Thursday, 16 November 2017

Helloween - London Review

I think it's fair to say that if Helloween did not exist, then neither would the power metal genre that we know today. While there were other bands active around the same time as Helloween that helped pioneer the sound, and elements of the sound can even be traced back to songs like Queen's Ogre Battle in 1974 and Rainbow's Stargazer in 1976, it was the German band formed in 1984 that really brought everything together and really defined the genre. Originally a four-piece act fronted by Kai Hansen (vocals/guitar), that took their influence from classic heavy metal and thrash, the Helloween as we know it really came to being in 1986 when the eighteen year old singer Michael Kiske was brought into the band's ranks. The following year the band released their second album, Keeper of the Seven Keys - Part I, an album which really broke the band into the big time and basically birthed the modern power metal genre. The following year saw the released of the second part of that album duology, but Hanson left the band after the first leg of the tour for Keeper of the Seven Keys - Part II and the band's classic line-up was over. After a couple more album, which failed commercially and paled in the shadow of the two Keeper albums, Kiske was fired. This move, along with the firing of original drummer Ingo Schwichtenberg during the tour for 1993's Chameleon due to his erratic, drug-fuelled behaviour, left only two of the band's original members in Helloween. Michael Weikath (guitar/vocals) and Markus Großkopf (bass guitar/vocals) were left to pick up the pieces, but the hiring of former Pink Cream 69 vocalist Andi Deris proved to be a winning move, and Helloween has continued under his leadership ever since. While many fans lamented the loss of Kiske, there is no denying that Helloween has continually flourished under Deris, leading to a string of successful albums that have kept the band in the spotlight. While they have never released anything as classic or as defining as the two Keeper albums since, the band's expansive back catalogue with Deris contains more than enough excellent albums. Helloween has now had a stable line-up for over ten years, with drummer Daniel Löble joining the band in 2005. He joined Deris, Weikath, Großkopf, and Sascha Gerstner (guitar/vocals) who has been a Helloween member since 2002, and this current incarnation of the band has gone from strength to strength with regular album releases and plentiful touring. Last year however, it was announced that both Kiske and Hansen would be rejoining the band's current line-up for an extensive world tour entitled Pumpkins United, which would feature material from throughout the band's career. This is the reunion that many had wished for for years, and with the seven musicians involved this promised to be something special. Only one UK show was announced as part of the tour, at the O2 Brixton Academy in London, but as soon as the tickets went on sale I knew that I had to go! Tickets were purchased and this was one of my most anticipated shows of the year.

With no support band, and Helloween scheduled to be playing a three hour show, the lights went down in Brixton just after 8pm. By this time, the large Academy was full and the atmosphere throughout the night was great. When the lights went down and the opening strains of Halloween could be heard from behind the curtain, the place went wild and the energy never let up throughout the entirety of the lengthy opening number. With both Kiske and Deris in tow for this tour, the evening was divided up fairly evenly to give both frontmen equal stage-time and chances to catch their breath. Some songs, like the opening number Halloween, saw the two duetting, and others saw them singing alone. Halloween was followed with the bouncy Dr. Stein which, like the first number, saw the crowd often drowning out the band with their singing. Kiske, who's voice still sounds as smooth as ever, shone during these early numbers, but Deris' raspy voice complimented him well and the two played off each other successfully. The situation of having the two frontmen on stage at the same time could have been awkward, but both men seem to have embraced the challenge and the two seem to have already struck up a good chemistry; and it was this relationship which helped to make the show so enjoyable. I'm Alive saw Kiske singing the song alone, with the band's three guitarists really helping to bulk out the sound and make those fast-paced riffs shine. While having three guitarists did not really enhance the band's sound much, there were a few times during the set which saw three-part harmonies, and the addition of extra rhythm guitar during the band's classic twin-guitar solos definitely helped to make things sound tougher. Despite many of the biggest cheers coming for the band's classic late 1980s songs, there was still plenty of time for the Deris-era to get a look in. Are You Metal? in particular was an early highlight, with Deris conducting an audience participation section with ease that saw everyone in attendance screaming the song back at him. Given the nature of this tour, it was unsurprising that a few songs that had not been played live for years were pulled out of the vault. Kids of the Century was one such number, and the poppy metal anthem was sung perfectly by Kiske before Deris came back out for a couple more which culminated in an excellent version of Perfect Gentleman. As an aside, it was great to see Hansen on stage for the band's whole set. I had assumed that he would only play on the songs from his time with the band, but he was up there all night and giving just as much of himself for the Deris-era numbers as for the songs which he wrote. This was great to see, and he even took a few of the solos and helped out with the backing vocals. His true moment in the spotlight came next however when a medley of the band's really early songs from when he was the lead singer were played. While it was a shame that a full version of Ride the Sky was not played, it was great to hear snippets of these old songs, with the thrashy Starlight standing out the most. This medley came to an end with Heavy Metal (Is the Law) and the crowd really showed their appreciation.

