Helloween - Keeper Of The Seven Keys III-The Legacy
When being asked what Power Metal is all about, I almost exclusively give the Helloween reference. And most people, no matter their musical interest, seem to, at least vaguely know what I'm talking about. So you can easily say that few bands seem to have such a well spread and genre crossing reputation. Few bands can be said to have made such an impact on the metal genre. Few bands have inspired so much and been followed by so many. Few bands have released not just one, but two legendary albums that would turn out to be the very definition of classics.
Few bands can be said to have more or less invented the melodic power metal genre with that two-parted saga between good and evil. Few bands have the guts to put the same name to a new release almost two decades later with only two of the members from that time still around. Helloween obviously have that guts. One of the major events in the power metal genre of the 21th century has thus occurred. It's a major event in itself that Helloween releases another studio album, but I think we can quite firmly state that this time matters are even more actualized.
Early the pumpkins stated that they would never put the Keeper name on anything they didn't think could match those past achievements, but it's still a very bold statement and the material provided better be of finest quality. Much more than just a fair number of good tracks must be delivered. Much more than just producing a cover with similar artistic expression must be present if the atmosphere is to be recaptured. The thematic lyrics and feel of the eternal battle between the forces of good and evil has to be there.
The epic 14-minute track better be present. The guitar harmonies and leads must reach the highest standards. The general Keeper feeling should be instantly recognisable regardless of that the band today has a different line-up in key positions. Simply put the tracks and the album itself just has to DELIVER. And in great form. Every little detail just must be very close to perfect because all eyes of the metal world, both fans and critics, will be focusing strongly on what you have to offer and will come down very hard on you if you fail.
The big question is therefore just if Helloween can accomplish all this and if the results really meet the extremely high set expectations or if giving yet another album the Keeper signature was just a way to sell more albums and give the band some more attention than they had had coming their way the latest couple of years. Two CD's for the price of one and over 80 minutes of playing time is what Helloween have provided us with to come up with the answer to this.
As abovementioned, there's gotta be a a 14-minute epos or it just isn't a Keeper album. Luckily, Helloween are very aware of this too since with such a track, King For a Thousand Years, CD 1 on Keeper of the Seven Keys- The Legacy starts. The narrative part in the intro sets us straight into the saga again while many tempo and riff changes, acoustic and orchestrated parts, an epic anthemic chorus and truly great solo sections mark this one as a song that ends up on equal levels with both Halloween and Keeper of the Seven Keys, with most in common with the latter musically. After having heard this whole number countless of times, there's no doubt in my mind at all that it definitely is one of the better Helloween tracks ever, which truly should be saying a lot. A VERY worthy metal crumb on the ample Keeper table.
Invisible Man is a very dynamic track, much more so than Helloween have composed in a long time. The guitar work in form of intro, leads and interludes are just great on this too. The chorus is a very solid one and even though the Helloween sound of the Deris era is clearly recognisable, there's a strong Keeper part II reference in the song. The piano sprinkled power chord riffage for instance reminds me a lot of Savage from that particular album and the overall sensation also has a certain Keeper II vibe.
Born on Judgement Day presents the up-tempo edge of Helloween in their very prime. Another great chorus is found on this one and the amazing guitar work from the first two numbers shows no tendencies of weakness as Weikath and Gerstner continue to deliver great leads and harmonies. The drumming of new band member Dani Löble (formerly in Rawhead Rexx) is very fast and prominent on this song and Markus Grosskopf sets great bass lines free once more. Much Keeper quality to this track as well.
Pleasure Drone once again features some great guitar interludes while this song mixes the tempo a little between fast and moderate pace. Mrs God is the single of the album and also the shortest one, reaching just under three minutes. Although it really grows with repeated listening and provides a very catchy chorus, it's definitely the weakest track on CD 1. Oh, of course since it's Helloween and an album in the Keeper chronicles, a sheep-bleating sound effect had to be included and Mrs God is where you find it on this release.
