Helloween – My God-Given Right
Fri, 11 Sep 2015 12:15:15 +0000
If you’re searching for a power metal band that puts out solid, consistently good material on a somewhat regular schedule, look no further than Helloween, the pumpkin-loving German pioneers of the genre. Releasing a new album roughly every two years or so, Helloween proves their ability not only to float, but to swim somewhere in the lead of the whole power metal scene without treading any seriously new ground. While their output may not appear all that distinctly innovative, it definitely isn’t stale either; and the band manages to write the material with a striking sense of familiarity to it, yet still providing the audience with a shiny load of the catchy, compelling, fresh-sounding songs. Admittedly, there are some clunkers in every batch offered, even though the audience sometimes can’t seem to agree which songs are the clunkers, and some of the tunes I don’t necessarily appreciate may please other readers much more, but mostly Helloween offers consistent efforts through and through, and it’s no great wonder that each time the band releases a new album, every fan can find something appealing to him. Their latest, fifteenth studio album called My God-Given Right is no exception from this rule indeed.
Being founded in 1984, Helloween underwent a few lineup changes over the thirty years of existence, most notable and influential of those are probably Kai Hansen departure from the band in 1988, who was one of the band’s founders, and also the vocalist replacement in 1993, when Michael Kiske was fired by the band and Andi Deris picked up the vocal duties, which caused (and still causing) a huge resonance within the fandom. However, this decision proved to be rather successful in the long term: Deris is the Helloween’s frontman now, singing for the band and writing the songs for more than twenty years and counting, and while the two Kiske-fronted Keeper of the Seven Keys albums are definitely the masterpieces in the genre, Helloween moved on and changed the writing approach long ago to suit Andi’s voice, and that resulted in emergence of such famous hits and live staples like If I Could Fly, Power and loads of other ones. Two of the other band’s founders, Michael Weikath (guitar) and Markus Grosskopf (who once again proves that it’s no coincidence that “bass” rhymes with “badass”) are still in Helloween, contributing to the songwriting process and seemingly enjoying it thoroughly; the second guitar is handled by Sascha Gerstner, while the drumkit is occupied by Daniel Löble, who joined Helloween in 2005, becoming the latest addition to the band; thus the current band lineup is making music for more than ten years now. There are also some additional musicians performing on My God-Given Right, namely Matthias Ulmer on keyboards (the band should’ve added a keyboardist to their live lineup long ago, in my opinion), and Billy King and Olaf Senkbeil on the backing vocals. The regular edition of the album includes 13 new tracks from the band, just like their two previous outputs, 7 Sinners and Straight Out of Hell; I’ll be drawing some comparisons to the latter throughout this review.
The album starts rather unconvincingly with the two-track sequence: Heroes and Battle’s Won. The former is a fairly standard metal song, with some chugging riffs and nice drumming, confident vocal delivery by Andi in relatively calm verses and steady choruses. Basically, Heroes is Helloween on autopilot and the only exciting part here is the short guitar solo. The song does its job as an opener, if maybe just a tad too safe one, and it even works slightly better in a live setting. The latter song in this sequence, however, is absolutely a miss for me: starting off rather interesting with the sweeping nature of its verses, it loses all the steam when it flows into the forcedly lighthearted, happy metal oriented chorus, the weakest on the album, in my opinion, and the somewhat awkward note on the words done and core doesn’t help matters. On my first listen, this was where I started to doubt I will be able to enjoy this album at all.
Fortunately, the record starts to gain some serious ground gradually with each following tune, starting with the title track, My God-Given Right. This one carries a huge, distinct Power-esque vibe, making it especially blunt and obvious in the melodies at the start of each verse and also in the song’s main melody — the beginning is nearly identical. Then again, as a saying goes, if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it, so with some additional flavour like a superb chorus or a peaceful break to the soft keyboard reprise of main melody with the guiding bass and drums underneath, which also allows the band to engage in a singing game with the audience at concerts, My God-Given Right is one of the numerous highlights of the album.
Stay Crazy is considerably more hectic and more demanding to the singer’s capabilities, and maybe a bit on a poppy side. It’s a wordy song with a few high notes during the overlapping vocals in the chorus. The pace and the lyrics are a perfect fit for the song’s title; at this point, if you look for thought-provoking lyrics with loads of metaphors, epithets and other beautiful expressions one can often find in poetry, you should realize Helloween isn’t the band for you: “We’re gonna stay crazy, as fresh as a daisy” is probably going to be bad for your health. The next song, Lost in America, is another solid tune with a catchy chorus, containing some apt moments for singing along, which is probably the main reason it’s being played during the festival tour this year. After this point, the album goes from being good enough to being remarkable. Russian Roulé provides us with a slightly darker view on Helloween’s music, nothing close to 7 Sinners material, but still; one can even interpret the delivery of title line as growly. Leaning on an aggressive side, Russian Roulé is daring and inviting, moving along swiftly with the fierce riffs, soaring vocals on the wordless lines. It’s one of the best compositions on the album, but it’s still vastly overshadowed by what comes next.
