Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Helloween - The Keeper's Trilogy - A Retorspective

It’s Halloween.

In 2010 Helloween released “Unarmed” a compilation album of reworked versions of their biggest hits. This was a great opportunity for the current line up to record versions of Helloween hits that they were not originally a part of. Primarily it gave Andi Deris a chance to sing studio quality versions of all the great songs originally sang by Michael Kiske, which is nice since Deris had been part of the band for nearly two decades by this point.

Given the chance to re-imagine and retool some of their classic songs was not wasted by Weikath, Grosskopf and the rest of the band, who made many fun changes to several Helloween favorites. They introduced a jazz stylization including saxophones to the monster rock song “Dr. Stein.” Operatic indulgences were made to the high emotion “A Tale that wasn’t Right” which was definitely a good idea. One of the most charming songs on the album is “Eagle Fly Free” which is sort of a cover of a cover. Sweden’s “Hellsongs” did an acoustic cover of “Eagle Fly Free” and the Unarmed version is combining aspects of the original Helloween version and the acoustic Hellsongs’ version. The Unarmed version of “Eagle Fly Free” is literally a duet by Andri Deris and Hellsongs singer Harriet Ohllson, and both bands are fully collaborative in this studio recording.

The entire Unarmed album is great but the track that made me take notice was “The Keeper’s Trilogy” a seventeen minute rock opera that combines all three primary tracks from the Keeper’s saga “Halloween,” “The Keeper of the Seven Keys” and “The King for a 1000 Years.” The idea of combining all three songs came from live performances and time restraints therein.

Andi Deris explained in multiple live concerts I have seen online that everyone always wants to hear “Halloween,” “Keeper of the Seven Keys” and “The King for a 1000 Years” in concert, but playing all three songs is approximately forty minutes worth of music, and a concert is only so long, so they combined all three songs into one reasonably long song.

To recap:

“Halloween” - The devil is haunting Halloween:

“Keeper of the Seven Keys” – A mythical adventurer goes out on a journey to slay the devil:

“The King for a 1000 Years” – The devil plots his return, all he needs is a mortal to be his terrestrial hand:

In each review I explained why each individual song is special and fantastic, and how together there is something more to notice, the history of Helloween subtly unfolding, and an adventure saga involving the devil. I wrote in my “Keeper of the Seven Keys” review “If there is one sure fire why to win my heart it is with a long fantasy adventure rock ballad” this is true of “Keeper of the Seven Keys” but even more so for the grand opera of high adventure that is “The Keeper’s Trilogy.” When incorporating all the elementals from all three songs we begin to feel the connection between these three tracks more so than before. The lyrics regarding challenging the devil and fighting for mankind in “Halloween” are the transition point to “Keeper of the Seven Keys,” and the conflict with the devil in “Keeper of the Seven Keys” is the transition point to “The King for a 1000 Years.” These moments flowing together also increases the scope of the adventure. The ordeal of dealing with the devil begins to feel ancient; an enemy of yesteryear will continue to threaten us at least a thousand years from a future date not yet reached.

Maybe it is just me but the whole fantasy element of “The Keeper’s Trilogy” reminds of me a lot of the old PC role playing games like Might and Magic and Ultima. Just compare cover art.

Keeper’s Saga:

Might and Magic 3-5:

Ultima 1-3:

Ultima 4-6:

The Ultima series really seems to fit the Keeper’s saga, the villain Exodus basically looks like Satan anyway, and looking at the cover art of “Keeper of the Seven Keys – The Legacy” the colorization and feel is similar to Ultima three and perhaps even more so Ultima six. The Avatar standing over a writhing demon could definitely be compared to the keeper challenging Satan. The mysterious wizard/cloaked man on all the covers of the keeper’s albums is presumable the keeper himself and he looks like he could very easily slip into any of the video game box art above battling strange creatures in even stranger locations. I think the comparison is apt.

It is funny that I never noticed the female features on the devil on the “Keeper of the Seven Keys – The Legacy” album art before creating the images posted above. For some reason the half metal she devil seems all too fitting for a metal cover. Also the use of computer graphics on the “Keeper of the Seven Keys- The Legacy” album art is typical of metal albums that came out in the 2000s. It reminds me a little of Iron Maiden’s “Dance of Death.”

