Ever since I first heard their critically acclaimed album, Keeper of the Seven Keys, Part 1, Helloween redefined my music taste. Call me a sucker for happy, up-tempo music, but that doesn’t change the fact that this band has stood through thick and thin, undergone numerous lineup changes and yet managed to remain one of the most prominent names in contemporary Heavy Metal scene. After releasing two amazing albums, Gambling with the Devil and 7 Sinners, the German metallers are back with yet another release, Straight out of Hell.
The first thing one might notice listening to this record is that its mood differs from the previous two efforts: Gambling was much darker than any previous release while 7 Sinners featured a much rawer sound. While retaining the modern approach to Heavy Metal the previous two albums both featured, the mood on Straight out of Hell follows a classic “Happy, Happy Helloween” formula. “Far from the Stars” and “Make Fire Catch the Fly” are sheer Power Metal anthems, following a pattern typical for this genre and having a strong 90’s vibe. However, this album is far from being a cliché, which is evident in tracks such as the enthralling “Years,” hard-rockish “Waiting for the Thunder,” modern and pissed-off “Asshole” or “World of War,” with it’s almost thrashy verse followed by an anthemic chorus. The strongest points of this album are the epic opener “Nabataea” and “Burning Sun,” an outstanding track that quickly made its way into my favorite Helloween tracks and a perfect nod to classic Judas Priest. Besides that, Straight out of Hell finally features a ballad, “Hold me in Your Arms,” a strong and emotional piece relying heavily upon string arrangements and acoustic guitars.
As for the performance itself, Dani Loble‘s outstanding drumming abilities once again deserve nothing but praise. Like with their previous releases, I had to take one listen just to admire his speed, precision and flexibility, most evident in “Wanna Be God,” a covert tribute to Queen‘s “We Will Rock You.” Markus Grosskopf‘s groovy bass lines have their outstanding moments and set a good example for the bands who use this amazing instrument only to lay the foundation for the guitars. Gerstner and Weikath once again provide some amazing guitar harmonies, while Andi Deris‘ voice seems to be getting better and better with age. The only complaint I can think of is that the songwriting on this album follows a straight path and bears almost no surprises, compared to the previous two releases (remember the Dimmu Borgir-like symphonic passage in “Kill It” or the blast-beat highlight in “Are You Metal”). If I had to place this album somewhere in Helloween‘s career, I would say that it fits somewhere between Better than Raw and Rabbit Don’t Come Easy, and in fact shares a lot of elements with these particular records.
All in all, the pumpkins decided to go for a happy, Power Metal approach rather than the dark and modern one, and this will appeal to both those who loved the old tunes and the new releases. What remains a fact is that Straight out of Hell proves that this band still has something to say and, unlike much of their generation, is determined to remain a force to be reckoned with, after nearly thirty years of existence.