Sometimes there’s no tomorrow. Sometimes you hate the day. Sometimes you’re attacked by “Heavy Metal Hamsters”. Then you put on a little Helloween, and by the grace of “Mrs. God”, it just makes everything better. It’s as if your mind gets set by the will of these mighty Deutschlanders into a template you can’t choose. Whether feeling love and desire, dry ice or fire, climbing the Walls of Jericho or Gambling With The Devil, you just don’t want to flee their magic spell.
The voting for this round of the Devil’s Dozen showed no mercy for the warring nations of Micheal’s Kiskes and Andi’s Derises. Most would contend that the former is responsible for Helloween’s most legendary work, but some strong arguments can be made for the latter. However, each side’s belief of their own superiority divides the dream their namesakes share of peace and harmony through heavy metal. To that end, the two will share the stage in a “Future World” (along with founding father Kai Hansen) on the Pumpkins United Tour. Their eyes will look out upon the crowds of followers in cities worldwide and address them in high-pitched screams, their souls exposed for all to see.
But, we’re all here for a reason, so we can’t just hang around. There’s so much left to see and learn, so let’s make way for common ground. All of these tunes will go on eternally for those who long to hear, on a frequency just for you and me. Those who sense they’re superior will stare, but cannot see; the rest of us will listen to these elite selections and agree that there is much to be celebrated throughout Helloween’s entire catalog – even if that Rabbit Don’t Come Easy.
RIDE THE SKY[Walls Of Jericho, 1985]
A few years before they basically created the entire template for European power metal, Helloween was a seriously kickass speed metal band. Although there are more than a handful of nods to the power that would soon blossom, Walls of Jericho is entirely hungry for speed and bored by nuance. As the album’s first proper track, “Ride the Sky” fulfills admirably its duty of grabbing the listener by the scruff of the neck and yelling off the goddamned order of service. Hansen and Weikath somehow manage to stave off wrist cramps to engage in a beautiful twin lead and solo break, and then you can pretty much hear drummer Ingo Schwichtenberg trying to push the band a little faster when they come out of that break. Can you blame him? The gosh-darn Germans didn’t create the Autobahn so they could putter around at 15 kph. “Ride the Sky” also nicks a neat trick from Iron Maiden, which is that the actual chorus is by far the least musically interesting part of the song. Still, once it burns in your brain, you’ll scream it forever: “Give me wiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiings to fly…”
I WANT OUT[Keeper Of The Seven Keys, Part 2, 1988]
No matter how you posture, it’s impossible for anyone to have zero holes in their metal history. I’ll admit to an embarrassing one: because of their name, I shied away from getting as into Helloween as a I should have been, or even as I am now, post this exercise. I should have known that Germans tend to choose cheesy names for their bands. I flew through their discography in chronological order and settled pretty hard on their 1988 classic Keeper of the Seven Keys Part 2. And of all those genius tracks “I Want Out” was an instant ripper for me. What’s great about “I Want Out” is that it showcases what Helloween did so well at this point in their career: riff-heavy tracks relying on older rock rhythms and flaming guitar work. Further, Kiske’s vocals are on front-and-center from his more mellow tenor opening to his falsetto vibrato dominating and soaring over the chorus. The track provides a pragmatic crescendo always building towards the gang-vocal chorus inspiring pumping fists and haughty shrieks. It’s the perfect track to close a sold out concert in a Signal Iduna Park in Dortumund. The track proved ominous as Kai Hansen composed “I Want Out” later admitting the track was a hint that he wanted out of Helloween after ceding lead vocals to Kiske on their previous album in 1987. Beyond sentient, this would be the last studio album he played on with Helloween.
HALLOWEEN[Keeper Of The Seven Keys, Part 1, 1987]
Given that “Halloween” takes up over a third of one of power metal’s most heralded classics, calling it a monumental track is a bit of a gross understatement. In fact, due to its anchoring placement on Keeper of the Seven Keys Part 1, and when it came out in the history of European power metal, one could make an argument that “Halloween” is the quintessential Euro power metal track. As a bonafide masterpiece of epic metal, the song is more than deserving of the title.
