By Carl Begai
“Andi Deris sounds like a hamster being pushed through a pencil sharpener.”
The steaming little nugget above directed at Helloween’s vocalist can be found on YouTube. It was slapped down by a keyboard warrior from somewhere on this planet as his or her take on ‘Nabataea’, the first single from Helloween’s new album Straight Out Of Hell. Hardly surprising given the faceless stone-throwing that goes on in this mighty digital age, and worth exactly nothing given the band’s current and ongoing popularity. Sure, said “critic” is no doubt a diehard fan of original Helloween singer Michael Kiske – revered by many as one of the greatest metal singers of our time – but Deris has been on board for 20 years to Kiske’s seven and Helloween is still kicking up a storm.
“Those people are actually a minority, and as you know from your business it’s the smallest that always shout the loudest,” says an unperturbed Michael Weikath, one of Helloween’s founding guitarists. “I’m not saying this to dumb down these people because they have a right to say those things, but it doesn’t help me fill my cup so I don’t worry about those kinds of negative opinions.”
Get beyond the mudslinging and ‘Nabataea’ has all the birthmarks of classic old school Helloween, setting the tone for the full album. The instantly memorable guitar riffs, soaring vocals, epic drums, and some not so subtle tips of the hat to their past (see ‘Halloween’ from Keeper Of The Seven Keys: Pt 1). The fans coudn’t have asked or bargained for a better introduction to the record.
“It’s strange,” Weikath says. “We asked around, management asked around, and what we kept hearing was how much everybody liked that ‘Nabataea’ track. It wasn’t entirely clear from the start. You send the stuff to someone and they say ”Nabataea’ rocks!’ so that ends up being the first song off the album. It’s up to par in certain areas, but there’s something about this album, definitely. You can clearly tell from the feedback that there is a particular magic about it. Maybe it’s more than the last one, I don’t know.”
Since the release of ‘Nabataea’ the band has received plenty of love from their fanbase. Straight Out Of Hell is anything but a disappointment, having been compared to their massive 1996 wallop Time Of The Oath by some people, and pegged by the majority as the worthy follow-up to Helloween’s last outing, 7 Sinners (2010). Read the reviews and interviews; there’s no shortage of ass-kissing from an impressed and, in some cases, utterly gobsmacked public.
“I like having my ass kissed,” Weikath deadpans. “I’m just not supposed to admit to it. And all those tracks are just fucking great.”
As a fan it’s hard to argue with Weikath on that score. And it’s fair to say Straight Out Of Hell reaffirms Helloween as a viable entity, an opinion that has built serious momentum since 2007’s Gambling With The Devil album.
“You can say so, but that’s due to a steady line-up. Not everyone likes every character in the band but it seems that the majority of fans don’t freaking care. Those people just care about a functioning band, something they can associate themselves with. They can see that we’ve done four or five records over the last 10 years and they’re used to us as this line-up. I liked when Cozy Powell was in RAINBOW, I liked when Graham Bonnett was in there, and I hated to see them go. As a fan I said ‘I want to hear more from that guy.’ You never know how the guy is as a person, but as a fan you get used to having them in the band. Next thing I know, Graham Bonnett was in the Michael Schenker Group and I was like ‘Yeah man, wow!’ You want these things to last and you’re sad when things change.”
No question, the band was in a good place going in to make Straight Out Of Hell. From what Weikath says the creative process wasn’t the chore it could have been.
“Making the album was easy because there was so much stuff to pick from. We were able to say ‘Okay, this song will be the B-side and that one will be the bonus track…’ Charlie (Bauerfeind/producer) said he wanted the album to be more in the classic Helloween vein with the big vocals and big guitars, lots of harmonies, but he wanted to keep the modern elements as well and make sure it had a lot of variety. So it shall be written, so it shall be done (laughs). The one thing he didn’t want was something dark.”
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