HELLOWEEN / HAMMERFALL – Metal Invaders Descend On Dallas

May 16, 2023, 3 weeks ago

Words and Photos by Gonzalo E. Pozo

gallery heavy metal hammerfall helloween

In yet another example of how classic metal in on the upswing in the United States, Helloween brought both the noise and the crowds into the Dallas district of Deep Ellum on Saturday, May 13, 2023. And perhaps taking a cue from the reunion that welcomed both Bruce Dickinson and Adrian Smith back into Iron Maiden without dismissing Smith's replacement Janick Gers a little over two decades ago, Helloween continues as the Pumpkins United septet that brought great joy to power metal nerds the world over back in 2016. 

Count that. Seven dudes in one metal band. Drums, bass, two lead vocalists, and three guitarists, one of whom sings lead part time, and another of whom occasionally sings backup. It's a daunting task, but the payoff is that it marries the two biggest eras of Helloween's history, and does a damn fine job of honoring both. 

In tow were Gothenburg's Hammerfall, who are widely regarded as the band responsible for the resurgence of power metal in the late ‘90s. While Glory To The Brave was a promising debut, the band never really grew past penning songs about how metal they are, and perhaps they never intended to do that anyway. Still, their sound matured into an undeniable force that the ever-growing legions of power metal aficionados adore, even if it is best visually represented as Oscar Dronjak's hammer-shaped guitar, which he dutifully swung downwards in a manner that would make Thor giggle with pride, right -as Joacim Cans belted out the concluding syllables of... wait for it... “Let the Hammer Fall.” Hammerfall's is clearly a crowd unafraid to revel in the silliness of it all, and the Swedes admirably delivered what their fans wanted – spirited, joyous, and not terribly threatening metal crafted by a bunch of dudes who are clearly in on the joke. Manowar this ain't, and that's a good thing. 

Hammerfall have rightfully earned a reputation for being a lively band on stage; many of the most fantastic concert photos I've seen in recent years have prominently featured Mr Cans, who commands his audience with both grace and ease. And while they were certainly served well when they were offered an hour-long set rather than the typical 45 minutes, I do find it tragic that the extra treatment didn't extend to the lighting: the stage was almost exclusively flooded with the red and orange LED lights that are the stuff of a photographer's most cursed dreams. The band, however, was undaunted, and performed a number of audience favorites, concluding with the unapologetically ridiculous “Hearts On Fire.” 

While Hammerfall are known for being ludicrous, Helloween are known for being playful. The set included a gigantic fucking pumpkin (modeled after the ones seen in the Better Than Raw booklet) flanked by risers, and upon which sat longtime drummer Dani Löble's wicked-cool looking kit, itself flanked by side-mounted floor toms. Intentionally or not, his white kick drum heads with bottom-left port holes resembled a pair of googly eyes atop the pumpkin, and it would be a vicious lie for me to say this didn't inspire a chuckle or twenty from me. 

The requisite piped-in “London Bridge/Happy Helloween” intro bled into a piped-in “Orbit,” immediately after which The Man of the Hour, Mr Michael fucking Kiske himself, belted out the opening lines of “Skyfall,” the undisputed centerpiece of Helloween's recent self-titled album. Kiske remained perched atop the stage-right riser aside Löble as he wowed the audience with that legendary voice of his; even as I shot, I wondered how the hell a man his age can still sound exactly like he did in his twenties. Hint: it was not because his vocals were piped in. 

The second verse was sung from the other riser by Andi Deris, the guy who replaced Kiske back in the early ‘90s. Known for mixing operatic and raspy rock vocals, Deris also has a voice that's defied his age. The two eventually made their way downstage, joining bassist Markus Grosskopf and guitarists Michael Wiekath, Sascha Gerstner, and Kai fucking Hansen. Hansen took the mic for the acoustic interlude, which he eventually shared with Kiske before the band began firing on all cylinders for the remainder of this twelve minute monster. Honestly, if the set had ended after this song, it still would have been worth the five hour drive. Instead, the Helloweenies put on a set that lasted over two freaking hours. 

