In honour of the release of the Alive United live album, I’m taking a moment out to highlight some of the best moments from the ultimate cheese masters Helloween, ranking their studio albums from best to maybe-don’t-buy-that-one-first.
JOINT NUMBER ONE:
Keeper Of The Seven Keys parts 1 & 2. (1987 & 1988)
I always say ‘’If you only get one Helloween album, get these two!’’
It almost doesn’t need said, but the Keepers are two of the finest metal albums in history. Beyond iconic. Near flawless. Immensely repayable. Instant, but rewarding on repeat listens. The best albums of the Kiske era. What Reign In Blood and Master If Puppets are to Thrash, the Keepers are to Power Metal. If you want to try Helloween, this is your starting point. If you have any interest in the ‘weenies, this is the must have moment, the pinnacle. Recent studies at the university of metal have shown that it is medically impossible to like Helloween and not like these albums. And hey; If you really only want to buy one album, they do also sell both of these albums together in one package, so that’s almsot like buying one album.
Time Of The Oath (1996)
After the Keepers, Helloween made a few, questionable decisions. It wasn’t until the album prior to this, Master Of The Rings, that things started getting back on track. When they actually GOT back on track however, is Time Of The Oath. The crown jewel in the Andi Deris era. No, its not just the album art. This is the most straight ahead classic Power Metal album since the Keepers stylistically, but more importantly, the best set of songs they ever concocted outside those peerless two classics. Tracks like the mighty ‘Kings Will Be Kings’ and ‘Steel Tormentor’ are brilliant and the album contains one of the band’s all time best tracks, ‘Power.’
7 Sinners (2010)
If you thought the band’s best material was confined to the late ‘80s and mid-‘90s, you’d be wrong. 2010’s 7 Sinners album stands tall and proud in the upper echelons of the band’s discography. Stylistically, this one is a deliberate effort to be heavier and more metallic. The guitar tone is thicker and crunchier than usual. The toms are pounding and the kick drums are thunderous. Its such a great mix of catchy, heavy and diverse. The opener ‘Where’s The Sinners Go’ is mid paced and modern, whereas ‘If A Mountain Could Talk’ is classic ‘80s style Helloween and ‘Raise The Noise’ is a melodic gem like ‘Power’ only with a Jethro Tull style flute solo.
JOINT NUMBER FOUR:
Walls Of Jericho and Helloween EP. (1985 & 1985)
Like the Keepers, these two are similarly linked and the only releases in the Kai Hansen era. Like the Keepers these two are often packaged together too. Stylistically; You can see how they would come to develop into the style they are more known for it, there are touches of it here and there, but they are rawer, thrashier and less melodic than most Helloween albums. My personal favourite track on ‘Jericho is the catchy as hell ‘’Heavy Metal (Is The Law)’’ and it features other memorable moments like ‘’Ride The Sky’’ and the 7 minute long ‘’How Many Tears.’’
On the EP, tracks like ‘’Starlight’’ and ‘’Victim Of Fate’’ show that these Germans were onto something great from the very start. The only downside is the production and vocals aren’t as smooth as on later albums.
Gambling With The Devil (2007)
I wonder what it is about this band and the number 7. Anything with 7 in it turns to gold. 7 Keys. 7 Sinners. ‘’The Bells Of 7 Hells.’’ Aforementioned hell themed track is one of my all time favourite Helloween moments.
Like the 7 Sinners album, this album sees a diverse yet consistent Helloween with a focus on heaviness, but willingness to diverge. ‘’As Long As I Fall’’ for example starts off as a commercial semi-ballad and ends up as a masterclass in lead guitar. Opener ‘Kill It’ has one of the band’s most savage choruses since the Kai era.
Master Of The Rings (1994)
The first album with Deris in the band. It would be a nicer story to say this one was the stylistic return to form. Well, it was partially. Tracks like ‘’Sole Survivor’’ and ‘’Still We Go’’ give the fans what they want. However; This album had bigger plans in mind than just getting the old fans back. They’ve got eyes on a whole new audience. Van Halen alike tracks like ‘’Take Me Home’’ see the band diversify. Big commercial pop tinged tracks like ‘’Perfect Gentleman’’ and ‘’Why?’’ helped the band reach a new audience.
