Helloween – Helloween (2021) Album Review

Trumpets, Keys, Stars and Rings

Wow, what a dream come true. After the fan fantasy Pumpkins United tour, the astounding live-album United Alive and the killer one-off single “Pumpkins United” it is finally time for the long-awaited new full-length studio album from the German Power Metal icons Helloween.

Helloween are one of my all-time favourite bands, and I like all eras of the band. They started off in the early ‘80s on their early EPs and first album Walls Of Jericho as a heavier and thrashier proposition, fronted by Kai Hansen (who would later take a back seat but stay on guitar for the following two albums, before leaving and forming the equally excellent band Gamma Ray). After the early EPs and debut album, world-class singer Michael Kiske joined the band in the late ‘80s and helmed their two most beloved albums, the genre-defining Keeper Of The Seven Keys Parts 1 & 2, which are utter indisputable classics of the Power Metal genre and form much of the band’s live setlist even to this day. Kiske also presided over the next two less-popular, increasingly commercial and increasingly un-metal albums before leaving the band. In the early-mid ‘90s after a period of turbulence, declining popularity and declining band morale, singer Andi Deris joined the band and has been with the band ever since as they rebuilt, endured and produced some of their finest work along the way.

Each singer has their own fans. Kai is the original and heaviest, Kiske is the most popular and best technical singer, and Andi is the longest-serving and best showman/performer. This new album, like the wicked live album that precedes it, features all three singers on it, sometimes alone or usually mixed together. They are cleverly blended on this record; without a proper analysis it feels broadly like about Andi probably doing 55%, Kiske doing about 30% and Hansen doing about 15% which seems appropriate given their relative longevity in the band, and their relative commercial appeal (and the fact that Kai had talked about singing less in Gamma Ray a few years ago). Interestingly too, as a tribute to the late Helloween drummer Ingo Schwichtenberg, current drummer Daniel Löble actually recorded his drum parts using Ingo’s old drumkit. Nice touch!


Although there must have been some temptation to just dive back into a retro ‘80s sound musically and sonically now that Kai Hansen and Michael Kiske back in the fold and Ingo’s old kit is being used, the results are actually decidedly more modern. While there is clear influence from the ‘80s it is not a simple rehash or retreading of old ground. Shameless fan service is in low supply and they’ve made a concerted effort to blend modernity and nostalgia in a classy way. The production (courtesy of Charlie Bauerfeind & Dennis Ward) is slick and modern, feeling much more like the most recent Derris Era Helloween albums, My God Given Right and Straight Out Of Hell in terms of actual sonics. Even album art evokes simultaneously their classic Walls Of Jericho, Keeper Of The Seven Keys and Time Of The Oath album artworks all at once, which again feels like a clever blending of the three eras together.

The song-writing does sound like recent Helloween albums first and foremost, not too much like the ‘80s and not overly like Hansen’s work in Gamma Ray or Kiske’s work in Unisonic (there are bits here and there, but its not the main flavour). This record is not a rejection of all the progress the band have made over the years, and it isn’t just the Helloween of the ‘80s back in an anachronistic inappropriate revival cash-in.

That being said, the three singers meets numerous guitar players dynamic does help it stand apart from recent albums too though. It isn’t just business as usual with a cheap gimmick slapped on the top either. What this actually is, is a new hybrid-Helloween, bringing a best-of-both worlds approach, injected with extra energy and enthusiasm on top if that for good measure. It is a good record, in fact a very good record, and a brilliant payoff for fans who like more than one era of the band. I highly recommend it.

However; while it would be tempting to get carried away for the sake of the story and say that it is their best album to date, or even their best album since 1990 or whatever, that would be incredibly unfair to some of the amazing albums the band have been releasing all along. It is a good album, easily in the top half or even top third of their discography, but to say it tops everything since the Keepers’ would be an inaccurate nonsense. This album is good, but let’s not forget some of the other great work they’ve made for the sake of a good hyperbole-filled headline. I genuinely hope people who come back to the band because of the reunion vibe now go back and check out killer albums like 7 Sinners and especially Time Of The Oath and see how strong the band can be without Kai or Michael as well (if you’re interested, check out my ranking of all Helloween albums from best to worst).