It is amazing what a bunch of rockers can come up with as their flag ship songs focusing on a Halloween theme. You cannot tell me this theme was not being used, it comes up everywhere. There is of course the song “Halloween” but also all the reference to the devil thereafter call back to Halloween. Dr. Stein is a very Halloween themed song. Pumpkins are the band’s mascot and present even on the Unarmed cover art. In the “Keeper of the Seven Keys Part 1 & 2” box set the cartoon artwork inside the booklet has a man listening to a song with repeating lyrics “Happy happy Halloween” and also his head turns into a pumpkin, I believe this to be a reference to the horror movie “Halloween 2” you know the one that does not have Mike Myers in it, the one with the television commercial that goes “happy, happy Halloween” and somehow the television broadcast was going to cause all the children’s mask, including a pumpkin head naturally, to seal around their heads and kill them. I am sure it is a “Halloween 2” reference.

How does Halloween tie into the Ultima series? I do not know, but I am glad Helloween went there.

Deris stated that it was kind of self indulgent to play all three songs of the Keeper’s Trilogy live given the tremendous length of time required. This gave me pause about doing a Music in Review for each one, because it might seem like I was being self indulgent. But I also remembered that I do not care, I love “Keeper of the Seven Keys” but if I was going to talk about “Keeper of the Seven Keys” I should probably talk about “Halloween” it came first and also it is an easier song to reference to introduce Helloween, but if I am going to talk about both “Halloween” and “Keeper of the Seven Keys” I should probably finish the series, but then there is “The Keeper’s Trilogy” which has all three, but explaining all three at once would be too hard to fit into one review. In the end this is what I ended up with, three Music in Reviews and one retrospective.

It’s Halloween and this is Helloween.

- Colin Kelly

Thursday, October 25, 2012

Helloween - The King for a 1000 Years

“Ages of fire - Aeon of darkness, fear and hate
Wake up my creatures
Stand up you bringers of man's fate
No one can kill us
We cannot die, a death one knows
Mankind is sleeping
My victory near, their end so close

I know your secrets
I know it all”

After the departure of Kai Hansen from Helloween, singer Michael Kiske would only stay on for another two albums, “Pink Bubbles Go Ape” and “Chameleon.” Around the same time drummer Ingo Schwichtenberg was dejected from the band, tragically Schwichtenberg suffered from schizophrenia and an addiction to alcohol and drugs which led the poor man to suicide. Guitarist Michael Weikath and bassist Markus Grosskopf would march on still carrying the banner of Helloween.

The departure of Kiske would prove problematic since his face and voice had become synonymous with Helloween so the replacement had to be someone special. The man they would recruit was Andi Deris a very talented singer, and more importantly he is very “metal.” In some funny ways Helloween experienced what Van Halen experienced when David Lee Roth left and was replaced with Sammy Hagar. Everyone likes Sammy Hagar but most people liked David Lee Roth as lead singer of Van Halen more, intense and needless arguments ensued. Meanwhile for Helloween, everyone likes Andi Deris as a singer but everyone likes Michael Kiske more and intense and needless arguments ensued. I am of the popular opinion that Kiske is the better singer both in and out of Helloween the guy is just amazing, however I really do enjoy Deris’s voice. The two singers are fundamentally different in their range and style but it makes for a variety in Helloween that I believe was advantageous.

What made Helloween famous was the Keeper’s albums. The albums that came after, which I am sure are decent never made the same impact as “The Keeper of the Seven Keys” but there was room to grow and a mythology that could be expanded if only they dared go there. In 2005 Helloween released a double CD set titled “The Keeper of the Seven Keys - The Legacy.”

Unlike “The Keeper of the Seven Keys Part 1 & 2” the over arching narrative in the legacy has more continuity from one song to the next, themes such as devil worship, quests for immortality, betrayal, and sorcery reoccur. Furthermore there is a direct narrative from the song “Keeper of the Seven Keys” and the primary song of this third addition to the mythology “The King for A 1000 Years.” After being sealed away by the keeper of the seven keys the devil and his minions have been waiting biding their time to return and ruin mankind, and suddenly we have continuity.

The leap from the keeper’s sage in 1987-88 to 2005’s legacy was plenty of time for Helloween to change, and looking at the multiple members involved in the band’s history it is easy to see why Helloween changed. Music had changed too, metal music had gotten heavier and harder and Helloween had in so many ways mimicked this and for a song about a hateful Satan rising up from hell and threatening all mankind, heavy is a good thing.

