a real joy to listen to and becomes more and more entertaining each time you stick it on. Sure; Its impossible to listen to this album and not make comparisons to the band’s earlier work (or the recent Heaven And Hell and Ozzy solo albums) if you are familiar with it, but I think the band have done a very good job of acknowledging that reality and rolling with it.

Taken for what it is, 13 is a good album. Its even a good Black Sabbath album. Its even a good album from 2013. Its got some variety but is still massively consistent, and its got a good balance of fast and slow, loud and quiet, modern and retro. Take a moment, and give a track like “Damaged Soul” or “Dear Father” a good, clear, uninterrupted listen or two and see if it can click for you too.

[Ps. If you can, try and get the version of the album with bonus tracks (as many as possible, if you can). This is just personal taste of course, but personally, I think the bonus tracks are as strong, if not stronger than anything on the main album. “Methademic” in particular is very strong, and “Pariah” has a really fun main riff.]