HELLOWEEN - Into The Fire
By Carl Begai
"Andi Deris sounds like a hamster being pushed through a pencil sharpener."
The steaming little nugget above directed at HELLOWEEN'
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
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
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."
Bauerfeind has been behind the board for Helloween since 2000 and
The Dark Ride, an album that wasn't a huge success and one that Weikath
has admitted in previous interviews he can do without. Producer and band
have come a long way together since then...
"He's never been a purveyor of the idea of doing The Dark Ride,"
says Weikath, clearing Bauerfeind of any supposed wrongdoing. "It was
more a suggestion from management and the band itself. Everybody was
hooked on dark and negative and Seattle stuff, and that was the general
feel of the world at that time. I just exclude myself from that because I
was sick of reading in magazines about what I have to hear, what's
better, what's more modern during those times. I'd pick up the new issue
of Metal Hammer and it was always like, 'Oh, don't listen to Riot, it's
too old fashioned. You have to listen to this and that band...' It was
as if everyone woke up one day and said 'Yeah, now you have to think
about negative and dark things...' and that went on for about eight
years. The Dark Ride was done during that time. It wasn't Charlie's
fault; he just did what we said. Actually, after doing all kinds of
Helloween sound-alike bands Charlie got to do his first real Helloween
record, and he was expected to do something dark. He thought that was
strange."Straight Out Of Hell
boasts a total of 15 songs depending on the
chosen edition. Now at the ripe young age of 50, Weikath admits that it
"always" bugs him when the powers-that-be insist on loading an album
"It bores the heck out of me. I appreciate an album where there's
six or seven tracks. I like the classic SCORPIONS, ACCEPT
albums; they were ideal. I don't want a Judas Priest album with
12 tracks on it unless they're as good as British Steel or Defenders Of
The Faith. Even Defenders Of The Faith is a bit long for me."
"It's strange," he continues. "People arguably want larger screens
on their freaking smart phones. What for? You have to learn that
sometimes people want things that are different from what you consider
practical or good or cool. I see a majority of people that want to go in
a certain direction and I sit here wondering why. So, 13 tracks, 10
tracks, eight tracks or what? I long for a time when people were less
greedy. Back then there was always quality instead of quantity; that's
what's being said as a measure and I agree. And now the big thing is to
do double albums, like we weren't supposed to do with the Keeper records
even though we came up with enough material at one time for a possible
Keeper Of The Seven Keys
double album. Doing that now is doing double
the work for a fifth of the money compared to what artists used to make.
Now people are like baby birds in a nest with their beaks wide open
waiting to be fed, and we keep throwing in more and more songs."
"I don't want to complain too much, though. I don't want to come
across as whining because this is principle stuff. We have good
management, things are running smoothly, you can say we're well
established, but that's been some hard work for us and our management."
In closing, Weikath comments on the upcoming Hellish Rock II World
Tour featuring Helloween and GAMMA RAY
hitting the road together
starting at the end of Febtuary. Gamma Ray, of course, is the brainchild
of former/founding Helloween guitarist Kai Hansen launched after he
left the band in 1989, and things haven't always friendly between the
camps. Hansen recently spoke with BW&BK and made it clear there's no
bad blood between them anymore, which is why the first Hellish Rock
Tour in 2007/2008 happened in the first place.
"We received a lot of posts from people saying 'Oh, I couldn't make
it to the show the last time you did the Hellish Rock Tour. Is there a
chance you could do it again?'" says Weikath. "The usual answer would be
(raises voice) 'No! It won't be repeated! That was it and you weren't
there!' But instead we decided to do it a second time. It's almost
ridiculous but we can actually do it. It's crazy to do something that is
in a way completely predictable, but that's what I like about it."