Helloween – Gambling With The Devil
Gambling With The Devil
“So you want to be rich and you want to win fame
Your face on a poster, immortal your name
So you want a good life on the highest top level
Then bet your soul and turn the wheel
It’s gambling with the devil!”
Thus begins Helloween’s Gambling With The Devil, and this should serve as something of a stylistic tipoff; like The Dark Ride seven years prior, this one features a decidedly modern take on traditional power metal, with varied songwriting and a somewhat tongue-in-cheek “dark” aesthetic. So one should expect to hear something along the lines of another Dark Ride? Well, yes and no. Certainly Gambling With The Devil follows the same general pattern, and yet it doesn’t quite achieve the same overall impact. As one of my friends so aptly put it, it feels like The Dark Ride‘s leftovers.
Now, this isn’t to say the songs themselves are of any lower quality than those on The Dark Ride. We’ve got a variety of tunes here – from the aggressive speed-monsters “Kill It” and “Paint A New World” to the poppy “As Long As I Fall” and “Can Do It” – and all are performed with the confidence and gusto of an experienced band doing what they do best. Especially notable is “Final Fortune,” which features one of the catchiest verses in power metal (though admittedly a bit catchier than the chorus). In any case, the songwriting here is pretty good.
So why does Gambling With The Devil feel like a bunch of leftovers? To put it simply, these various songs (while themselves generally good) don’t gel together all that effectively. The band was able to get away with doing some pretty weird stuff on The Dark Ride (“Escalation 666” anyone?) because every one of their strange and disparate ideas fit together into one delightfully strange unity. Gambling With The Devil, on the other hand, plays like a bonus disc, featuring a bunch of demos and singles that sound great separately but fail to make much of a statement together. Much of the problem lies in the track order; everything works pretty well until “I.M.E,” which despite being a good song in its own right lightens up the atmosphere just enough that the subsequent inclusion of the delightfully poppy “Can Do It” derails any semblance of unity and leaves the band to crash through the last couple (really good) songs, finishing the album with a bang but still flying off the tracks into oblivion.
For this reason I have mixed feelings about Gambling With The Devil. As an example of songwriting, it’s one of Helloween’s better moments. But again, it feels like a bonus disc. In my experience, the mark of a good album is the feeling I enjoy upon its completion; if I’ve put in sufficient effort as a listener, every part of the album – lyrics, solos, drum fills, perhaps intro or interludes – should come rushing back with the final notes, and I should be left feeling energized, inspired, and most importantly, satisfied. This one, on the other hand, more often than not leaves me wondering how I got from the beginning to the end; it poses questions and forgets them, points the listener one way and goes another. And yet, it’s so much fun… what the heck, I’ll recommend it anyway.
Tom’s Rating: 3.5 out of 5