Ok. Soapbox moment done. Album highlights include the 12-minute album closer “Skyfall,” (varied and triumphant), as well as the majestic 7-minute album opener “Out For The Glory” and the shorter/punchier “Cyanide” (both premium modern Power Metal) and the more Hard Rock number “Mass Pollution” which has some of the most memorable guitar moments.

Overall; 2021’s Helloween is a very noteworthy album that manages to live up to its potential, with killer songs, killer sounds and a killer premise. I’m pretty over the moon about this album and I hope you will be too.

PS. I’ve already got tickets to see them live, postponed due to the pandemic from before the album was out, and now I really hope they drop a few tunes from this album into the set too.    

Helloween Albums Ranked

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.

NUMBER TWO:

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.’

NUMBER THREE:

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.

NUMBER FIVE:

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.

NUMBER 6:

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.

NUMBER 7:

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.

NUMBER 8:

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.

NUMBER 9:

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.

NUMBER 10:

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.

NUMBER 11:

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.

NUMBER 12:

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.

NUMBER 13:

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.

NUMBER 14:

Chameleon (1993)

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.

Helloween – United Alive Blu Ray Review

Imagine a Judas Priest show with both Tim Ripper Owens and Rob Halford singing together. No wait… Imagine a Sepultura show with both Max Cavelera and Derick Green singing. No wait, that’s not even it. I’ve got it… Imagine an Iron Maiden show with Paul Dianno, Bruce Dickinson and Blaze Bailey all singing. Well, maybe, if Dickinson had left after four albums and Blaze had been there ever since. Ok, Now swap out the zombie mascot for some comedy pumpkins and you’re approaching the situation here. Helloween, one of Germany’s biggest and most important bands, one of the most iconic Power Metal bands in history, with one of the most impressive family trees (Gamma Ray, Masterplan, Freedom Call, Unisonic, Iron Savior etc) make one of the most anticipated decisions in the history of the genre.

Who is your favourite Helloween singer? Is it Kai Hansen, the heaviest singer and the original? Is it Michael Kiske, the most technically accomplished and the one from their most iconic record? Or is it Andi Deris, their best frontman and the singer on the most albums? – Turns out, now you don’t have to choose. United Alive, the live video from the Pumpkins United tour sees all three join the stage together, cracking out a career spanning mixture of material from the earliest thrashiest material to the modern gems, with all the iconic genre defining masterpieces from the peerless Keepers’ era sprinkled in too. 

There are over 20 tracks here (some are intros and solos, and some are medleys/combinations, but still…) that’s a lot of Helloween. All three singers take it turns to sing. Sometimes not even a song each, but rather dividing it up section by section inside each song, or all at once. It is very welcome to hear them back on some of their own tracks like ‘Heavy Metal Is The Law’ after not hearing it on the other live videos, or ‘Dr. Stein’ after having heard only Deri’s take on it previously. Conversely it is very interesting to see Kai or Kiske sing on some of the big commercial ‘90s/’00s hits like ‘Perfect Gentleman’ or ‘If I Could Fly.’

There are often 7 members on stage at the one time (or 8 if you count the keyboardist, Eddy Wrapiprou). There’s Weikath and Grosskopft on guitar and bass as always. Sascha Gerstner and Daniel Löble on guitar and drums like the last several albums. And the three aforementioned singers (with Kai also playing guitar).

There’s a mix of footage, ranging from headline shows in Madrid, Spain to festival appearances at Wacken and in Brazil.  Sort of like they did already on their previous ‘Legacy World Tour 2005/2006 DVD.

Normally I really prefer a concert DVD to come from one single show, rather than complied from a series of different dates in different places with different lighting, sound and camera work, but given that the band itself is now a compilation of past and present members and some of the songs included are medleys, I don’t know why but it just works here.

The band put on a great show. There’s a lot going on. There’s video screens, a big pumpkin stage set piece around the drum kit (which has 4 kickdrums for some reason, just to add to the over-the-top feel of it all), a light show, and a few cheesy moments like members coming out dressed in a top hat and cane, or raining pumpkin balloons.

Deris, ever the consummate front man is great at revving up the crowd, and then the different members get spotlights for certain tunes and join up on others, there’s prolonged solo segments, a tribute to late drummer Ingo Schichtenberg, its all very diverse and entertaining. They even do a stripped-down bare bones version of the ballad ‘Forever And One’ straight after a super heavy Walls Of Jericho/EP medley, which pretty much shows both polar opposites of the band’s varied discography.

