Time of the Oath, by Helloween
Suggested by Alex Hill
I loved Helloween. In the late Eighties.
Helloween are a German Power Metal with a melodic sound and a Lead Singer who’s off the charts. They’ve rocked out since 1984, and are alive and well today, with fifteen studio albums under their belt. My fannish tenure began around 1986, running for five years. Their first album, Walls of Jericho, was decent, but their second and third, Keeper of the Seven Keys Parts I and II, were spectacular. They were powerful, musical, everything I wanted. Who cares if their lyrics came over as badly-translated nonsense at times (“In the sky a mighty eagle / Doesn’t care ‘bout what’s illegal”), their vocalist Michael Kiske was ludicrous and phenomenal. They were gloriously epic, overblown in all the right places.
Then came their fourth album, Pink Bubbles Go Ape, with a change in direction. Softer, comedic, understated… I disliked it intensely. They took flack from betrayed fans, especially for the pastiche song Heavy Metal Hamsters, which felt rather insulting to the genre. I liked the song, as it was directed at their former record label and not judging the fanbase at all, but they lost a lot of support overall, which did include me. Today marks the day in which I return to Helloween, to review an album from 1996. I’d say it was a modern release, but it’s still twenty-five years old.
At first I’m concerned. Their singer, Michael Kiske, departed the band in 1993, to be replaced by someone called Andi Deris. The new guy also took on the majority of the songwriting for the band, which is surprising. However, it’s not long before I’m convinced that the band made a fine choice in recruitment here, as his voice is strong, and the songs are a powerful throwback to the albums I loved.
We start with We Burn, and the odd tweeting circus music intro. I’m pensive here, but thankfully the track soon morphs into classic racing Power Metal. The guitars do a fine job of racing the quickfire drums, and the vocals both smooth the edges in the bridge and elevate in the exultant chorus. Steel Tormentor continues in a similar vein, with a solid rock vocal over more galloping guitars. And it’s about a fast-ass motor car, which is pretty goddamn metal.
Things don’t let up until we hit Forever and One (Neverland), which adds some ice to the fire. Sadly, all that creates is lukewarm water, and I’m left wanting by this sub-Scorpions posturing. It’s a sound they return to later in the flabby If I Knew, but I’m happy to report the rest of the songs are far less indulgent. Before the War, A Million to One, Kings Will Be Kings, each rock out with the signature soaring vocals and slight Euro-scene campness that the band inhabit so well.
My standout could come from any corner, but I’m going with the opener We Burn. It’s likely not the best song on the album, but it’s the one that saw me breathe a huge sigh of relief.
Time of the Oath gets a worthy 7/10. I’ll happily return to the Helloween back catalogue, now that I know they pulled it back from the brink in the Nineties and beyond.