Next comes one of the best Helloween songs in the last decade, up there with its lengthier comrades The King for a 1000 Years and Nabataea. The Swing of a Fallen World doesn’t feature lots of pace changes like the two examples I provided, instead it’s all about atmosphere; the song is dramatic, menacing, heavy, thrilling, tense and bombastic, and what’s better, it achieves all that in less than five minutes. Exquisitely tailored to match Andi Deris’ singing style, The Swing of a Fallen World is packed with crushing, shattering riffs and smashing, pounding melodies as well as the somber, drawling, lingering ones. Such songs are attention-demanding, they can be exhausting and energy-draining in the long run, due to their focused intensity and moderate, unhurried pace; but when The Swing of a Fallen World ends, I usually have chills and this half-amazed, half-satisfied look on my face. The fact Helloween can write songs like this one warms my heart. My only complaint is they didn’t play it live. Maybe the song is too relentless for a singer to perform it every other night.
You’d think there must be a dip in quality after all these outstanding songs, but it just never happens. Like Everybody Else comes up next, the only ballad on the album, this time penned by Sascha Gerstner. It’s got more power than its predecessor on the previous record, Hold Me in Your Arms, and it showcases some noteworthy usage of backing vocals along with well thought-out, smoothly flowing lead melodies. Keyboard orchestrations on the chorus fit in the big picture especially well, enriching the certain splendour it already got, adding another layer to the craftily constructed piece. Creatures of Heaven states Michael Weikath as its composer, and if I wasn’t too fond of Battle’s Won, this time he nailed it. This song features arguably the most memorable riff on the album, definitely the most catchy prechorus on the album, and once again uses the cheerful approach to the chorus, and this time it works flawlessly. The way all those parts come together is a testament to a skillful songwriting indeed, and while we already knew this man can write incredible songs, it’s nice when he reminds us about it once in a while. Coming close to seven minutes in length, this track is the second-longest on My God-Given Right, and it delivers quality metal for all its duration, staying on its course and never wavering.
The shortest track on the album, If God Loves Rock ‘N’ Roll, is a playful, little cut of all too familiar metal Helloween is writing for the past years. Andi Deris probably writes songs like that in his sleep; not to say it’s not enjoyable, because the chorus indeed stays in your head for a while after listening, but other than that, it’s just thoroughly unremarkable. This song and the next one, Living on the Edge are sort of serving as a bridge for the album’s ending, which I can’t help to merge into yet another two-track sequence: Claws and You, Still of War. Claws is the track where Helloween recklessly ventures into a progressive style with the resounding success as far as I’m concerned. The extraordinarily adventurous vocal melodies and bold time signature changes make this song the least accessible on the album, yet when you start to perceive its structure, it grows on you and unveils the quite rare and not often explored side of the band. On the other hand, You, Still of War is
a ponderous slab of serious Helloween, much like the the previous album closer, Church Breaks Down. Being the longest track here, You, Still of War tells the story of a nuclear bomb being the only survivor of war (and the booklet features a too cute picture of it labeled “da bomb” next to the song lyrics), trying to project the same energy it did with The Swing of a Fallen World, yet unfortunately it’s doesn’t sound all earnest and natural: the chorus sounds incomplete somehow and in my opinion the track could use a little trimming here and there.
As Andi Deris stated in an interview, the band had more than 30 songs ready for this album, and they let their producer Charlie Bauerfeind handpick the tracks to include on the record. It’s fairly obvious from my review I question some of the choices, yet in the end, the positive considerably outweighs the negative here, the amount of excellent songs on the album is staggering, particularly for the band releasing their albums on a regular schedule. Charlie did a fine job as well and the band members themselves did too, and it resulted in another great, consistent record. The band has found its niche on metal scene for years now, and there’s no rational reason for them to seek changes, especially since they’re able to push the boundaries here and there, while staying true to their established style and sound. My God-Given Right may not be innovative, but it’s full of gripping numbers, reflecting the style the band is operating in currently; and should please most of Helloween fans immensely. At least, it certainly played up to my expectations.