Another interesting detail is the differences in narrative style from “Keeper of the Seven Keys” to “The King for A 1000 Years,” in “Keeper of the Seven Keys” the entire story follows the hero fighting the devil, who won’t let us be, while in “The King for A 1000 Years” the story follows Satan and his efforts to break through to our world, most notably through the corruption of humans.

“Say you want to live forever
Minus one day
Say you will obey and I

I will show - I will show
I will show your Reich of gold
And I will show - I will show
I will show you friend and foe”

What a great line, “say you want to live forever, minus one day,” this is very much the kind of backhanded crooked deal we have come to expect from the devil of our modern culture. Though I still need to look further into Helloween’s discography I suspect that “Keepers of the Seven Keys – The Legacy” along with the song “The King for A 1000 Years” is Andi Deris’s best work and Helloween’s best work since the keeper’s sage in the eighties. It helps that “The King for a 100 Years” and “The Keeper of the Seven Keys – The Legacy” tie back to the memorable albums of the eighties, and perhaps it speaks of Weikath’s creativity since he wrote the two best songs from the series, the last two. Perhaps Weikath revisiting “The Keeper of the Seven Keys” reignited some of the passion he had for the genre of heavy metal demonic fantasy adventure. Whatever the creative reason, it is these three songs “Halloween,” “Keeper of the Seven Keys,” and “The King for A 1000 Years” that really made me fall in love with Helloween. Everything you need to know about Helloween is being told to you in these three songs, the theme and stylization of Helloween’s music and how it changed over the years, also who was involved in each song explains a lot of that. Helloween is a band that has had many talented men come and go but thanks to Weikath and Grosskopf there has remained a unique consistency of metal spirit that can and will stand the test of time.

Say you want to live forever, minus one day....

- Colin Kelly

Thursday, October 11, 2012

Helloween - Keeper of the Seven Keys

If there is one sure fire why to win my heart it is with a long fantasy adventure rock ballad, which is exactly what “Keeper of the Seven Keys” is, a thirteen minute musical epic. The song’s opening jumps right into the fantasy theme and never deviates far.

“Put on your armour
Ragged after fights
Hold up your sword
You're leaving the light.
Make yourself ready
For the lords of the Dark
They'll watch your way
So be cautious, quiet and hark”

There are so many lyrics in this song, it’s practically a book, and they hit so many fantasy references, “will o’ the wisps, “dwarves of darkness,” “guided by spells,” and “the seas of hatred and sin,” all silly stuff but also awesome. The second time I listened to “Keeper of the Seven Keys” I was listening to the lyrics casually and I thought I heard, “kill that Satan who won’t let us be” and I thought “wait a minute is this song about killing the devil?” The answer was yes, big time yes, “Keeper of the Seven Keys” is one hundred percent about fighting and killing the devil. Typically in fantasy epics the big bad guy is some sort of lord of darkness and rarely something as culturally significant as Satan, but in incorporating the devil the song reaches an additional level of dramatic.

“Keeper of the Seven Keys” relates to the song “Halloween” in a few ways. First “Keeper of the Seven Keys” is the title track to Helloween’s second and third album “Keeper of the Seven Keys Part 1 & 2” so in a way all the tracks on both albums lead to the swan song that is “Keeper of the Seven Keys,” even though “Save Us” is technically the last tack. “Halloween” was the focus point of part one and “Keeper of the Seven Keys” was the focus point of part two, however the over arching theme of the two albums is a little disjointed, there are songs that fall into the Halloween theme really nicely like “Dr. Stein” an obvious Frankenstein homage, but a majority of the songs stand alone and do not fit into any story being revealed to us in either of these two big epic tracks. “Halloween” flows into “Keeper of the Seven Keys” through the presence of the devil in both songs, the devil is haunting Halloween in the first song and is a full blown antagonist in the second.

But the story of fighting the devil in a fantasy world is not the only narrative going on between these two songs, the story of Helloween is unfolding before us as well. I think I was right to call Kai Hansen the leader of Helloween as I did in the last review, he was a primary song writer, lead guitarist, and lead singer on the first album, but there is a great change occurring on the second installment on the Keeper’s saga. Rhythm and lead guitarist Michael Weikath takes over the song writing department on part two of the Keeper of the Seven Keys, having written five of the ten tracks on the album and three of the four hit tracks including “Keeper of the Seven Keys.” Interestingly the only hit song on the second album written by Hansen is “I Want Out” which is a song that clearly hints at how Hansen wants out of the band. No one is really sure why Kai Hansen was so unhappy in Helloween, the band he had help create, but he was upset enough to write a song about it so he must have been something serious. Seems a shame that Hansen felt that way and everyone in Helloween seemed surprised by the development and departure of Hansen after their third album. Hansen was only around for a short time in the most memorable band he would ever be a part of, he came and conquered, he was part of the two best Helloween albums, which were in turn two of the best rock/metal albums ever to come out of Germany.