At its core, “Halloween” is a showcase for three key Helloween elements: Michael Kiske’s majestic voice, the band’s collective instrumental prowess, and the full scope of their theatricality. Kiske’s heroic wail carries the song from the verse into the pre-chorus, absolutely challenging the audience not to sing along, and then, with one huge AAAAAAAAHHHHHHH drops the unparalleled glory of the chorus. Under it all, his bandmates shift from machine gun riffs to mild thrash to pure accompaniment. After the second chorus, the drama unfolds in wondrous fashion, moving between brooding, softer Kiske passages and torrents of soloing. One can picture the candlelit theater stage and maroon drapes during the storytelling moments, and the full fist-pumping power of heavy metal when the dueling guitars ramp up. That such delightful self-indulgence fits perfectly into a killer main song structure is not just rare, but a sign of a masterful band at the height of their capabilities. Metal of any kind rarely gets better.
NABATEA[Straight Out Of Hell, 2013]
The Levant was a host to some of the richest and most advanced societies in the history of the world, and very few societies today were as civilized as the Nabataeans. Although the last thing that comes to one’s mind when viewing two pumpkin heads caught in a hail of bullets is an ancient Arab civilization, Straight Out of Hell‘s overarching theme is tied together and solidified by “Nabataea.” The riffs just do not stop kicking ass, as brilliant keyboard segments bridge chord to chord in an all-out frenzy that cries out to people that are turning in their graves at the sight of the present state of the world. For fans who love a great deal of speed in their power metal, “Nabataea” is a perfect example that the terms “epic” and “ballad” are far from mutually exclusive. The most memorable aspect of “Nabataea” is that not one element steals the show from the others, and the story itself is a substantial reminder that power metal has as rich a source of our world’s history to draw from as it does fantasy.
VICTIM OF FATE[Helloween, 1985]
A song so good the band just couldn’t help but keep re-using it, “Victim Of Fate” was initially recorded for their debut EP, 1985’s Helloween, and then later added to the 1987 CD release of Walls Of Jericho, and then re-released with Kiske on vocals for the “Dr. Stein” single in 1988. In any incarnation, “Victim Of Fate” is one of the songs that firmly established Helloween as the archetypal European power metal band — Kai and Weiki’s dancing guitar leads, Hansen or Kiske’s soaring voice, Schwichtenberg’s machine-gun drumming, Grosskopf’s bass dancing deftly beneath… The Kai-fronted version is rawer, more feral; the Kiske-fronted take is more polished, more professional. And which version is better….? Well…
You tell me.
JUDAS[Judas (12″ Single), 1986]
Although I love both the classic Kiske era and the Deris-fronted resurrection, the Helloween I love the most is this earliest one, with Kai Hansen on vocals. Hansen’s voice is rougher, edgier, and the band was simply smoking, and only very rarely more so than on this absolute rager of a non-album single. Atop Ingo Schwichtenberg’s furious drumbeat, Hansen rips through a killer speed metal riff and a snarling tale of a politican who “promises us all a bright golden future,” the titular Judas who “will the one who’s sacrificed.”
You say you take care of our survival
Sending us missiles instead
But you just betray us, deny us and lie
And you always say you would
Fight for freedom, fight for rights
I see treason in your eyes.
I guess some things never change.
I’M ALIVE[Keeper Of The Seven Keys, Part 1, 1987]
I’m not going to lie – I have no idea what the concept is behind the Keeper of the Seven Keys trilogy. The best I can find is “One man’s quest to become The Keeper of the Seven Keys”, which is vague enough to indicate that the one man could be Joe Mayo. What we do now is that Helloween pretty much drafted the blueprints for the power metal genre with Parts 1 and 2, and it all starts with “I’m Alive”. The rumbling double kick, frenetic basslines, soaring guitars, and high-pitched vocals are all in place, as well as an unusual aspect to the metal of the day, lyrics with a positive message. “You’ve got so much power inside / so cry it out my friend – I’M ALIVE!” should be the daily mantra of every metal fan on the planet… even you grimfucks in the corpse paint. SMILE, GODDAMNIT!
MR. TORTURE[7 Sinners, 2010]
Then-drummer Uli Kusch’s tribute to BDSM, “Mr. Torture” is another of Helloween’s masterful blend of chugging verse riff and epic melodic chorus — from its keyboard-driven intro through that chunky down-tuned verse and into Deris’ multi-layered singalong “Mr. Torture sells pain / to the housewives in Spain…” It’s a strange tale — one half-joking and half-dark — of a pain-as-commodity, with an infectiously joyous melody that gives it that certain Helloween wink-and-a-smile humor. It knows just what you crave, and “Mr. Torture” sells a damned good time wrapped up in five minutes of expertly crafted power metal.
