Helloween | Straight Out of Hell (The End)

helloween straight_sqHelloween makes no secret of its love for keyboards to add mood and subtext, and they’re put to effective use.


Among the PLAYBACK:stl staff, I am most likely the only connoisseur of the great genre known as classic heavy metal. I can understand it. For most people, this means riff-heavy songs about devils, dragons, and falling kingdoms, and the vague idea of “standing up for what you believe,” or some such thing. I remember when I was growing up, I would find myself navigating between two very distinct groups of friends: the New Wave Capulets who worshipped at the alter of the synth-laden English groups they found on the cover of Smash Hits magazine, and the Hard Rock Montagues, who banged their heads to the distortion-drenched bands they found in the pages of Circus magazine. If I follow this analogy to its obvious conclusion, I guess that makes me both Romeo and Juliet. At any rate, these were hardly two tribes who went to war; they were more like two tribes who simply chose to not acknowledge each other.

Even today, I can have conversations with friends about jazz, pop, classical, and hip-hop, and I will always successfully kill the conversation by bringing up metal. Listening to a lot of those old records now, it seems like the production at the time struggled with duplicating what so many fans of the genre enjoyed about these bands in a live concert setting. In the last few years, however, production techniques seem to have risen to the challenge of bringing balance and finesse to this aggressive, yet complex subgenre of rock. After all, the devil is in the details, right? What can be more metal than that?

This brings us to one of Germany’s best non-Scorpions hard rock bands, Helloween, and their 14th studio album Straight Out of Hell. From the syncopated riffage that heralds the opening track “Nabataea,” it’s clear that the band has lost none of the passion and ferocity that were always hallmarks of records like Keeper of the 7 Keys Pts 1 and 2 and Walls of Jericho. With recent stellar releases from Accept, Overkill, and Testament, Straight Out of Hell continues this winning streak for fans of all things both heavy and metal.

The speed-metal titans turn tempos inside out for “World of War” and “Far From The Stars,” where original members Markus Grosskopf (bass) and Michael Weikath (guitars) take turns shining, while drummer Daniel Löble and guitarist Sascha Gerstner shape-shift the rhythms underneath. “Burning Sun” takes some inspiration from Iron Maiden’s classic Powerslave disc, where Weikath and Gerstner indulge in some truly masterful Smith-and-Murray dual-guitar goodness that will have you air-wailing in no time.

Unlike a lot of its classic metal peers, Helloween makes no secret of its love for keyboards to add mood and subtext, and they’re put to their most effective use in the track “Waiting for the Thunder.” I should also note that, while singer Andi Deris usually sounds like he is gleefully singing to the gods on the edge of a mountain overlooking a raging sea, on this track he actually sounds like he could be Bernard Sumner’s little brother; or at least the New Order vocalist’s slightly more evil little brother. Either way, Deris really owns the material here, and serves as the bottleneck for the over-the-top funhouse floor arrangements.

The only time I felt the band lost the plot was when I listened to “Asshole,” whose inclusion here is so mystifying, I can only assume that whoever thought it would be a good idea to make it a part of the album really is an asshole. It’s a distracting and skip-worthy track and would have been better left on the cutting room floor. Conversely, the power ballad “Hold Me in Your Arms,” which I kind of expected to at least mildly despise, was actually a very effective and solid change of pace.

Now, if you’ll excuse me, I’m going to don my denim and leather, join a biker gang, ride a dragon straight to hell so I can party with Satan, and travel back in time to battle some Vikings. If there are any other metal stereotypes I’m missing, drop me a line. See? Metal really is fun! And if you want to experience what this genre has to offer: close your eyes and open your ears, and you might just find yourself with more of an open mind than you ever thought you had. | Jim Ousley

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