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Helloween - "Straight Out Of Hell" (CD)

Helloween - "Straight Out Of Hell" CD cover image

"Straight Out Of Hell" track listing:

1. Nabataea
2. World Of War
3. Live Now
4. Far From The Stars
5. Burning Sun
6. Waiting For The Thunder
7. Hold Me In Your Arms
8. Wanna Be God
9. Straight Out Of Hell
10. Asshole
11. Years
12. Make Fire Catch The Fly
13. Church Breaks Down

Reviewed by on January 10, 2013

"'7 Sinners' was a tough album to beat, but 'Straight Out Of Hell' is a worthy follow-up in all the right ways."

For a career pushing thirty years, Helloween’s is noteworthy for many reasons, but chief among them is the band’s extended, skyrocketing rebound from a dreadful artistic (and commercial) slump in the early ‘90s. Since the arrival of frontman Andi Deris and a triumphant rebirth in 1994’s “Master Of The Rings,” the German pioneers of melodic speed metal have consistently outdone themselves with each successive release. 2010’s incredible “7 Sinners” was a tough album to beat, but “Straight Out Of Hell” is a worthy follow-up in all the right ways.

In a sense, it’s a natural and necessary reaction to its predecessor. “7 Sinners” was arguably the heaviest and most aggressive Helloween album to date, owing much to its darkened lyrical content and the angry, “fuck-off” energy shot through its performances. It picked up where 2000’s sinister “The Dark Ride” left off, and upped the ante considerably. Now, with much angst out of their systems, the pumpkin boys have swung back toward the light. It’s not all sunshine and rainbows; “Nabataea” is a bittersweet lament over the lost progress of a vanished civilization, “World Of War” looses plenty of bile upon mankind’s compulsion to self-destruct, and “Asshole” is pretty self-explanatory.

Nonetheless, the whole affair is delivered through a more characteristically playful, optimistic lens that recalls the late ‘80s classics “Keeper Of The Seven Keys,” parts I and II. In this way, it’s a stellar mix of the old, new, and everything in between – something that couldn’t have been achieved without cycles of fresh blood over the years. Forget long-departed founder Kai Hansen and the former frontman whose name shan’t be mentioned; the prolific and immensely talented Deris has become a principal songwriter, and Helloween is now largely his show. Behold the glory…

One of Helloween’s most significant contributions to what would later be termed “power metal” is the lightning-swift speed metal number with a soaring chorus, in the vein of all-time staple “Eagle Fly Free.” On this effort, “Far From The Stars,” “Burning Sun,” and “Years” may be the closest successors to that original specimen, while “World Of War” and “Church Breaks Down” tinker with the formula and incorporate some grinding crunch. Strangely, the chosen title track seems the weakest, suffering from a slight case of Powerus Metalus Genericus, though “Live Now” and “Waiting For The Thunder” are strong and memorable entries in the band’s proud repertoire of anthemic rockers such as “Dr. Stein,” “I Can,” and “As Long As I Fall.” Also on the lighter side, “Hold Me In Your Arms” ranks high in the equally proud tradition of ballads, while “Wanna Be God” mixes things up as Deris chants rhythmically over a tribal drumbeat echoing Sepultura’s “Roots.” Such experimentation is rather subtle, but incredibly effective, as evidenced also in the epic-scale progressive dynamics of “Nabataea” and “Make Fire Catch The Fly.”

Whether drawing inspiration from Helloween’s seminal ‘80s beginnings, ‘90s reinvention, or recent millennial efforts, original guitarist Michael Weikath and latest whiz kid Sascha Gerstner gel in absolute sync, and leave nothing feeling out of place. The rhythm section of drummer Dani Löble and original bassist Markus Grosskopf is in more fluid form than ever, and of course, Deris’ unmistakable husky rasp takes center stage. Over nearly two decades, his indispensable contributions have continually proven him the perfect frontman Helloween was always meant to have, and “Straight Out Of Hell” only adds to the pile of proof.

Helloween possesses a special magic that always seems out of reach for most bands: the ability to combine multiple musical and lyrical emotions into a single signature attitude. Optimism and hope are tinged with introspective, cautious wisdom; outright goofiness sometimes comes with a layer of bemused rage, and vice versa; lamentation usually beholds a light at the end of the tunnel. That’s how listening to Deris address faith and spirituality on “Far From The Stars” and repeatedly growl “motherfucker!” on “Asshole” never feels contradictory. It’s all part of a unique identity and brand that Helloween has taken decades to cultivate, in which the full range of human emotions is explored. This makes for quite a satisfying experience, and helps explain the joyous “happy, happy Helloween” chant often heard from loyal fans. “Straight Out Of Hell” is guaranteed to make them chant even louder and longer.

Highs: "Nabataea," "Far From The Stars," "Waiting For The Thunder"

Lows: "Straight Out Of Hell"

Bottom line: Yet another stellar career high for the German pioneers of melodic speed metal.

Rated 4.5 out of 5 skulls
4.5 out of 5 skulls

Rating Description
Rated 5 out of 5 skulls Perfection. (No discernable flaws; one of the reviewer's all-time favorites)
Rated 4.5 out of 5 skulls Near Perfection. (An instant classic with some minor imperfections)
Rated 4 out of 5 skulls Excellent. (An excellent effort worth picking up)
Rated 3.5 out of 5 skulls Good. (A good effort, worth checking out or picking up)
Rated 3 out of 5 skulls Decent. (A decent effort worth checking out if the style fits your tastes)
Rated 2.5 out of 5 skulls Average. (Nothing special; worth checking out if the style fits your taste)
Rated 2 out of 5 skulls Fair. (There is better metal out there)
< 2 skulls Pretty Bad. (Don't bother)