Helloween – Walls Of Jericho
The year was 1985, and Helloween was ready to take the metal world by storm. A mere seven months after the release of their eponymous debut EP, they unleashed upon the world their first full-length album: a screaming, thrashing monster of a record that we know as Walls Of Jericho. It retained many elements of the aforementioned debut: the songs were fast and unrelentingly intense (albeit with the beginnings of the melodic sensibility that would later become Helloween’s trademark), the lyrics were often downright goofy (which would become another Helloween trademark), Kai Hansen still struggled a bit in the vocal department, and it still sounded like they recorded the whole album in a garden shed. In many ways, Walls Of Jericho was a logical continuation of the debut; while the EP constituted a short excursion into the world of Helloween, Walls is much more of a journey, dragging the listener by the ear through Helloween’s crazy universe at breakneck speed and not relenting until he or she is breathless, exhausted, and laughing uncontrollably.
That is not to say that it’s any better than the debut; if anything, it’s slightly weaker overall. However, the added length lends Walls Of Jericho a level of intensity that couldn’t be achieved in the EP. It isn’t actually much longer – eight songs totalling 40 minutes as opposed to five songs totalling 25 minutes – but this added length is enough to make it a more complete experience. The intensity of Helloween’s first two recordings has rarely been matched before or since, and to listen to this kind of material for forty minutes can be a tiring experience if done correctly.
Really, this relentless intensity is what sets Walls Of Jericho apart from the rest of Helloween’s discography. There are no ballads to be found here – the slowest song, “Gorgar,” is a mid-paced rampage complete with sharp-edged riffs and bass lines, ear-splitting shrieks, the immortal melody from Grieg’s “In the Hall of the Mountain King” (two years before Savatage used it!), and wonderfully ludicrous lyrics about an evil pinball machine. In fact, apart from the rather reflective “How Many Tears,” there is a lot more malice and a lot more violence in Walls than in any later Helloween record, all permeated with their rather mischievous sense of humor.
Unfortunately, Hansen’s vocals are still rather inconsistent on Walls Of Jericho. When he lets out one of his savage shrieks he can be downright inspirational, but he still sounds slightly “off” on some of the more melodic material. However, this is relatively inconsequential when we look at the intention of the album: Unlike Helloween’s later works, Walls is a fairly straightforward speed metal album that doesn’t need a lot of melody to achieve its goal; namely, a headbanging good time. In any case, we do see a few signs of the maturation of Helloween’s melodic side, most notably in the mellowed-out instrumental section in “How Many Tears” and the brilliant chorus to “Guardians.”
All in all, Walls Of Jericho is a bit of an anomaly in Helloween’s discography. Of all their full-length records, it is the least melodic, the fastest, and the only one to feature Hansen on vocals. Like its shorter predecessor, it is relatively underproduced and lacking in cohesion as a whole, but the energy and creativity of the band cannot be denied. It was to be only a matter of time before they learned to channel these forces, and the world of metal would be changed forever…
Tom’s Rating: 3.25 out of 5