Sunday, 5 July 2015

Helloween's 'My God-Given Right' - Album Review

As far as power metal goes, Helloween pretty much wrote the book. Their second and third albums, the fabled Keeper of the Seven Keys albums (released in 1987 and 1988), were probably the first albums to contain all the hallmarks of power metal that we know today. The soaring high vocals from-then frontman Michael Kiske, duelling lead guitars, fast double bass drumming, and extremely melodic songwriting was the band's secret; and they have gone on to influence countless bands since. The Helloween of today is quite different of the Helloween of then - but they are no less important or potent. The Godfathers of Power Metal have had a very prolific career, releasing albums on a regular basis and touring solidly. Plenty of line-up changes has lead to a fairly varied discography, with each member past and present bringing something new and exciting to the table. The band's current line-up has been together for ten years now, as 'newest' member drummer Daniel Löble joined the band in 2005. He is joined by founding members Michael Weikath and Markus Großkopf; long-time frontman Andi Deris; and guitarist Sascha Gerstner who has been injecting plenty of energy into the band since joining in 2002. The album's produced by this particular line-up of Helloween have all been very good. Starting with the sprawling Keeper of the Seven Keys: The Legacy in 2005, up until 2013's Straight Out of Hell (which I reviewed here), Helloween have been continuing to justify their legendary status with catchy, upbeat power metal. 2010's 7 Sinners is probably still the best of the current bunch however, but they are all enjoyable. This is also true of their latest album My God-Given Right, their fifteenth studio album overall. Helloween have nothing left to prove, and this is an album that just showcases them doing what they do best. Anyone familiar with any of the band's recent output will know what to expect here. There are plenty of up-tempo power metal numbers, some mid-paced crunchy rock songs, and a couple of ballads thrown in for good measure. Anyone who enjoyed anything the band has released since 2005 ought to also enjoy this too. As with most of the band's recent albums though, it could have done with being a little shorter as, at just over the hour mark, there is room for some filler here and there. It also is the band's first release on the Nuclear Blast label since 2003's Rabbit Don't Come Easy.

The album opens up nicely with the heavy power metal of Heroes. The song has a crunchy riff, that is backed up nicely with Löble's drumming, but the verses have a quieter feel with subtle keyboards and Deris' melodic vocals leading the way. It is not the most remarkable song the band have ever turned out, but it is a solid enough opening for the album. It is typical of the band's modern sound with a fairly memorable chorus and a melodic guitar solo. Battle's Won (not sure about that apostrophe..) ups the quality. The opening soaring guitar lead gets things off to a good start, and the song's fast verses are exciting, and based on a powerful riff. Deris really owns this song vocally. Sometimes people are critical of his live performances, but on record he always delivers. He might not be the most diverse of metal vocalists, but he always knows how to write a catchy vocal melody, and has been a key songwriter for the band since joining. The album's title track is next and this is another fairly standard power metal tune, like the album's opening number. It has catchy lead guitar work throughout that makes the song stand out somewhat. It is not the most remarkable song though, which makes me wonder why the band decided to film a video for it. There are better songs later on that would have made better videos, but it is still enjoyable and has a decent chorus. Despite some stupid lyrics, Stay Crazy is a decent tune too. It has what is probably the most accessible chorus on the album so far, and Deris uses the gritty end of his vocal range to give the song more power. The Eastern-sounding guitar solo also is interesting, and when it explodes with speed it gets very exciting. Lost in America is one of my favourite songs on the album. This is classic upbeat Helloween power metal it it's best. The chorus has a really anthemic feel to it, the lyrics are quite amusing, and musically it is very strong with good lead guitars and catchy riffs. While this song breaks no new ground for the band, it reinforces what they do best again. This is a song that would have been perfect to film a video for, so I wonder why they chose My God-Given Right instead? Russian Roulé is a slightly heavier rocker with some powerful metal riffing, dense guitar leads, and Deris' deeper vocals. There is a slight thrash feel about the guitar tones here, which adds to the heavier feel and the grit the track possesses. It is another strong track that works well when following the light-hearted Lost in America. Not all Helloween songs are that upbeat, and this a good example of their heavier work.

After the rather bland quasi-ballad The Swing of a Fallen World, we reach Like Everybody Else. This is another slower song, but this one gets it right and is really enjoyable. Deris uses many different many vocal styles throughout. During the verses he sounds quite different to usual, but by the time the powerful chorus comes around he is more recognisable. There is quite a bluesy feel to some of the guitar work in the song too, which helps it to stand out from the rest of the album. Creatures in Heaven is another fast song, and one that gets back to doing what the band do best. There is lots of flashy guitar work here, including a great instrumental section where both Weikath and Gerstner impress with their guitar skills. The chorus is also excellent, with some really powerful melodies and drumming that really forces you to sing along. If God Loves Rock 'n' Roll is more classic upbeat Helloween. The groovy verses are very enjoyable which sees Deris really lead the charge with his vocal melodies; and the song's chorus is a fast affair with a bouncy guitar riff that helps it drive along. As we reach the end of the album, we are faced with three very strong tracks, and all for different reasons. Living on the Edge is Großkopf's sole writing contribution to the album, and it is great. While he never writes as many songs as the other band members, they are always of high quality. This is no exception, with one of the album's best choruses and an instrumental section with a really Sabbathy riff that has a lot of weight to it. Up next is Claws which is a heavier fast song with an explosive intro that reminds me a little of fellow German band Accept in places. Keyboards surround this track, which gives some class to the heaviness, and contrasts greatly with a riff that sounds like it could have come from a NWOBHM band's repertoire. This is easily one of the best songs on the album, as it really packs a punch with numerous powerful riffs, and Deris unleashes some excellent screams at times throughout. It also has a killer chorus with some excellent drumming and very catchy melodies. The album's final song is You, Still of War which is quite a diverse song. There is something quite progressive about the arrangements here, and there are many sections here that fit seamlessly together. From the quiet opening, to the heavy chorus - this song has it all. This song takes quite a few listens to really appreciate, but when you do it is extremely strong and brings the album to an interesting and exciting end. Overall, My God-Given Right is another good album from Helloween. While there is some filler here, there are enough good tunes to make this an enjoyable listen for any melodic metal fan.

The album was released on 1st June 2015 via Nuclear Blast Records. Below is the band's promotional video for My God-Given Right.

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