Longevity in a band is a fickle thing. It takes hard work, creativity, and no small amount of luck. On the cusp of their third decade of life, German institution Helloween know a thing or two about lasting; as 14 studio albums and 5,000,000 records sold will attest. Straight Out of Hell, their latest platter of power metal goodness, is the fourth release. Helloween features a lineup of Andi Deris on vocals, Sascha Gerstner and Michael Weikath on guitars, Markus Grosskopf on bass, and Daniel Loble on drums. It’s not often a band from the old days escapes the shadow of their old-school golden era. It’s even less often a band can say they have had three separate successful vocalists. Helloween had the Kai Hansen era, the Michael Kiske era, and the Andi Deris era reigning since 1994. Andi’s fluid voice, capable of sultry lows and soaring highs, has now fronted Helloween for just shy of 20 years – the longest of them all. There are those who feel the Deris era saw its best release in 1998’s Better Than Raw, certainly the creative pinnacle of the famed Weikath/Roland Grapow guitar combo. But Grapow and veteran drummer Uli Kusch were dismissed one album later. Since then Helloween have had moments of greatness and moments of mediocrity. Can a lineup together long enough to be called “steady” right the ship?
“Nabataea” opens up the new record in typical Helloween fashion, until around the 4:00 minute mark, where a very creative mid-section slows things to a crawl before Andi’s vocal lines launch the song into truly wonderful territory. “World of War” begins with a more experimental, martial verse to match the song’s theme. Its bridge and chorus are vintage Helloween; highly melodic and guaranteed to keep you humming all day long. They manage to sing about governments sending people out to kill and die and still make the song sound happy – this is a skill unique to these Germans. The soloing is top-notch, of course, and Loble’s drumming is incredible. Helloween have a knack for writing very catchy songs under four minutes in length; “Live Now!” is a great example of this. Less cheesy than some of their prior shorter length tunes, this track could be played for people with depression. It’ll probably work a lot better than a cocktail of dangerous pills. Helloween has never been afraid to make “happy” music; they’re good at it. If most of what you listen to is pissed off or full of sadness it is a nice change of pace. Fear not, your ass is still gonna get kicked as this is heavy metal to its bones. “Far From the Stars” is a melodic tour-de-force, and will please Helloween fans everywhere. “Burning Sun” has a wonderful chorus that needs to be sung loud and proud. This tune rocks the house and is an album highlight. Andi screams in this one, his voice at times approaching something you’d hear on an Accept album, until the chorus where his smooth singing dominates. “Waiting for the Thunder” opens with piano phrasing and a bass-line/vocal interplay which gives way to a truly epic chorus that hits almost immediately. Helloween shows that they are capable of being stadium rock balladeers also. Things remain a little slower and somber on “Hold Me in Your Arms”. Helloween reminds us they are not afraid of the ballad. Is it cheesy? Is it “eighties”? Sure. Is it convincing? Will your thoughts turn to the one that got away? Yes. This track sure would make a better prom song than any of the garbage on the radio . “Wannabe God” comes next, clocking in at 2:04. Not sure what Helloween was doing with this track, but it appears to be an intro for the title track. “Straight Out of Hell” is infectious and driving, a tune they can be proud of. The new definition of melodic should just feature a picture of Helloween. No one does it like them. “Asshole” is a strange one as it is the first place where the record stumbles a little bit. Stilted and a little awkward, it does have some nice guitar solos going on, but considering the quality tracks behind it this is definitely a weak one. Next song “Years” shows us the boys haven’t forgotten who they are.
The trend continues throughout the rest of the album, with the excellent “Make Fire Catch the Fly” and “Church Breaks Down” putting things to rights. Limited edition bonus track “Another Shot at Life”, however, feels a bit shoddy. Perhaps “filler” is too harsh a word, but it lacks the efficacy of much of the record. A Hammond organ version of “Burning Sun” dedicated to Jon Lord rounds things out. A few gripes, but Straight out of Hell is a very strong outing from an absolute undisputed institution, a band whose influence can and has been felt for going on three decades. Cryptic Rock gives this album 4 out of 5 stars.