“Eagle Fly Free” was up next, and if you've ever heard that song, you know it's an anthem. While I certainly wanted to sing along, I was also fixated on the vocal interplay between Kiske and his successor/ bandmate. I also didn't want to talk through the onstage banter; Helloween's music is nothing if not fun, and the way Kai, Kiske, and Andi farted around on stage, cracking jokes in the most fluent Metalenglisch, was a ton less aggravating than that of some of the bands they've inspired. In stark contrast was bandleader Michael “Weikie” Weikath, whose Teutonic stoicism belies the lighthearted nature of the music he performs. This motherfucker is responsible for putting so much freaking levity into a famously aggressive genre of music, yet his facial expression literally never changes, even as Kai, Andi, and Markus act like complete frickin goofballs right next to him. It's a dichotomy that adds yet another level of humor to an already humorous band.

“Mass Pollution” and “Future World” followed, and as rousing as they were, they did not prepare me for “Power,” whose adrenaline pump was punctuated by the freaking hilarious animation on the ginormoscreen behind Dani's drumkit: it featured the classic Pumpkinman flexing some absurdly chiseled Incredible Hulk arms, as if readying himself to beat the living pulp out of the sketch that accompanied the song's lyrics in the Time of the Oath booklet. 

A Walls Of Jericho medley anchored the set, with Kai putting his guitar down to focus on singing; Gerstner faithfully played all of Kai's parts until Kai strapped his axe back on in time for “Ride the Sky” and “Heavy Metal is the Law,” which Kai accentuated with a hefty growl. What followed was an unexpected duet of “Forever and One” that had Andi and Kiske beautifully harmonizing with each other. It's easy to forget that Andi has the clarity and range that he has, especially since he replaced a guy whose voice is as golden as the hair he once had, but here he was going toe to toe with the man himself and fucking killing it with him. 

The self-titled full length's “Best Time” followed, and thus represented the highest points of that very satisfying record. Sadly, much of the band's 90s output was overlooked in favor of the classics – my personal favorite of theirs, Better Than Raw, was completely left out of the setlist – but they did somehow find it appropriate to include “Perfect Gentleman.” While Master of the Rings was absolutely the shot in the arm Helloween needed then, time has not been terribly kind to it. Still, it has some absolute bangers (“Where the Rain Grows” and “Sole Survivor” come to mind), so I was completely flummoxed that they'd pick this. I do applaud that Andi used the interlude to tell the Texas crowd that “you are PERFECT,” but this was honestly the only song in the set that didn't have me completely hyped. I'll take “Midnight Sun,” “Mr Torture,” or “Falling Higher” over this any day. Andi's top hat and red sequin coat were completely appropriate for “Perfect Gentleman” though. 

That puzzling inclusion was completely rectified with a Kiske/ Deris duet of “Keeper of the Seven Keys,” which the band stretched out to just over twenty freaking minutes. And if that wasn't enough, Kiske once again completely stunned the audience when he nailed “the sea of ignorance!!!!!!” I reject all concepts of holiness, but we are fucking blessed that Kiske's voice has betrayed time the way it has. It hasn't aged a day. 

This unbelievable evening was capped off with a raucous rendition of “I Want Out,” during which a seeming billion enormous black and orange pumpkin balloons were launched into the crowd, turning what might otherwise have been the happiest mosh pit in the history of metal into an uproarious volleyball tournament. A group of Venezuelan dudes who had previously seen Pumpkins United in Chile had earlier told me that Helloween had played for three freaking hours that night left me hoping against hope that this wasn't the end, but given that I'd have been satisfied even if the set ended after the first song, my thirst for more of this goodness had been sated.

Once again, a classic metal band had chosen this city and this venue to commence an electrifying comeback tour (see our thoughts on Mercyful Fate's Dallas performance last fall), and once again it was an incredible night. My only piece of advice: get more people to work that merch stand, because one dude can't handle a line of literally thousands by himself. In all other senses though, Helloween's current incarnation, and the audience's loving reception, prove definitively that heavy metal is indeed The Law. 

Helloween setlist: 

“Eagle Fly Free”
“Mass Pollution”
“Future World”
“Save Us”
“Metal Invaders / Victim Of Fate / Gorgar / Ride The Sky”
“Heavy Metal (Is the Law)”
“Forever and One (Neverland)”
“Best Time”
“Dr. Stein”
“How Many Tears”
“Perfect Gentleman”
“Keeper Of The Seven Keys”

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