Rabbit Don’t Come Easy (2003)
I’ve heard a few people weren’t keen on this one, but aside from the annoying ‘’Never Be A Star’’ that’s too cynical a recreation of ‘’Perfect Gentleman,’’ this album is probably one of the bands most consistent albums from beginning to end. Its chocked to the brim full of happy melodic choruses, relentless double kicks and lead guitar majesty. I think it may be the best set of lead guitars and guitar solos on any of their studio albums yet. Stand out tracks include the single ‘’Just A Little Time’’ (even with its Blink 182 level erection jokes), and the amazing ‘’The Tune’’ and ‘’Hell Was Made In Heaven’’ which both show the band at their melodic best. Also of note is ‘’Liar’’ which has the kind of heaviness introduced on The Dark Ride and perfected later on 7 Sinners.
Straight Out Of Hell (2013)
One of the band’s most eclectic and varied albums since Master Of The Rings, Straight Out Of Hell tries a range of different ideas on for size, and sees the band not content to just repeat themselves over and over, without going the Chameleon route of straying too far from what fans want. This was the first new release from the Pumpkins in my time as a fan and has a special place in my heart for that. At the time there was a big buzz about them going back to sounding happy, after the heavy material, but in hindsight I do prefer 7 Sinners. This one is good, but not 7 Sinners good.
My God Given Right (2015)
The follow up to Straight Out Of Hell. Sort of more of the same. The album is less experimental, but more consistent. It’s a smooth a perfect distillation of modern Helloween, with nothing to complain about. A very solid album. The best songs, like ‘Russian Roulle’ and ‘If God Loves Rock N Roll’ are solid and a good addition to the catalogue, and there’s no weak moments of obvious filler. Only not higher in the list due to lack of a real stand out. Its all good, but its missing anything extra-special.
Better Than Raw (1998)
Terrible album artwork, but decent record. There are few really memorable moments, like the Latin ‘Laudate Dominum’ as well as ‘Push’ and ‘Hey Lord!’ I feel like this album was a moment of maturing and modernisation for the band. For me it wasn’t as good as ‘Time Of The Oath’ and I resented it a bit for that, but upon recent re-evaluation I have found it to be much better than I remembered it. It isn’t their best album, but it is not one to be overlooked either.
The Dark Ride (2000)
In some ways, a continuation of the modernised matured direction of Better Than Raw, but with a big dose of heaviness added in. Its not really what you expect to hear from the band who made the Keepers, and definitely what you expected from the band who made ‘Jericho. But its not without its moments. The title track is pretty great. ‘Escalation 666’ is nice and heavy. As much as I want Helloween to just write straight Power Metal all the time, you do have to admit that the power ballad ‘If I Could Fly’ is a good tune, even if it isn’t what you want.
Keeper Of The Seven Keys: The Legacy (2005)
A lot of Helloween fans dislike this one. Its not without merit, but its not their finest hour either. Its one of those classic ‘’the double album would’ve been better as a single album’’ situations. Its also one of those classic ‘’the sequel isn’t as good as the original situations.’’ I get why they did it, but it also feels like a bit of a step backwards. Definitely don’t start with this one, save it until your already a fan.
Pink Bubbles Go Ape (1991)
Well, really this isn’t what anybody wanted as a follow up to two of the finest albums in the history of power metal. I guess it was their attempt at a ‘Black Album’ but it falls short. Its not without merits, in fact I may even get defensive if it gets an out and out bashing, but this should never be anyone’s first Helloween album.
The only one I don’t like or own. Critically reviled. Stylistically confused. Not at all metal. Not what the fans wanted. Not what their own drummer wanted. A mix of prog, pop and featuring children’s choirs. Pretty much universally agreed as the worst Helloween album. For collectors only.