It seems like just yesterday I was buying Helloween’s brilliant Keeper Of The Seven Keys Part 1 on vinyl. But the fact of the matter is that two decades have past. Literally. And this, my friends, is Helloween’s 14th album. Boy does that make me feel old. It also makes me want to give a round of applause to Andi Deris, who’s been their singer for nearly two decades now. Some a-holes still insist on putting him down, forever stating how they prefer former singer Michael Kiske, or how the band hasn’t been the same since guitarist Kai Hansen left, but that’s a load of bullshit. Seriously. Andi has been with the band now an awful lot longer than Kiske was. (Twice as long, I believe.) More importantly, they’ve done some of their best albums with Andi. In fact, my favorite Helloween album is the very first album they did with Andi, Master Of The Rings, back in the mid ’90’s. I’ll admit that they’ve done some albums since that didn’t really grab me, but when you put out an album just about every year some are going to be better than others. Besides, it’s all in the eye of the beholder at this point. I’m sure there are people who would say that the albums I’m not so fond of are their very best. The wonderful thing is that we’ve gotten so many albums out of them that we can debate about which is best for hours. In the time it’s taken Motley Crue to put out one album, Helloween have put out over 10. If that doesn’t impress you, well, you shouldn’t even be reading this review. (For the record, I’m a big Motley Crue fan. I just wish they’d quit doing so many tours and make more albums.)
For me, Straight Out Of Hell is a triumphant return to form for Helloween. The last album they did that I’d count among my all-time favorite albums was 2003’s Rabbit Don’t Come Easy. I’ve liked every album since, but I’m very picky when it comes to naming my all-time favorite albums, so there really has to be something magical about your album to get on that list. And I’m happy to say that Straight Out Of Hell has already managed to break onto that list and is steadily climbing. Come to think of it, I don’t think I’ve heard anyone say anything bad about this album. This might be the first album since Keeper Of The Seven Keys Part 2 that all of their fans can agree on. (Aside from those weird Kiske fans.) Simply put, it rules. (This is the first time I’ve said anything rules in a couple of decades. Again, with the feeling old.) There really isn’t a bad song on this one — and it has 14 or more tracks, depending which version of the album you buy. (Damn those imports for always having extra tracks. Oh, and there’s a “premium edition” of this one. (I guess just calling it a deluxe edition like everyone else does would have been too easy for Helloween?))
It starts off with “Nabataea,” the title of which I had to look up on Wiki. And, to tell you the truth, I’m still not entirely sure why Helloween decided to do a song about it. (I thought Iron Maiden was the only band who quit doing catchy songs in favor of history lessons.) “Hush, don’t cry,” Andi sings and if your memory is any good it’s going to remind you of Michael Kiske singing “listen, take care” in the song “Halloween” all those years ago. But that’s a good thing. It kind of brings everything full circle for the band. “Nabataea” is even a long song. Not as long as “Halloween,” which was around 15 minutes, but it’s seven minutes long, and not many bands do songs that long. Well, except for prog rock bands. The funny thing is that I strongly dislike prog rock. Yet I love it when Helloween does long songs. Go figure. Anyway, the most important thing about “Nabataea,” which Andi wrote, is that it’s damn catchy. Easily one of the band’s best songs ever. So many of the songs here should be counted among their best, honestly. The first single especially. Entitled “Wanna Be God,” the song clocks in at 2:02 and basically features Andi singing over bone crushing drums. Oh, there are guitars during the last 20 seconds but that’s about it. Suffice to say it breaks the mold. You can’t name one other metal band that’s ever put out a single that barely even had any guitars. And you’d probably have a hard time finding bands who’ve released singles that are barely over two minutes. Well, aside from thrash bands. I’m sure Slayer must have released some songs that were that short. But you get my point? If not, let me spell it out: Helloween have been around for over 20 years and they still take RISKS. They always remain Helloween, but they aren’t afraid of trying new things. In fact, any time a new person has joined the band they’ve always let that person contribute to the songwriting. There aren’t many bands that do that. And if they do let you contribute to the writing, it’s likely to be a co-writing situation where they let you barely put your two cents in on a song. (Or they could just put you down so low in the mix that nobody can hear you like Metallica did to Jason Newstead on …And Justice For All.) In other words, where most bands would treat new members like shit, Helloween has always embraced them. That said, they haven’t changed members in over a decade (to the best of my knowledge) so it’s not like they’re one of those bands with a revolving door built in. But if somebody new joins tomorrow for whatever reason you can be sure they’ll have a couple of songwriting credits on the next album. Hell, the band’s newest member, Sascha Gerstner, even wrote a few of the new songs by himself. Come to think of it, he’s got more songwriting credits on the album than guitarist Michael Weikath, who founded the band. If I’m to make a point here, it would have to be that the best songs are the songs that make the album. Doesn’t matter which member wrote them. Quality comes first. No politics involved. To that end, I’ll say it again — there isn’t a bad song on Straight Out Of Hell. Helloween might never be as popular as Anthrax or Megadeth, but they’re certainly just as talented and their track record proves it. They’re also a lot more prolific. In fact, if you don’t like this album, don’t worry, there will probably be another one by the end of the year.