Helloween, Gamma Ray & Shadowside – Sofia, Bulgaria 3/15/13

I will never forget the first time these German Power Metal legends decided to join forces; after all, how often do you get the chance to see your two favorite bands live at one show. The first “Hellish Rock” tour proved to be quite a success, taking the bands all around the globe, and went on to become the biggest tour in both bands’ careers. As you probably know, every show culminated with both bands sharing the stage, jamming together to such hits as “Future World” and “I Want Out,” a very touching moment that you witness once in a lifetime. Or maybe not?

Kai Hansen

Given the huge success of the first tour, the fact that the two bands decided to travel the world together once more is not at all surprising. This time around the headliners of this spectacular tour, Helloween, are out to promote their latest release, Straight out of Hell, which received very positive reviews and scored the highest chart positions in the band’s career in several countries. On the other hand, Gamma Ray, the brainchild of former Helloween guitarist Kai Hansen, just released a new EP called Master of Confusion to give the fans a taste of the new record, Empire of the Undead, which is due late 2013. Shadowside, an up-and-coming Brazilian Heavy Metal outfit, were chosen as the opening act.

This time around, I decided to see the show in Sofia, Bulgaria for two reasons: the first being that the Bulgarians are such amazing fans, full of energy and enthusiasm; and the second being the fact the bands played “Armeec Arena,” a huge venue that could support their full stage setup and host up to 8000 people (in the general admission area). The show was incredibly well covered by the Bulgarian media: with countless announcements, reviews and interviews, as well as a live TV coverage prior to the show and the guest appearance of Helloween members in a mainstream talk show. My choice, ultimately, proved to be a great one.

Helloween

The show was punctual, the doors opening a few minutes before 19:00 and Shadowside kick-starting the event around 19:45. The Brazilian female-fronted outfit presented their unique blend of Heavy and Modern metal, carried out with much passion and impeccable musicianship. The band was as excited as the fans were: the kind of excitement you can’t hide or fake. They played a set of their own songs, off of their latest record Inner Monster Out, plus a cover of Motörhead‘s “Ace of Spades,” which made the entire arena go nuts. Although I was not familiar with the band’s work prior to the show, I was pleasantly surprised with their performance and I think they are definitely worth checking out.

Next on the bill, Gamma Ray hit the stage, lighting up the audience up with “Anywhere in the Galaxy” and “Men, Martians and Machines.” The band’s set-list was similar to their previous mini-tour, “Skeletons and Majesties,” when they played some vintage tracks they rarely or never did live before. However, the set also included a couple of tracks from the upcoming release, “Empire of the Undead,” and “Master of Confusion,” a few tracks from their latest album “To the Metal,” and a cover of “Future World,” written by Kai while he was still a member of Helloween. This tour is also the chance to formally introduce Michael Ehré as the new drummer. Judging by his amazing performance and showmanship, I’d say that so far he has convinced the fans that he’s more than a worthy replacement for Dan Zimmerman. The sound was clean and immaculate for the length of the performance, and the Rays were an optimistic force as always.
The last to hit the stage were the headliners, Helloween. Their stage setup was amazing: the military imagery and the entire stage make-up, resembling a war-zone, brought the Straight out of Hell artwork to life in the best way possible. As for the set-list, this time the band mostly focused on their latest release, with a few excursions back to their Keeper days with “Eagle Fly Free” and “I’m Alive” and the golden days with “Steel Tormentor” and “If I Could Fly.” The only thing missing were two tracks: “Burning Sun” and “Falling Higher” that the band had to kick out of the set-list, probably due to Andi Deris‘ recent illness, which forced the band to cancel the previous show in Istanbul.

The highlight of the show was the second encore, when Kai Hansen joined Helloween on stage to perform a medley, consisting of their classic 80’s hits: “Halloween,” “How Many Tears” and “Heavy Metal (is the Law).” After the medley, the rest of the Gamma Ray‘s string section joined the stage to play Helloween‘s greatest hit: “I Want Out.” Like on the previous tour, it was amazing to see the two bands goofing around the stage, jamming together and providing the magnificent ending this show deserved.

In conclusion, I got everything I expected from the show: classic songs, a lot of audience interaction and positive energy that echoed throughout the venue. I would advise anyone able to go and see this incredible package, because it is definitely a unique live experience words just can’t fully describe.

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