Silent Rain then ends the first disc with pure power metal smashing intenseness and once again showcases Helloween's speedier edge. Yet another album pinnacle. CD 1 is thus extremely good and so far Helloween aren't by far dragging the Keeper name in the dirt. Quite the contrary.
The eleven-minute Occasion Avenue is the first number on CD 2 and begins with types of sound-samples from Keeper I and II. Someone is tuning between different radio channels, just as on the Helloween E.P, and finds tracks like Eagle Fly Free, Halloween and Keeper of the Seven Keys before the main riff of the song begins. This track is quite heavy, even a bit progressive and feels like a little different Helloween composition that perhaps The Dark Ride album should have been proud to have on its list. Light the Universe is the ballad of the release where Andi Deris gets vocal assistance from Candice Night (Blackmore's Night). Being fonder of ballads nowadays than before, I still don't regard this as one of the better ones I've heard, no matter how great the vocal performance of both musicians is.
Do you Know What You're Fighting For and Come Alive unfortunately don't really match the initial high quality though, despite being far from bad. The first one has a very good guitar lead and the second a layered vocal chorus of very high quality but overall they don't really have the right Helloween magic about them. Both are straightforward metal songs but in this context they fall a little too far away from the other material and are the unfortunate holders of the filler title. The Shade in the Shadows luckily restores the former flare with a main sharp riff much reminiscent from mainly Keeper II. That in combination with a great chorus defines a song of classic Helloween standard.
Get it Up is the second "fun" song of the album and here I clearly sense resemblances with I Want Out and noticeably Helloween want to keep their happy metal approach alive. My Life for One More Day finishes the saga and is yet another precious stone and doubtlessly must be mentioned among the better tracks. It heavily compensates some of the shortcomings on this second disc with more outstanding guitar battering and a great chorus. A very worthy end to this legacy.
The band has also continued their very fruitful collaboration with Charlie Bauerfind who seems to poke around in every major release on the power metal scene right now. I thought his skills were good enough on the previous Rabbit Don't Come Easy that suffered the best production Helloween ever had, but this album surpasses even that. Markus Grosskopf's bass has been given much more span in the mix which is something I really appreciate and the metal ic sound to the guitars can really bear the Keeper legacy with great pride.
Andi Deris makes one of the best performances of his career and Dani Löble is like the energizer bunny on drugs wielding those sticks so magically. The epic feel of Keeper I and II have been salvaged and even though it's very clear that the band really wanted so much with this album it's not overdone. It's just the release I honestly wished would come but didn't quite dare my hopes on.
As previously mentioned, a few tracks on CD 2 have a little filler character over them and maybe Helloween should have settled for a one disc release with a couple of fewer tracks. On the other hand, getting two pieces of plastic for the bargain price of one isn't half bad and if you account for that it's over 80 minutes in playtime you certainly still get your money's worth. So after I don't know how many listening experiences I mush say that Helloween made no mistake with the Keeper title this time either. Not to a full degree, but very much of the former magic and glory have been recaptured despite that the very colourful musicians Michael Kiske and Kai Hansen that played such important roles on part I and II aren't involved anymore.
But besides the high quality song writing and great atmosphere, I think it's the dynamic and intense guitar work that make me appreciate this album so much and why I think it's most worthy of bearing the Keeper of the Seven Keys name. You have to go back all the way to when Kai Hansen was in the band to find guitars as great and so abundant in leads and harmonies. Weikath's and Gerstner's playing is very great and in more than just brief and single moments rivals the works of that guitar god and former band member.
Rabbit Don't Come Easy was by me rated as the best Helloween release of the Deris era but a throne shift has occurred even though I just realized I for some idiotic reason seem to have given that album the grade 9 (!?!?!?) Keeper of the Seven Keys - The Legacy pushes the Rabbit down in the hat and a second place by a very clear margin and is simply the best Helloween album since the counterparts were released in the later half of the Eighties.
Helloween thus continue to be a genre leading act and I very happily state that they proved to live up to this very bold and gutsy move with flying colours. The release of the album has also found the right time of the year to hit the streets. There simply won't be a great Halloween without the right kind of highest quality pumpkin.