PERFECT GENTLEMAN[Master Of The Rings, 1994]
Taking a cue from Jethro Tull’s proclamation that “The flute is a heavy, metal instrument!”, Helloween used one to win listeners over on this tale of misguided narcissism. This time, though, it actually worked. The oft-maligned woodwind creates a smooth vibe that makes you wonder if this guy might just be the real deal. It’s not bragging if you can back it up right? The song also laid to rest any thoughts that the band might abandon some of the more lighthearted leanings they had been exploring in the early part of the 90s – for better or for worse. But then, when you have a guy (and a voice) like Andi Deris behind the mic, why would you want to? Master of the Rings was a fine album to both introduce the man and right the ship after a couple of critical and commercial duds – and “Perfect Gentleman” is arguably the biggest part of that.
METAL INVADERS[Walls Of Jericho, 1985]
No clue what sort of gods were smiling on me the day I finally committed to buying a CD instead of an LP or cassette, but their good fortune landed a $16.99 copy of Walls of Jericho in my lap as my very first purchase, and the album put me over the moon for months. Every ounce of Iron Maiden’s precise twin-lead attack, plus a very Kraut-ish insistence on raw speed was exactly what the doctor ordered for a dumb kid in the mid-80s. Hell, it’s still what the doctor ordered for a dumb adult in 2017, as I still have that very same CD and have spun it enough that I’m fairly certain it spins even while resting on the shelf.
The album is packed to the rafters with total burners, but a tune like “Metal Invaders” stands out because it was tailor-made for those day-dreaming moments where a young lad could easily conjure images of an army of puffy-sneakered champions invading an unsuspecting crowd of jocks and normies. “Metal Invaders” is super melodic right from the gate, Markus Grosskopf’s bass rolls like a tank, and the raw power behind Kai Hansen’s voice is almost spectral just before the infectious refrain. It’s true finishing move, however, is that devastating break-down toward the three minute mark that’s crowned with a vital “WAAAAHHHH” that nails the killing blow. Mayhem tonight!
SAVE US[I Want Out (single), 1988]
With an added emphasis on Weikath’s songwriting and his penchant for all things tongue-in-cheek, Keeper Part 2 marked an important evolution in Helloween’s career that still pinned them to the Euro-style of power they were directly responsible for putting on the map, but with a clear intention to crack the door a little wider for listeners still leery of metal’s prevailing dark mood. The result: A record that went gold in Germany.
But as strong as the Weikath and Kiske-penned songs were in 1988, the Kai Hansen contributions were responsible for keeping the keys squarely in heavy metal’s hands. The iconic “I Want Out” and moody “March of Time” were direct hits, but the record’s true dark horse was the anthemic “Save Us,” which was apparently dark horsed enough to be tossed in only as a bonus track for the earliest versions of the release. Maybe caution was advised due to the song’s brazen religiousness. Regardless, it’s a true banger, with a weighty clip from the outset that’s intensified by the gang-shouted chorus and Kiske’s somber spoken-word assertion at its midpoint. The clear plea for help remains timely, too, but we’d need to add about a hundred other threats to humanity that would stretch the song an additional 10 or 10,000 minutes. Please save us, pumpkins. Please save us NOW.
THE DARK RIDE[The Dark Ride, 2000]
A few years shy of a full decade since bouncing back from the dreaded Chameleon, Helloween had yet to release an album that really broadened the swath of its brush. That all changed when The Dark Ride was released, an album that is often heralded as, not coincidentally, the band’s darkest and most unique work of the entire catalog to date. Although still as campy as you’d expect dark themes coming from a German power metal outfit to sound, the album’s lyric sheet does indeed contain many moments of introspective, dark themes; and no example of this is stronger than the album’s closer and title track. All stylistic and topical adjustments aside, “The Dark Ride,” with all its guitar harmonies and choral outbursts, is one of the greatest album conclusions in power metal history.
KILL IT[Gambling With The Devil, 2007]
Another absolutely raging track to open another damned good late-period Helloween record, “Kill It” hits like a ton of bricks on the first swing of Gambling With The Devil, one of the Deris era’s strongest efforts. Mixing a furious pace and a crushing hook with a melodic pre-chorus, keyboard strings, and a symphonic breakdown — and even a second of harsh vocals — it’s one of Helloween’s heaviest moments, all aspects of their post-millennium sound rolled into four blistering minutes. For all their silliness, for all their melodic soar and smile-inducing happiness, when Helloween decides to really kill it, they kill it like “Kill It,” and it kills.
Got any favorite Great Pumpkins that we left out? Let us know in the comments below…