HELLOWEEN - Smashes, Thrashes & Pumpkin Patches
June 1, 2015, 8 years ago
With 30 years of history under their collective belt, the current incarnation of Helloween could realistically get away without having to make new albums and still have a successful ongoing career. They have weathered numerous storms over the past three decades including having lost co-founding guitarist Kai Hansen to creative differences and Gamma Ray, releasing a couple royal stinkers (depending on who you talk to), drummer Ingo Schwichtenberg committing suicide, and parting ways with the man often / still viewed by many as the only singer worthy of Helloween, Michael Kiske, yet they've forged onward. Their latest album, My God Given Right, is yet another example of the German act's legendary tenacity.
Helloween's previous album, Straight Out Of Hell (2013), was an epic juggernaut as far as the band's discography is concerned. Everything about it was big and brash right down to the artwork, even more obnoxious than their 1998 corker Better Than Raw, with the band and label going so far as to get their balls out and release a 7-minute first single ("Nabataea") that was far more listenable than the anemic "mainstream" edited version. In contrast, My God Given Right sees the 'Weenies tightening things up and adhering to their roots more than ever. Vocalist Andi Deris discovered during the massive press junket for the album that most folks genuinely appreciate the new music"They aren't completely great actors, " Deris laughs, referring to the ass-kissing "best album you've ever made" contingent that's par for the course. "We've never been everybody's darlings and that's not about to change, but the majority of people seem to like the album a lot. I think the reason for that is we're always listening to the fans when they tell us what they like and don't like. That's still a learning experience, even now. The important thing is that we continue to move forward even as we hold on to where Helloween came from."
Deris has been with Helloween for over 20 years, trumping predecessor Michael Kiske's seven. In that time the band has maintained their trademark Happy Metal vibe with varying degrees of success, The Dark Ride from 2000 being the only true blemish on that chart."Don't make me feel older than I am (laughs). We're not really into that whole darkness and hopelessness thing. From time to time it's cool to have a song like that, but that's in the mixture of a concept. There's a certain place for that sort of thing but I can't imagine doing a whole album of dark songs. There are a few tracks on the new album like 'Claws' , 'The Swing Of A Fallen World' and 'You, Still Of War' that are definitely more on the dark side of things, but the rest of it is really meant to be the trademark happy Helloween party that people expect."
"I never understood it and I never will," Deris says of the idea of metal as darkness without light, so to speak. "How is that fulfilling, being all moody and negative or whatever all the time? I would rather do something fun and enjoyable. Take KISS for example; they're a party band, for fuck sake. They have cheesy lyrics all over the place and it makes you feel good. Listen to KISS doing 'Rock And Roll All Nite'; that's my rock n' roll that I love, that I grew up with."
"I did an interview where they asked me why our new album cover doesn't have the typical Helloween orange and yellow colours people are used to seeing, and the reason is they wouldn't go with the sort of apocalyptic Day After Tomorrow concept of the artwork. And even if that sounds kind of dark, I suppose, people will find a lot of colour in the songs on the album. It's definitely Helloween."
My God Given Right has been pegged, not surprisingly but somewhat inappropriately, as a back-to-the-roots album. Fact is Helloween haven't strayed too far afield since The Dark Ride. As previously mentioned, however, it sounds as if the band tightened their roots for a 30 year overview."We did try to reflect thirty years of Helloween on the album, yes," Deris reveals. "If you think you hear something like the Keeper albums or The Dark Ride or Walls Of Jericho (1985) on this album, that's not an accident. We're also playing to three generations of fans now, so I think we have a kind of responsibility to touch on Helloween's history at this point. The music sounds up-to-date for 2015, but there's definitely that '80s feeling or vibe that we blame our producer Charlie Bauerfeind for (laughs). He did an amazing job."
Helloween have a penchant for oddball album and song titles. Pink Bubbles Go Ape (1991) and Rabbit Don't Come Easy (2003) rank as the weirdest of the strange, but My God Given Right is also a head-scratcher at first glance."The title should be as polarizing as possible (laughs). We always try to find something that will grab people's and make them scratch their heads a little. I think it's actually kind of uncool to have something that's so predictable as a title for a metal album. I mean, this is Helloween; even the band name is a bit ridiculous but it's a celebration, sweet or sour. And that's the shit about it, which is having fun. I really enjoy making people stop and wonder what we're up to, and ponder what they're in for when they put on a Helloween album."
Deris has spoken at length in other interviews about the significance of calling the album My God Given Right, but it bears repeating here given that it has a personal meaning for him."My God Given Right a reference to being able to do what you want, to do the things that make you happy. My father actually made that point with me when I finished school, when I was in that position where I had to decide what I wanted to do with my life. He said that as long as I was happy with the path that I chose, he would be happy, and that it's my God-given right to be happy. That's why I pursued a life in music and why I'm still doing it. And it's the same advice I recently gave to my son, who is now faced with making that same decision of what to do next. I though it made a great, and quite honestly a beautiful title for the song and ultimately the album."
Talk of touring for the new album leads to discussion of a topic that has been lingering for years; the possibility of Helloween reuniting with Kiske for shows celebrating what is widely considered the band's heyday. There have been varying reactions from the parties involved, with guitarist Michael Weikath cautiously embracing the idea and Kiske, now with Unisonic, stating he doesn't see it happening. It's the sort of thing that one would expect to rub Deris the wrong way - and painfully so - but that isn't the case."I love the idea," he says. "I'm a fan of this band as much as anyone, and I've actually said that I think it would be cool to go out with Kai and Michael together. We could all perform songs from our respective Helloween eras and make the fans very, very happy (laughs). We went out with Gamma Ray and nobody ever thought that would happen, so I don't see why it wouldn't work. There are no plans to do it, but I think it would be cool."
(Helloween slider photo by Martin Häusler)