The Dark Ride, from 2000, is the ninth full-length studio album by the legendary German Power Metal band Helloween. It was produced by Roy Z (Halford, Judas Priest, Bruce Dickenson, Yngwie Malmsteen, Sepultura) and Charlie Bauerfeind (Angra, Blind Guardian, Primal Fear, Hammerfall) and released through Nuclear Blast records.
It was the fourth and final record by the Derris, Weikath, Grapow, Grosskopf, Kutch line-up, who released the Master Of The Rings, Time Of The Oath and Better Than Raw albums in the 90s. After this album, guitarist Roland Grapow and drummer Uli Kusch left Helloween and started the band Masterplan.
Sometimes people tend to dismiss The Dark Ride as a bad record and sometimes people tend to think of it as a massive departure from the band’s usual style. I feel this album is a bit of an underdog album in their discography that has a bad rap that it doesn’t deserve. Initially I wasn’t crazy about it, but it is a real grower and with repeat listens I really, really warmed to its charms.
It is undoubtedly true that there are a few mid-tempo numbers like “The Departed (Sun Is Going Down),” “Immortal (Stars)” and “Mirror, Mirror,” some of which have with some downtuned guitars and pinch harmonics (“Escalation 666”) which isn’t what you’d expect from this band most of the time …and of course, there is a Power Ballad (“If I Could Fly”), but to be fair, there has been one on every Helloween album since The Keepers.
There are however also some of the bouncy, happy, up-tempo Power Metal songs with melodic choruses and great guitar solos just like you’d expect from Helloween (“Salvation,” “All Over The Nations,” “We Damn The Night,” “The Dark Ride”). As well as just fitting the bill of being in the band’s usual style, these are top-quality tracks as well. The Title-Track in particular is excellent. If you wonder whether this album is too dark for you, give the Title Track a listen first.
I wouldn’t make this your first Helloween record if you are a newcomer (Go for the Keeper Of The Seven Keys albums) or your first Derris-era record if you are a Derris-skeptic (Go for Time Of The Oath) but it is still a good record with a lot to offer and not worth skipping entirely. The musicianship, vocals and production job are all pretty great and there’s plenty of memorable and enjoyable material on offer throughout.
If you are an existing Helloween fan but haven’t chosen to pick up a copy of The Dark Ride yet, I don’t think its wise to think of this album as being way too different from the Helloween you know and love. Even if you only like Helloween doing strictly their usual stuff, you’ll enjoy half of the record. Furthermore, Even when songs aren’t in the style you expect from the band, they are usually quite great songs anyway. “I Live For Your Pain” for example isn’t speedy, but it has a great melodic chorus and an absolutely fantastic guitar solo. When you’re listening to the finely produced record, during an uplifting neoclassical sounding guitar solo you should find yourself entertained, even if magazine reviews at the time said the album was darker than usual.
Overall; The Dark Ride is not your typical Helloween record, and sees the band adding a few more strings to their bow, but there’s still plenty of what makes them great in there, and just because there is some change, does not necessarily mean its bad change, look at it more like a bit of variety to break up things and keep it interesting. Don’t miss out on this one due to the reputation.