Helloween – Better Than Raw
One thing that really irks me as a power metal fan and reviewer is the idea of the “throwaway intro.” I can understand why people don’t like a lot of the introductory tracks on power metal records – they often don’t feature the band (aka the METAL) and often don’t accurately reflect the rest of the album – but this is a rather shallow way to listen to music. First, the introduction is part of the album, and – for better or for worse – must be taken as such. To throw out the intro (as many seem to like to do with the splendid openers of the first two Keeper Of The Seven Keys) is to wreck the compositional integrity of the album. It’s perhaps comparable to (another food metaphor; maybe I’m always hungry while writing reviews) ordering a pepperoni pizza and picking off all the pepperoni. You’re still getting most of the food, but you’re not really experiencing it as it was intended to be.
“Why so much about intro tracks,” you may ask, and that brings me to my second point: sometimes these intro tracks can be brilliant pieces of music in and of themselves. The intro to Better Than Raw, grandiloquently titled “Deliberately Limited Preliminary Prelude in Z,” is one such track. It begins as a rather tense staccato string piece, launching into a section as huge as it is ominous and bringing in the band for the triumphant conclusion. It seems that Helloween is poking a bit of fun at the idea of the introductory track here; they never return to this sound, and the title itself highlights both the short length of the piece and how big it purports itself to be. Again, not everyone is going to like this, but it’s another example of Helloween’s sense of wit (that is both unique and smarter than people give them credit for), and a really neat piece of music.
After that, the band continues to work in the modus operandi established on Master Of The Rings and The Time Of The Oath. In terms of quality, it falls between the two; while it certainly comes off as a bit more confident and focused than Master Of The Rings, the songwriting is not quite as memorable as it was on The Time Of The Oath. There are some great tunes on here – most notably the speedy “Falling Higher,” the anthemic “A Handful Of Pain” (a Savatage tribute of sorts?), and the alternately crushing and soaring closer “Midnight Sun” – and then a bunch of pretty-good power metal. There’s nothing on Better Than Raw that would be worthy of regret (though some may not like the robotic vocals in “Hey Lord!”), but nothing here is really spectacular either. It’s simply a competent, professional album that gets the job done.
True to form, Helloween includes one very aggressive song (the also-very-fast “Push”), a longer track (“Revelation”), and a ballad (the surprisingly religious “Time”). Also true to form, they try something new, this time a *quite* religious song in latin entitled “Lavdate Dominvm” (“Praise The Lord”), apparently written for their Catholic fanbase (and quite the catchy Helloween tune). Again, everything here is pretty good. I could sit down in a plain room with this record playing and find it to be an enjoyable experience, as could, I suspect, most fans of power metal. But the next day I probably wouldn’t think too much of it.
If you’re like me and a big fan of Helloween, I’d recommend you get a copy of Better Than Raw; quite simply, it’s a solid album in Helloween’s catalogue and deserving of a reasonable amount of attention. But for those of you less familiar with their catalogue, there are better places to start. Come back in July and I’ll show you one such place…
Tom’s Rating: 3 out of 5