There’s multiple different ways you can buy it. DVD, Blu Ray, combinations thereof. Versions with CDs. The version I got it two Blu Rays. One with the concert and one with a load of extra footage. There’s a few extra songs (Including the underrated ‘Kids Of The Century’ from the oft maligned Pink Bubbles Go Ape album). There’s a bunch of behind the scenes footage looking at various aspects of the tour and production. It comes in a nice shiny digi-book with some brief liner notes and a glossy photo booklet. You know, just as if it wasn’t value for money enough already with an almost three-hour concert of a Helloween fan’s wildest fantasy line-up.

As a concept you really have to hand it to them; its quite a clever move to reuinite with past members without losing current members as some fans never got over Kiske leaving the band or only ever even tried the Keepers albums. Some fans really love the Kai era and you never get to see Helloween play much material from it anymore (you only really get the chance if he chucks one in to a Gamma Ray show some time). Its a great idea to reel them back in and show them how great the Deris era can be too. Come for ‘Halloween’ and ‘Future World’ but stay for ‘Sole Survivor’ and ‘Power’ then learn to love the Deris era if you don’t already.

Thankfully though, its not just the concept that’s good. The whole package is good. The sound, footage, editing and bonus material. Most importantly though, the performance. It doesn’t come across as a novelty cash grab, it really feels like a jubilant celebration. As they say in the opening track ‘Halloween’ ”There’s magic in the air.” This may be cheesy to say (but hey, if you like Helloween, you better be used to cheesy) but it really is a heavy metal dream come true. Buy it!

Edguy – The Savage Poetry Review

The_savage_poetryEdguy were in an interesting position at the turn of the millennium. Starting the group as a bunch of wide-eyed teenagers in the early to mid ’90s, Tobias Samet and the rest of the boys who would go on to become legends of German Melodic Power Metal, were initially a rough an ready influences-worn-on-sleeves kinda band. They released a demo quality debut album called Savage Poetry in 1995 and then through years of practice and touring went on to become a leading force in Power Metal and one of the finest to be doing it at the time. After releasing their absolute magnum opus Theater Of Salvation in 1999 and being considerably more famous and beloved, fans kept asking if they would reissue Savage Poetry which had long since been out of print. Doing them one better, the band took all the talent, skills and confidence they’d been developing over the years and remade the album. No reissued, not re-recorded, but remade entirely.

Everything is different here, new artwork, new logo, new track order, new guitar solos, heck even the bassist and drummer are new when you think about it as neither were on the original version. They added a ‘The’ to the title as well, that’s new. Essentially, what happened was the band listened to these old songs and then wrote them again in 1999 as only the band who had released Theater Of Salvation could have. What resulted was a mix of old and new, that ticks all the right boxes to sound classic and modern, naive and accomplished, charming and sophisticated. There’s a duality to it that works as well as your go to metaphor (be that chocolate and peanut butter, tits and dragons or whatever people are saying these days, the point is the two compliment each-other despite seeming like different worlds).

For most people this is just some handy background information for a pub quiz however because unless you go out of your way, you aren’t hearing the 1995 version easily and the differences between the two versions are therefore largely academic. Regardless, because this is Edguy in 1999 we’re talking about here, this is an absolutely superb album not to be missed by Edguy fans, or indeed anyone with an interest in this style of music. If you listen to Gamma Ray, Helloween, Hammerfall, Blind Guardian, Freedom Call, Sonata Arctica, Stratovarius or anyone of that nature, you really want to get up on this album. I would be so bold as to say The Savage Poetry is either the band’s second best, or sometimes if I’m feeling generous, joint-first best studio album.

There are a lot of similarities between this and Theater Of Salvation. They were both recorded around the turn of the millennium at Rhoen Studios in Fulda, Germany, and were both self produced by the band, with the same line-up. They both feature a mixture of Maiden and Priest influenced speed metal sections, bombastic grandiose sections with pianos and choral singing, and then some occasional ballads, and happy Helloween-influenced melodies. They both come before the band went a bit more Hard Rock in direction and they both come before the band started letting their humour play a big part.

Highlights include the speedier more metallic tracks ‘Sacred Hell’ and ‘Misguiding Your Life’ as well as the slow stompy Hammerfall-esque opener ‘Hallowed’ and possibly best of all, the diverse multi-faceted ten-minute ‘Eyes Of The Tyrant.’