The second half of the show kicked off with a couple of ballads including the classic A Tale That Wasn't Right, before the only weak number of the night I Can proved to be a little disappointing. There are plenty better songs from the Deris-era that could have been played, and this song just fell a little flat compared to what it was being surrounded by. Löble's drum solo followed, which then turned into a tribute to the late Schwichtenberg who committed suicide a couple of years after being fired from the band. There was some great footage of Schwichtenberg shown on the big screen behind the band, before Löble began to play along with the video for a fitting tribute to a great drummer. Kiske then had another chance to shine with A Little Time, one of the few songs that he wrote during the band's classic years, before it was time again for Deris to dominate. The two frontmen sang Why? together, before Sole Survivor and Power really wowed the crowd. Power in particular was another overall highlight as the song's extremely catchy chorus is always a great one to hear live and the crowd took hold of the melody and ran with it, often drowning out the band in the process. The main set then came to an end with How Many Tears, which saw all three singers trading lines off with each other which made for a really powerful end. By this point the band had been on stage for over two hours, and they left the stage to huge cheers. A two-part encore followed, made up of four songs from the Keeper-era. Kiske stood alone for Eagle Fly Free, but the real highlight was the rendition of the 13 minute-plus epic Keeper of the Seven Keys which really shook the place. While I am sure that many expected songs like this to be wheeled out for this occasion, I do not think anyone was prepared for quite how powerful it would be. Kiske started the song off, but was joined by Deris for the song's second half, and the lengthy instrumental section saw all three guitarists taking turns to solo, with the song's writer Weikath particularly stealing the show here. It is safe to say that this song was the overall highlight of the evening, and the crowd reaction when it finished was telling. A short break off-stage then saw the band come back for the final two numbers of the evening. Future World was the penultimate song, but everything came to an end with I Want Out, which saw pumpkin balloons thrown into the crowd and confetti sprayed over everyone at the end. The 11pm curfew had been reached at this time, but the roar from the crowd told the band that they had done the job well. The setlist was:

Dr. Stein
I'm Alive
If I Could Fly
Are You Metal?
Kids of the Century
Waiting for the Thunder
Perfect Gentleman
Starlight/Ride the Sky/Judas/Heavy Metal (Is the Law)
Forever and One (Neverland)
A Tale That Wasn't Right
I Can
Drum solo
Livin' Ain't No Crime/A Little Time
Sole Survivor
How Many Tears
Eagle Fly Free
Keeper of the Seven Keys
Future World
I Want Out

Overall this was stunning gig from the band that is responsible for much of the modern melodic metal that I love today. I had seen Helloween before previously, on the Straight Out of Hell tour in 2013, which was an excellent show, but this was something very special. I will be interesting to see whether or not this collaboration can grow into something more permanent, as I would love to see an album of new material from these seven guys, but with a live DVD from a show filmed earlier in the tour due out next year, that will at least be a memento of this excellent evening.

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