Helloween – Master Of The Rings
By 1994 it was clear that Helloween had reached a critical point in their career. Tensions in the band were extraordinarily high, leading to the departures of drummer Ingo Schwichtenberg and singer Michael Kiske (lead guitarist and original singer Kai Hansen had left after the second Keeper of the Seven Keys, so of the original lineup only rhythm guitarist Michael Weikath and bassist Markus Grosskopf remained ). Their previous two records – the bland Pink Bubbles Go Ape and the ill-concieved and bloated Chameleon – had made them almost totally irrelevant in the metal scene. In any case, time kept on marching (pardon the Keeper reference), and Helloween had nothing to show for it.
Ultimately, the remaining members were faced with a choice: to keep producing mediocre records and fade into nothingness, to split up the band, or to find some new musicians and salvage what they could from the wreckage. Fortunately for us they chose the third option, but their re-establishment in the metal scene would be neither easy nor instantaneous, as shown in their 1994 offering Master Of The Rings.
By no means was Master Of The Rings a bad album; while it didn’t reach the same heights as some albums before and after it, it was a valiant effort and a decent album in its own right. A big part of the challenge was for the band to find their new niche; it was their clear that their days in metal’s vanguard were gone, but they had a unique character. It was this that they would develop further, albeit with a few changes; without the relentless drumming of Schwichtenberg (replaced by Uli Kusch, a good drummer who played it a bit too safe here) and the clear, high voice of Kiske, the band took on a bit of traditional metal influence. Given Deris’ background with hard rock group Pink Cream 69, one could even say that Helloween became a bit “sexualized:” while even their Keeper albums had never been totally devoid of sexual references, any such references were made in passing (“His assistant’s hips were nice, so he cloned her once or twice” -Dr Stein, 1988) or in a more transcendental context (“You won’t sleep alone tonight.” -A Tale That Wasn’t Right, 1987). “Perfect Gentleman,” the single and arguably the centerpiece of Master Of The Rings, marks Helloween’s first serious (or more accurately, silly) exploration of the, *ahem,* pleasurable side of life, a subject to is which they would come back every now and then, usually in a similarly silly context.
Other than that, Helloween was setting a precedent for what would become “business as usual:” concise (with the exception of the semi-epic “Mr. Ego”), melodic metal tunes with the occasional curveball (the melody of “Perfect Gentleman” is carried by some sort of whistle, a risky move that works splendidly). There are some really good songs here – the Keeper-tinged “Where The Rain Grows,” the aforementioned “Perfect Gentleman,” and the warp-speed bluesy rock of “Take Me Home” – but overall it is a workmanlike album, entertaining but not spectacular. However, given the condition of the band at the time it was amazing that they were able to pull it off, and even more amazing were the heights they would reach on later recordings. But more on that later…
Tom’s Rating: 3 out of 5