The album works really well from start to finish, the two ballads break things up (and are surprisngly tasteful), the longer tracks take you on a little journey and then the rest of the album gets its head down and delivers exactly what you love about the band perfectly, only with a little bit more of a NWOBHM gallop than usual.

Overall; be sure not to miss out on one of the band’s absolute finest hours. If you like the glorious melodic guitar lines, crunchy riffs and pounding drums of Edguy at their most metallic, this is seriously up there as one of the finest examples of that. If you like the band being adventurous and writing long complex stuff, that’s here too. If you like them when they drop some ballads, these are some of the band’s best. If you’re tempted by the band but scared off by the more commercial Hard Rock stuff or the comedy stuff there’s none of that here. This is the band at their best, with some damn fine songs and a sterling production job, updating some charming old songs into an absolute beast of an album. Highly recommended!

Edguy – Vainglory Opera Review

Vain_glory_operaWow, what a change! For German Power Metal luminaries Edguy, the third time was a charm and every other cliché you can throw. The band started off at a really young age, their previous two albums were Maiden, Priest and Helloween worship with very demo-esque production jobs and not so confident performances. You could tell it was good but it didn’t grab your shoulders and shake you.

The third album they unleashed (y’know if you count 1995 version of Savage Poetry) changed that in a big way. Vainglory Opera, from 1998 is a whole other level of professional and inspired. Maybe its partially due to the much greater production job making things sound much more mature and slick, maybe its partially due to the songs themselves being a bit more stripped down, or maybe its just a sheer undeniable spike in confidence and talent…but this album just has that ‘x factor’ that elevates it high. The vocals, man, the vocals! Tobias Samet has such a majestic and gigantic voice. The guitar solos! They siiiiing. Its not even that flashy but its so sweet-spot memorable, y’know?

Then there’s the songs. Ok, there’s two ballads (an orchestral one and a powerballad), there’s a cover song (an almost unrecognizable reworking of an old Ultravox tune jammed through a sort of Stratovarius filter) and there’s an obligatory intro. There’s the title-track which serves as the album’s high point and is a semi-epic that most bands would use as an album closer. To me, it sounds like ‘Bring Your Daughter To The Slaughter’ and ‘Mother Russia’ by Iron Maiden had a baby that then got stuck in the machine from the movie The Fly with Yngwie J. Malmsteen’s ‘Trilogy’ and the background music from a documentary on the Christian Church’s history. Its spiced up even further by the guest appearance from Hansi Kürsch of Blind Guardian.

The main bulk of the rest of the material is a mix of two themes; songs with fast double-kick drums that sound like what Helloween would’ve come up with if they had tried to replicate the style of Metallica’s The Black Album in their own unique way, and slower stomping songs reminiscent of Hammerfall when they go mid-paced, but with huge religious-sounding choruses (something they’d explore even more on their next record). The best two for my money being ‘Until We Rise Again’ and ‘No More Foolin.’ Also worth mentioning is ‘Out Of Control’ which features guest guitar work from Stratovarius virtuoso Timo Tolkki.

Its certainly a unique album. Within the genre and within the band’s discography. There aren’t a million other Vainglory Operas out there. Nobody else sounds like this. I don’t think anybody else would either be able to pull it off or be fool enough to try. In the first half of the band’s career when they were still unashamedly Power Metal without the hard rock tinges and before they started adding in all the humour, Vainglory Opera is the band’s attempt at doing the classy grown up mature album. Its real nice to hear the band exploring this ground.

On their next album, the fan favourite classic, Theater Of Salvation, the band would unleash their golden album of absolute pure Power Metal perfection. This album was a perfect stepping stone from their humble youthful beginnings to their zenith, along a not repeated path, but man, while they were here, they nailed it!

Blind Guardian – Follow The Blind Review

220px-Blind_guardian_follow_the_blindFollow The Blind is the second full-length studio album by the legendary German Power Metal band, Blind Guardian. It was released in 1989 and sees the band in a bit of a transition period, much more advanced than their debut but not yet fully developed into the full on Power Metal style they would become famous for on the next half-dozen albums.