When we look from “Halloween” to “Keeper of the Seven Keys” we see a transition in Helloween. “Halloween” is a song written by Kai Hansen with new lead singer Michael Kiske capturing all the raw intentions and emotions of the young band. “Keeper of the Seven Keys” takes the band into a fantastic new direction of fantasy and adventure and is written by Michael Weikath the ongoing creative leader of the band hereafter, Weikath along with bassist Markus Grosskopf are the only two members of the band to be with Hellowen since the beginning to the current day. The Keeper’s sage was a two piece set and important changes occurred within Helloween between the first and second installments; these albums are valuable records in the ongoing history of classic rock.

The story does not end there though; there is a third part to this trilogy.

- Colin Kelly

Wednesday, October 3, 2012

Helloween - Halloween

I am working backwards discovering German rock music.

When I discovered Avantasia I learned all about front man Tobias Sammet, and knowning him I learned about his band Edguy. Sammet becomes my hero and through him I learned about Michael Kiske, Toby’s hero. Learning what an incredible singer Kiske is I learned about Helloween.

Helloween was formed in 1984 under the leadership of Kai Hansen who performed the important roles of lead guitarist and lead singer. After only one album “Walls of Jericho” Hansen decided that performing the duties of both singer and guitarist was too much for him to handle during live performances, so they decided to invest in a lead singer. This is a reoccurring challenge for many musicians; in fact Tobias Sammet himself originally played bass and sang before deciding that was becoming too challenging to do both live all the time. The man they would find to sing for Helloween would be Sammet’s hero Michael Kiske, and yeah, that was a good idea.

Helloween’s second album “The Keeper of the Seven Keys Part 1” would be a huge leap forward for the band both in artistic development and commercial success. Kiske’s voice added that certain something that changed Helloween from a decent rock band to the stuff of legends. Also the song writing as a whole advanced a few steps forward from “Walls of Jericho,” so much so that the Keeper’s albums are the landmark of Helloween’s career, nothing that came after would ever be quite as good. The Keeper’s albums would make Helloween one of the largest driving forces of the rock scene in Europe, especially Germany.

The name of the band “Helloween” is clearly a play on words from the holiday “Halloween” this is neither subtle or particularly cleaver, but having said that, “Helloween” is as good a name as any. The point I am attempting to raise here is the men of Helloween did not forget what brought them to the dance, they did not forget the theme of their rock band, the theme of dark, hellish, Halloween. Appropriately the central narrative song from “Keeper of the Seven Keys Part 1” is a track called “Halloween.”

“In the streets on Halloween
There's something going on
No way to escape the power unknown
In the streets on Halloween
The spirits will arise
Make your choice, it's hell or paradise
Ah--it's Halloween
Ah--it's Halloween”

The title of this song caused some confusion for me when I first discovered it as I thought the chorus might have been saying “Ah—we’re Helloween” which would have been effective I am certain but ultimately is completely incorrect. If you are going to combine hell and Halloween you expect the devil to show up right?

“I'll show you passion and glory
He is the snake
I'll give you power and abundance
He's the corrupter of man

Save me from the evil one
Give me strength to carry on
I will fight for all mankind's
Deliverance and peace of mind”

Not only is this last set of lyrics giving us the much needed references to Satan but there are key expressions here that tie in directly to the next two Helloween songs I want to talk about. “Halloween” is the just the first part of a trilogy you see, a trilogy that defines Helloween in my opinion.

It is such a contrast comparing the video/radio edit of “Halloween” to the studio version, the radio edit is a meager five and a half minutes, where as the full version is thirteen. “Halloween” in its intended form is an operatic metal song about mysticism and devil worship, it sets the stage for the rest of the Trilogy, and it even set the stage for the rest of Helloween’s career. “Halloween” despite appearing shallow in concept is actually the beginning of a grand musical opera; it is the first piece of the Keeper’s Trilogy, but also the first flagship song of the band Helloween.

Keep on rocking in the free world.

- Colin Kelly