MASTERPLAN - PumpKings
August 4, 2017, a year ago
Forget for a moment that the (dumb) title of this outing sounds more like the name of your local steroid-powered gym. And because this album has been in planning since 2013 and originally meant as bonus material, we'll call releasing Pumpkings just prior to the highly anticipated Helloween reunion tour with Michael Kiske and Kai Hansen a case of really bad timing (or, for the naysayers, a lucky cash grab).
Pumpkings is a showcase of re-recorded Helloween songs written by Masterplan founder/guitarist Roland Grapow during his tenure with the band from 1989 - 2001, meant to satisfy Masterplan fans that have complained the band doesn't perform any Helloween material live. With six albums under his belt to choose from - Pink Bubbles Go Ape, Chameleon, Master Of The Rings, The Time Of The Oath, Better Than Raw, and The Dark Ride - Grapow has selected a couple from each (except Better Than Raw, on which he penned nothing) with varying results. Folks will likely do a double take or cringe outwardly at Michael Kiske's vocals having been replaced by Masterplan frontman Rick Altzi's very different Jorn Lande / Russel Allen lush school of rock voice on the Pink Bubbles Go Ape songs "The Chance", "Someone's Crying" and "Mankind" (even though he does a killer job). On the other side, it doesn't make much of a difference on "Music" and "Step Out Of Hell" from the forgettable Chameleon record, both songs equally grey and unimpressive. Three tracks from the all-important Master Of The Rings make the cut, "Mr. Ego (Take Me Down)" falling flat while Altzi knocks the rollicking Hansen-esque "Still We Go" and classic Deep Purple shred of "Take Me Home" out of the park. And really, Pumpkings flies or fails based on how the fans rate Altzi against Kiske's unmatched-to-this-day voice and current Helloween frontman Andi Deris' equally unique vocal attack, which often sounds like he's one step from taking a header off a ledge.
Hearing Grapow's contributions to the Helloween legacy in this format makes one realize just how significant he was to the band's recovery following both Kai Hansen's and Michael Kiske's respective departures. Not only were "The Chance" and "Still We Go" loaded with trademark Helloween riffage, he was responsible for one of the band's biggest post-Kiske songs, "The Time Of The Oath", and coughed up killer material on the criminally underrated The Dark Ride album, "Escalation 666" and the title track (again). The songs are faithful to the originals with very few musical changes to be heard, benefitting overall from superior modern day production values, although "The Time Of The Oath" does sound kinda flat compared to the original.
Best not to take Pumpkings too seriously as a Masterplan release; call it instead an excuse to perform some Helloween tunes live. Finally.