It also sees the band leaning more into a Thrash Metal direction than at any point in their career, with notable Bay Area Thrash influences in particular. If you like Exodus, Testament and Forbidden’s debuts, and you also like Power Metal then this album is a delightful middle ground. Its harder and more aggressive than future Blind Guardian records, and has also yet to develop the more progressive tendencies of their later period. What it lacks in scope however, it makes up for in sheer fury. I think this album would be a great introduction to the band and indeed to the subgenre for fans of Thrash who are maybe afraid of Power Metal due to its reputation as being a bit flowery and wimpy compared to other Metal styles.

On the downside however, for Power Metal fans especially, all that Thrash influence leaves less room for catchiness, melodies and variety as compared to their other work. That is not to say it is devoid of those qualities, just that it is a smaller percentage of the music than usual. Listen to ‘Fast To Madness’ for example… a brilliant Metal song, but you wouldn’t generate as big a sing-along as say ‘Time Stands Still at the Iron Hill.’ The title track does experiment with different tempos and balancing heavy and clean styles, but more in a …And Justice For All/The Years Of Decay way than in an Imaginations From The Other Side way. Both fine ways to be sure, just depends what mood you are in and what expectations you had when you bought the album in the first place.

In terms of songwriting quality, I think Blind Guardian’s albums sort of just got better and better up until about Nightfall In Middle Earth, and so I think this album is better than their debut but not yet as good as Tales From The Twilight World, or the classic Somewhere Far Beyond. That is of course not to say its poor, just that it isn’t as good as the really good stuff. In terms of production, its a bit noisy and harsh on the ears, and works better in small chunks than as a whole. Not unlike fellow Power Metal Pioneers Helloween’s Thrashy Walls Of Jericho album in that regard.

Speaking of Helloween, Kai Hansen makes some guest appearances on this album, both on guitar on ‘Hall Of The King’ and on Guitar and Vocals on ‘Valhalla.’ These for me are two of the best songs on the album anyway, and are made even better by Kai’s presence. The other main highlight is the excellent instrumental ‘Beyond The Ice’ which is one of the best songs on the album for me, very pummeling, quite diverse and with astounding guitar work… it really shows off what a force the band are musically with its bouncy toms and double kicks and the excellent range of riffs and solos.

Overall; Follow The Blind is an experimental album that sees the band trying to find their sound. It is arguably the hardest, fastest and heaviest of their records and arguably the least melodic and catchy. It is however a very decent album that no Blind Guardian fan should miss out on (how could you be a fan and deprive yourself of ‘Banished From Sanctuary’ or ‘Valhalla’?) and that would be a good starting point for fans of heavier music trying Blind Guardian out.

*Ps. The Remastered edition has two cover songs and four early demos to add some value for money. None worth upgrading over in and of themselves, but very welcome if you are getting em for free anyway. *

Freedom Call – Dimensions Review

Freedom Call – Dimensions

Freedom Call released one of the Power Metal subgenre’s absolute finest albums with their seminal debut album, Stairway To Fairyland… a flowery, melodic, ridiculously happy spin on the Keeper Of The Seven Keys formula that rivalled the likes of genre milestones such as Somewhere Far Beyond, the aforementioned Keeper’ and Glory To The Brave in terms of quality and enjoyability.

Five albums into their career, several line-up changes later, in 2007, the German band released the concept album Dimensions. It saw something of a stylistic shift. Each of their previous albums was an evolution of the sound that came before, but this was the biggest and most pronounced change to date. The Freedom Call sound could always sort of be seen as sort of analogous to Keepers era Helloween, or Land Of The Free era Gamma Ray, but on this album they seem to be going for the sound of the big Derris-fronted commercial singles… y’know, tracks like ‘Live Now,’ ‘Mrs God’ and ‘Mr Torture’ … those sorts of commercial, Hard Rock meets Power Metal tunes, that aren’t so speedy or virtuosic or metallic, make a lot of appearances on Dimensions. The songs ‘Mr. Evil,’ ‘The Queen Of My World’ and ‘Blackened Sun’ are particularly noteworthy examples of this.

Change their style they may have done, but let up in quality they clearly refused to. Dimensions is a pretty strong album. ‘Magic Moments’ for example is equal to anything on their early records, it may have a strange The Cure’s Love Cats sort of feel to it, but its damn good fun!  The album closer ‘Far Away’ takes a sort of Bruce Springsteen vibe, throws in bagpipes and jumbles that all together with the Freedom Call sound… sounds like a mess in theory, but seriously, if it doesn’t make you smile when you actually hear it, you must be having a bad day!

