on 17 June 2014
Helloween’s fourteenth full-length studio album, Straight Out Of Hell, is a damn strong release that sees the legendary German Power Metal band at the top of their game, doing what they do best and doing it well. For me, this would definitely rate as being in the top half of their discography and something that all but the most casual Helloween fans should definitely pick up and give some serious attention to.
Maybe it was the line-up stability (fourth album in a row with the same line-up!), maybe it was the fact that the band were nearing their thirtieth anniversary or maybe it was simply serendipity, but this album really nails what this band are all about and what they should be doing at this stage in time. The 2013 album does a remarkable job of balancing “dishing out more of the core Helloween sound,” with playing in different moods and mixing things up just a little. You can hear brief touches of the sounds from every Helloween album since Deris joined the band. The fast, the slow, the conservative, the experimental, the happy, the serious, the heavy, the mellow… its all in here; in a tasteful and well-balanced, cohesive whole.
‘Straight Out Of Hell,’ ‘Far From The Stars,’ ‘Burning Sun,’ ‘Years,’ and ‘Make Fire Catch The Fly’ are all exactly what you would want or expect from Helloween. That sort of happy sounding, melodic Power Metal with catchy sing-along choruses, thundering double kicks, lots of gorgeous dual-guitar harmonies and virtuosic lead guitar playing. (‘World At War,’ is that sort of style as well, only with extra heavy verses reminiscent of Helloween’s earlier The Dark Ride album added in there too for good measure). So if you want traditional Helloween, you’ve got it, in spades.
There’s also a fair amount of variety on offer here too. Opener ‘Nabatea’ – a history lesson about an ancient race of people called the Nabateans; is a brilliant, energetic, slightly progressive tune that goes through a lot of different moods and flavours. It might take a few active-listens to get the full effect, but there are some seriously excellent parts on this track. The bit behind the lyric ‘though they had no slaves, believe it or not!’ is absolutely joyous. I remember hearing the chorus to this around the time of the record’s release and not liking it, and so delaying purchasing this album by a few months – big mistake! This is a very good song indeed and really impresses upon closer inspection.
Closer ‘Church Breaks Down’ is also a multi-faceted, semi-progressive number, which feels like it would fit well on their classic Time Of The Oath album. There are hints of piano, and slower parts layered in amongst the happy-sounding speed metal influenced sections.
Then bringing the speed down further, there’s the track ‘Live Now!’ which is very much the traditional Helloween single, (like previous singles ‘Mr. Torture,’ ‘Mrs. God,’ or ‘Perfect Gentleman’). You know the kind… It’s not very representative of the album’s direction overall, as it’s the only song that sounds this way.
‘Waiting For The Thunder’ is another mid-tempo, keyboard-tinged melodic number that initially seems like its going to be a soppy ballad, but is actually a pretty driving track once it gets going. Then of course comes the actual ballad ‘Hold Me In Your Arms;’ there’s always at least one per album, and here its quite a tasteful one – if you liked ‘If I Could Fly’ then you’ll probably get along with this just fine. Finally in the variety stakes, there’s the brief experimental track ‘Wanna Be God,’ which is a rhythmic, tribal call to arms that sounds like the score from the scene in a movie where the barbarian army are flexing and showing off before the actual fight.
The large mix of styles found on the record is offset well by the continuous reintroduction of up-tempo, gloriously happy sounding speed metal sections. This cements a feeling of consistency. When combined with the quality of the musicianship and the well-structured songs it all really adds up to something even better than the sum of its parts.
On top of that, the whole record is just an absolute guitarist’s dream. The leads and solos are absolutely wonderful; at times fun, at times impressive, at times evocative and interesting. Backed up by up by Löble’s weighty drumming and a clear production job, these songs really “pop.” There’ll always be that extra something in there that will allow a song to stand out, but everything will always feel like it belongs.
All in all, this is an excellent release. Lapsed fans should consider picking up a copy to see what the band are up to nowadays, casual fans should consider picking up a copy to find out why they should become more than casual fans, and active fans simply should not be without this strong and succinct distillation of everything that’s great about modern Helloween.