Saturday, 11 July 2015

Album Review: Helloween - My God Given Right

It would seem to take a lot to get The Editor to appear from his bunker and share his opinions with the masses. Hidden away and unapproachable, he loiters in his murky lair. This, however, has proven enough to cause his emergence; Helloween's latest album.


Do I really need to explain the greatness of Helloween? For over 30 years the German power and speed metal kings have reigned supreme. Sharing a sound not too dissimilar to Iron Maiden, the band quickly forged a devoted following in the UK and overseas. Despite releasing their masterpiece works of Keeper of the Seven Keys I and II fairly early in their career (1987 and 1988 respectively) and then trying to sabotage themselves with the two albums that came next (albums I find so abhorrent I refuse to even name them), Helloween have established themselves as one of the most enduring and successful bands of the genre. As with most bands, the members can chop and change and Helloween have been no stranger to a few roster shuffles. This release sees the first time that they have reached five consecutive albums with the exact same lineup. But unlike some others, the group have kept mainly loyal to their original sound whilst evolving with the times. So here in 2015 they spoil us with their fifteenth studio album, back under the Nuclear Blast label for the first time since 2003, My God Given Right.

I fully intended to be one of the only people to review a Helloween offering without talking about the album artwork, but I found that to be an exercise in futility. Known for their thematic covers, they have fully embraced this and created a great ‘post war’ scene depicting the infamous pumpkin as a race of mecha-like beings rising up over the winter landscape. The album opens with Heroes, which starts with a humble, muted intro before getting into a nice, heavy beat. In fact, it is heavier than the usual Helloween opener and gets you bouncing straight away. The chorus is simple, yet solid and the solo is perfect for rocking.

The track itself combines wonderfully with the second track to deliver a ‘one-two punch’ effect that is missing from many releases these days. Heroes is about empowerment, the small scale heroes doing everything they can to make a difference. Battles Won (the albums 1st single) is also an empowering track and let's you know that the fight you have is worth it because you won.

Battles Won has a very rousing intro with a slight rising intonation to get that feeling of victory and has a strong traditional Helloween style bass line. This begins the very 80’s/ early 90’s feel of the album, which I am not opposed to but may put newcomers to the sound of Helloween off. The distinctive voice of power metal going over speedy drums and an increasing solo leaves you in no uncertain terms to whom you are listening. The track has a powerful finish and I can easily see this song becoming a closer at live shows, pre encore obviously. “Rejoice forever more. Victor to the core”

My God Given Right, the title track of the album, is a decent offering. The reliance on the drums here makes the song seem familiar despite it being brand new. The bridge gets almost floaty with some distant keyboards thrown in which is potentially jarring. However, given the story behind the track and the message is delivers, I can let that slide. Andi Deris (vocalist) had stated on many occasions whilst promoting the album that his father had once told him that if whatever he did made him happy, that would make him happy also.

Following this is Stay Crazy, some standard speed metal fare with an almost happy lilt to the riffs. The track builds very nicely and contains a fantastic solo with some brilliant guitar work from those talented fingers which made me yearn for an instrumental. The outro is odd however, it slows down to an almost ballad like pace and cuts out. Lost in America is based on a true story that has a very classic 80’s outro. The track itself unfortunately fades into the background compared to the other songs on offer.

Russian RoulĂ© is one of my favourite tracks on the whole album. Obviously with a play on words with the word roulette and the incorporation of good ol' rock ‘n’ roll. It is a more modern song which perfectly captures the evolution of Helloween. In fact, this track sounds very much like it could act as diegetic music in an action movie during a high stake chase or moral decision or life montage. Especially now in the ‘Superhero Era’, just close your eyes and the track evokes all kinds of images.

The Swing of a Fallen World has a slow and methodical pace, with a metronome quality to it. This track would not be out of place on 2000’s Dark Ride album. You can envision the ‘fallen world’ swinging like a pendulum. It is a good track but it markedly slows the pace of the album from the previous freneticism. The 90’s style inquisitory guitar work is very much in the vein of Alice In Chains, which meshes brilliantly with the ever pulsing throb in the background of this track. Like Everybody Else displays the variety that Helloween can do, the track contains southern US style strumming and heralds the return of the empowerment theme. The change in style is a welcome break and makes Swing’s slowing of album pace work very well.

Creatures In Heaven is a great rock track with a great keyboard intro. It sounds quintessentially 80’s; distant choral chants over lamentous keyboards that picks up pace and emotion as it goes, gathering steam until we enter a full on rock disco. Over the 80’s style ‘future sound’ it progresses into almost swing metal territory. The vocals create a sound that despite it’s obvious roots, it matches the output of the past two albums by both Helloween and Iron Maiden (the two are spiritual twins after all) including the Dickinson laugh!

If God Loves Rock ‘N’ Roll is an eventuality that we’ve all questioned ourselves about at some point and Helloween provide the answer. He does. So let's all go to heaven as it has metal and rock. It’s an instant foot tapper and provides a nice change on the whole ‘rock is the devils music’ shtick. “Even in heaven, you need a bass guitar.” Living On The Edge is a classic Helloween styled track; the drums fade out and the lyrics are highlighted in an almost conspiratorial manner – very Helloween. Everything you love about speed and power metal is in this track, despite the mildly generic lyrics, the musical quality is off the scale and has a beautiful fade out.

Claws is very energetic track but again, like Lost In America, it seems to be an ‘also ran’ and becomes forgettable. You, Still of War is the longest song on the album and like all classic Helloween ballads, tells a brilliant story. With a standard, distant ballad-y opening, you know exactly what you are strapping in for. The combination of ballad and trash works very well, unlike most songs which use the effects like a roller coaster, this feels more like a snaking highway. One side has the usual powerful ballad offerings and the other has a trashy styled fast paced output. The track blends the two fantastically and does not become too disparate. It’s almost seamless and the journey it takes you on should close the album.

I Wish I Were There and Wicked Game suffer very much from track placement. I Wish I Were There sounds like an early track but comes off like filler material here. Although, props to getting an iPhone reference in a heavily 90’s style song. Potentially the only thing that lets you realise that this song wasn't recorded in 1994. Free World is a bonus track that is a much more modern song that follows on directly from the style of the previous album. Containing all the speed metal tropes, the track is socio-political in a way that is very well executed.

Despite how much I love this album and have listened to it many times, I feel I can't fully recommend this to someone who has never listened to Helloween before because there is so much love and joy to be gained from the reminiscence of this heavily 80’s/90’s based album. The inspiration for the sound is evidently from this era and if you have no desire to place yourself back there, this album will leave you wanting. However, if you appreciate power metal, speed metal and the days when music wasn't all created by auto tune and random squeaky voices; this album will keep your soul warm at night. Still, If you are looking for your first foray into Helloween, I would first recommend Dark Ride or the seminal Keeper of the Seven Keys part II, but this record will more than suffice and is a great listen. If you have enjoyed the likes of Helloween, Gamma Ray or Iron Maiden before and have not yet listened to this album, I highly suggest you rectify this.

My God Given Right is available now through Nuclear Blast

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