I can see how some fans might jump ship on this album, and how some potential fans may be put off; It’s a wizards & demons themed concept album set in the future taking already flowery music and making it even more commercial and saccharin… “how cheesy can you get?” etc. …but for me it is worth the money and well worth the time. No its not brutal, no its not traditional but yes, yes it is good!

Gamma Ray – Powerplant Review

Gamma Ray - Powerplant

Gamma Ray – Powerplant

Gamma Ray, the legendary German Melodic Power Metal band fronted by the immensely talented Kai Hansen (Founding member of Helloween, member of Iron Saviour & Unisonic, guest contributor to Angra, Blind Guardian, Primal Fear, Hammerfall, Avantasia and all around fingers-in-many-pies mainstay of the Power Metal scene) really came in to their own with their classic fourth studio album Land Of The Free. They had always been great, but something about that 1995 masterpiece really just elevated them even higher.

For me, the three albums that followed maintain that high standard. Most fans will be very familiar with Somewhere Out In Space and the popular No World Order albums. It seems that piggy-in-the-middle record, Powerplant is a bit more overlooked, or in other words underrated.

The album opens with ‘Anywhere In The Galaxy’ which is unquestionable, pure classic Gamma Ray. This sort of song is the reason people love this band. Elsewhere there is the fun tribute to Manowar ‘Heavy Metal Universe’ (filled with constant lyrical references, and musically based on ‘The Gods Made Heavy Metal’) which is great fun. There’s variety with a Pet Shop Boys cover (‘It’s a Sin’), a commercial sounding tune (‘Send Me A Sign’) and a lengthy progressively inclined number (‘Armageddon.’)

The production is a little flatter than the albums which surround it, and sonically it doesn’t perhaps pop out as much, but the songwriting and performances are spot on. ‘Wings Of Destiny,’ ‘Razorblade Sigh’ and the aforementioned gem ‘Anywhere In The Galaxy’ are memorable, melodic ragers that would stand proud on any other Gamma Ray record.

Overall; this album sees Gamma Ray in the middle of a great run of high quality albums. It maybe doesn’t get talked about as much as some other albums but you’ll be damn grateful to have it in your collection once you’ve given it a chance.

Freedom Call – The Circle Of Life Review

Freedom Call - The Circle Of Life

Freedom Call – The Circle Of Life

After releasing three brilliant studio albums of pure, happy-sounding Melodic Power Metal between 1999-2002, the German band Freedom Call decided to spice things up a little bit. Consequently; their fourth studio album, 2005’s The Circle Of Life is something of a transitional affair, seeing the band keep one foot in the early sound that defined them, and stepping out towards their Hard Rock influenced sound of their later material.

The Circle Of Life features more keyboards and less guitars during verses for example. The keyboard sounds used are less piano-sounding and more artificial and ‘80s sounding. The tempos are frequently more midpaced than the focus on speed the band had previously. The production is that little bit slicker and more commercial. Every song sounds like a single.

It could be easy to call this album a sell-out or overproduced or something along those lines, if it weren’t for the fact that its brilliant. Yes, The Circle Of Life sees Freedom Call experimenting with new ideas rather than rehashing their beginnings, but doing so without compromising on quality. If you like Power Metal bands’ big singles more than the thrashier deep cuts then this is a perfect album for you.

I guess “new ideas” is a relative term though, as ‘The Gathering’ may sound like something off of Emerson Lake & Palmer’s Works album and ‘Kings & Queens’ may blatantly steal the riff from Ozzy Osbourne’s Bark At The Moon. Regardless, The Circle Of Life sees the band in fine form, delivering fine songs. Its shinier, more polished and more varied… but in a way that makes you think of the word “mature” rather than “mistake.”

Highlights include the stomping ‘Hero Nation’ which has a fun marching feel and some of Chris Bay’s most evocative vocals to date, as well as the fun album opener ‘Mother Earth’ which doesn’t sound like your average Freedom Call tune and the album-closing Title Track. Well, that could just as easily be anything in the second half… This albums got that thing that Eternity had, were it just gets better as it goes on!

Overall; The Circle Of Life is a damn strong, damn enjoyable album. It isn’t a clone of the seminal debut Stairway To Fairyland, but its equally worth your attention. Turns out the band are great at more than one style. Great band, Great album. Check it out.