Having released their newest album “Straight out of Hell” earlier this year, Helloween is in the middle of a massive world tour promoting this release and, for a short period, doing the second part of Hellish Rock, with Gamma Ray and Shadowside.
We were fortunate enough to witness this great show and, as part of our extensive coverage of the PPM Fest 2013, met with Sascha Gerstner, guitar player and songwriter of this legendary band.
Metal Blast: Your appearance at the PPM also marks the second edition of Hellish Rock, the second time you’ve toured since 2008 with your sister band Gamma Ray. What made you want to do this again?
Sascha Gerstner: Because we had a successful Hellish Rock Part I with Gamma Ray, and we got a lot of messages from fans who missed that first part and were asking for another one. We thought that it would be a great idea to do it again with a great package. This time we have Shadowside from Brazil, so it’s a three-band package that it’s great for the fans.
MB: Straight out of Hell has received really really good reviews from critics; It actually shows that, like wine, Helloween only gets better with age. Since you joined the band all these years ago, how do you think the band has changed?
SG: Well, when I joined the band it wasn’t really a band anymore. You have two new guys coming in and who don’t know each other very well, and then you have to record and tour together; you need to get a new magic going, musical-wise and also from the stage appearance, so that everybody finds his place again. It took a while, but I think that since Dani came into the band we got pretty stable with everything. I’d say that Gambling with the Devil was the album that served as the base for what we are doing now.
MB: Michael Weikath said that “Straight out of Hell” is the consequential development of 7 Sinners and Gambling with the Devil. Is there a certain style or a certain method that started with Gambling with the Devil and that culminated with the new album?
SG: Basically it started when we discovered that it’s not a good idea to go into the rehearsal room together, to record ideas and stuff like that; It takes a lot of time and it’s very complicated if you have so many songwriters. We have four songwriters in the band and everybody has his own opinion, so we figured that it would be a great idea, since everyone has his own studio at home, if we record ideas, send them to each other and then decide what’s going to happen. That was really good; it’s the base for how we work now.
MB: Michael also mentioned that although it continues with the style that started with “Gambling with the Devil”, “Straight out of Hell” is also more positive. Was this a conscious decision?
SG: I think it came out naturally. Of course, we wanted to make a pretty heavy album with 7 Sinners… I think that [“Straight out of Hell” being a more positive album] was not on purpose, but that it just came out naturally because we’re all so happy together, have successful tours, released 7 Sinners and everything, so we were really in good mood and then came up with new song in that direction.
MB: There are still some negative… I mean not negative, more doomy or dark songs like Nabataea which deals with destruction and craving for war with the other nation, World of War and one about the church, “Church Breaks Down”…
SG: Well, they are not negative… We’ve always had subjects like that, being social criticism. We always did that kind of stuff; we also had funny songs, but things just come up and you express yourself when making a song. We have all kind of songs!
In any case, it’s still heavy metal, I mean heavy metal is supposed to be hard and heavy.
MB: And make a social commentary, like you are doing
MB: Andi mentioned that when he was making the song “Live Now” you made some changes to it because it was coming out “too pop metal”.
SG: Actually, it was not a real pop song, it was metal but it was more dark and more “Nu metalish”. I thought “Live Now” is a great hook, and I thought about making some dark harmonies, because maybe it wasn’t the best musical idea to push such a hook. I came up with a couple of riff ideas and changed some harmonies, but the basis came from Andi, of course.
MB: You are responsible for the song “Asshole” as well. What is that one about?
SG: It’s a fun song with stupid lyrics, that’s what we’re known for as well (take “Dr. Stein”for example); the fans are used to get stupid lyrics sometimes. It’s a fun song, it’s fun melodies, it’s not that heavy at all… and everybody knows one person they’d call an asshole.
We have this long running gag between Andi [Deris] and me; years ago he told me that he can call his best friend asshole if he likes, and I was thinking the opposite, that if he’s your best friend you’d never call him an asshole. He said that “if he’s acting like an asshole I would call him asshole at that moment!.” After a while it became a running joke, so if someone is doing bullshit in the dressing room or whatever, we can call him an asshole.
MB: I agree that Helloween likes to do songs with funny lyrics, but one of the problems that the band suffered in its career is, for example when Pink Bubbles Go Ape was released, that it was criticized for not taking itself seriously anymore. Is there ever a fear of “Let’s not push this too much?”
SG: You know, we’re always polarizing fans and I think that’s the magic around Helloween. I mean, we never think “Oh, we should do this or we should do that” to please other people; that might be a problem sometimes, because then you do stuff people might not like, and then sometimes you just do it right and you don’t know why. That has happened with “Straight out of Hell”, for example, we never thought about doing that kind of artwork, those kind of songs and those kinds of lyrics, because that’s the stuff fans would like. It was more like “Hey, let’s do another album, we trust each other when it comes to songwriting, and let’s do something that is not too dark and more positive”. And while people thought that we were all going to die in 2012, we thought “Well, let’s do the opposite”… song like Live Now was a must for this record.
MB: Before the interview I mentioned “power metal” and you said “heavy metal”. However, do you agree that Helloween is seen as the creator of power metal as we know it?
SG: Maybe Helloween influenced a lot of bands to play power metal, but at the end of the day I think that it’s metal. We have rock songs as well, I mean Dr. Stein is not a power metal song and I Want Out either. So…
MB: I don’t consider the label a negative one..
SG: I don’t t feel criticized by you, I’m just saying that for me everything is heavy metal. I don’t get that feeling between fans about how “if you listen to gothic you can’t listen to power metal and if you listen to power metal you can’t listen to anything else”, I think that’s stupid, it’s all heavy metal; that’s what we’re doing – we play heavy metal. If you watch the show tonight it’s heavy metal. We have power metal songs, but we have rock songs as well.
MB: The thing is that there would always be the point of comparison…
SG: That’s a genetic defect people have. A human genetic defect that people always have to compare stuff.
MB: Sascha, thank you so much for taking the time to do this. We are looking forward to tonight’s show!
SG: You are welcome; it was a pleasure.