Helloween – Keeper of the Seven Keys: The Legacy

September 18, 2012 in Artist Rewind, Reviews by blackwindmetal

Helloween
Keeper of the Seven Keys: The Legacy
2005

If you think back to the days of Keeper of the Seven Keys, you may recall that the band’s original intent was to release both Part I and Part II as a double album, a move shot down by their record label or some other outside force. When they decided to release a follow-up Keeper record (featuring only two members from the original lineup: guitarist Michael Weikath and bassist Markus Grosskopf), then, it seems that out of some sort of playful spite they decided to make it a true double album. That’s right; even in standard form this one comes in tantalizing double-disc format, terrifying cover artwork and all. It should be mentioned that the album’s 77-minute playing time, though rather long even by today’s standards, could actually fit on a standard 80-minute CD, and yet this works out really nicely for the band. Each “side” can be taken as a good standalone work (in fact, either side by itself is longer than Keeper of the Seven Keys, Part I) or as half of a much more ambitious work, which is essentialy their purpose. In any case, it’s a nice way to to force a short break into what could otherwise be a bit much for everyday listening.

“So,” you may be wondering, “how does the music here compare to that of the first two?” Certainly they’re not playing the same thing again stylistically; Helloween in the Deris era has had a very consistent sound, and it would be a long shot to expect a total stylistic throwback. Still, there are some similarities: the new Keeper features a number of fast, melodic songs hearkening back to the old days (“Silent Rain,” “Shade In The Shadow,” and closer “My Life For One More Day” in particular), and both sides start off with sprawling, dynamic epics topping the 10-minute mark and setting the stage for something a bit more epic in scope than traditional power metal fare. From the standpoint that just about every Deris-era Helloween albums tend to play like a modern Walls of Jericho – i.e. melodic speed metal more than euro-power metal – this is Deris & Co’s Keeper of the Seven Keys: it has a pronounced sense of melody and plays like a conceptual work (whether it is or not is another question, and I don’t know if anyone can answer that).

However, the similarity ends there: this record is decidcedly a product of 21st-century Helloween, with some anthemic hard-rocking tracks (“Do You Know What You’re Fighting For?” and “Get it Up” come to mind), some goofy tracks (the soaring “Pleasure Drone” and infectiously poppy “Mrs. God”), and… well… a ballad.

There has been some discussion over at our forums about the idea of metal ballads, and I have refrained from participating thus far, mostly because I was planning to write about them here. Now, I generally have a high opinion of ballads; while they may not be very technically flashy or structurally innovative, a good ballad does two good things. First, it allows the singer some room to bring in a bit of emotional depth that may not be possible in the average “hyperlightspeedpowermetal!!!” kind of song. Second, the ballad functions as a structural unit; it helps the album sound more like a complete work rather than a hodgepodge bunch of material. Or so it should be; while I tend to like ballads, there are some that just don’t work.

The ballad here is one of these; coming in as the second track on the second disc, it throws a dour little raincloud into what is otherwise a spectacular journey. It’s a shame, too; they did this as a duet (with a woman who sounds much closer to the mic than Deris, thus creating an awkward duality), made a music video of it, and everything. Quite simply, though, it comes off as tedious and corny; as much as I love ballads for the chance to hear a bit simpler and more emotionally-based songwriting, this one has neither a very interesting melody nor a very emotional performance on the part of either singer.

Everything else is great. The band brings in plenty of keyboards (see “Occasion Avenue;” for some prime key-work) and puts forth all their creative energies to create something that alternately soars and rocks. Nobody is slacking off; Grosskopf’s bass is wonderful as per usual, newcomer Löble’s energetic drumming fits in perfectly with the Keeper vibe, and both guitarists are in top form, throwing blazing riffs, leads, and solos at the listener for the duration, and even helping out the quirky “Mrs. God” with some intentionally awkward muted picking. The songwriting here is fairly complex by Helloween standards, and yet it is also some of their most listenable material, melodic and amorphic, overflowing with ideas. Really, the band even did a good job of placing the ballad – situated where it is it gives the listener a quick break from the fury to catch a breath before the last five tracks – it just would have been a better idea to copy and paste “A Tale That Wasn’t Right.”

 Tom’s Rating: 4.25 out of 5