C O L U M N S
Tales from the Jugular
The Comeback - Helloween
Welcome to another edition of our little editorial space known as "Tales from the Jugular". This edition will introduce a series of editorials that focus on THE COMEBACK.
What is that exactly? Theoretically the comeback is a reversal of fortune, a glorious return to form or perhaps just overcoming adversity and failure with a revival of triumph. The comeback is normally a onetime event that is a historical landmark drastically changing the course of events. THE COMEBACK focuses on bands and artists that have experienced a comeback of sorts, either from a hiatus, break-up, poor sales or generally some type of lost direction or bad management.
This column will focus on the events prior to the comeback (The Ruin) and the reasoning behind the artist's failure or disappointment until that point. It will also elaborate on the key ingredient that reversed the band's ill fortune (The Comeback) as well as look at the years after and the impact of said comeback on future success (The Glory). Most of these articles may focus on vocalist changes but we will incorporate some different ideals ranging from management to musician musical chairs and as in-depth as producer or label direction.
Let's march to the scoreboard and see the winning plays...
THE RUIN: HELLOWEEN 1989-1993
No band in history ever had a better three years than Helloween. From 1985 to 1988 the German act was on fire, inventing speedy power metal and providing a brand new sound to a rather stale movement. In the early 80s Germany focused on traditional metal, ranging from the rigid ballbreaker sounds of Accept and Scorpions to the Priest and Maiden clones dotting the countryside. The big three thrash acts in Kreator, Sodom and Destruction had carried the bay area sound into the nation, delivery speedy tight-knit intricacies that focused on quick tempo changes and a rather rough vocal delivery.
Helloween introduced a new flavor, dressing up the speed metal with high falsetto vocals courtesy of Kai Hansen. The group released a legendary album in "Walls of Jericho" in 1985 before Hansen left the group to form Gamma Ray. The group continued the legacy with "Keeper of the Seven Keys" 1 and 2 in '87 and '88. The act had a hit single with "I Want Out" as well as touring North America with Exodus and Anthrax. In '88 the band also played England's Monsters of Rock alongside K.I.S.S, Guns 'N Roses and Megadeth.
In 1991 the band completely lost direction with the disoriented "Pink Bubbles Go Ape", an album that drains the life of the band by creating almost a mockery of its own design. One could argue that "Dr. Stein" from "Keeper..." 1 is a humorous pre-cursor but simply pales in comparison to the horrible "Heavy Metal Hamsters" on "Pink Bubbles... Kiske and the band seem completely clueless by this point and further the downfall with the terrible "Chameleon" in 1993. The decline of the band's sound from power metal visionary to retro-rock showed on a grand scale, from falling sales to irate fans desperate for the group to reclaim their fame. Shortly thereafter Kiske was fired and drummer Ingo Schwichtenberg, suffering from depression, ended his life.
THE RUIN was in full swing...
THE COMEBACK: HELLOWEEN 1994-2000
Who could save dwindling sales, stale songwriting and a loss of direction?
Andi Deris was a pretty boy blonde German with a unique and soulful voice. He cut his teeth with Pink Cream 69, a hard rock act that had a Van Halen swagger matched by Deris' Axel Rose type of wail. The band had huge popularity from the debut self-title, a record that saw release on mainstream label Epic (Sony). Deris' songwriting skills were like no other, defining a positive spin on some party-esque tunes, highlighted by the powerful "Welcome the Night" and rip-roar "Take Those Tears". The band followed with the successful "One Size Fits All" for Sony in 1991. The band hit its stride delivering a modern hard rock record complete with heavy cuts "Talk To The Moon" and "Walkin' Out Of Heaven" with Deris' trademark power ballads like "Where The Eagle Learns To Fly". By 1993 Deris and the band delivered arguably their best record with "Games People Play", however due to musical and personal differences both the band and Deris severed ties.
Andi Deris had been on Michael Weikath's radar for some time, with the Helloween guitarist finally convincing Deris to join their group in mid-'93. Deris filled a void both as a singer as well as being the group's chief songwriter. His vocal delivery would offer something different with Helloween, varying dramatically from both Kiske and Hansen's higher registry. His voice added a charm and invited listeners to really absorb the music and become attached emotionally, but his songwriting really proved to be a huge asset. This combination helped bridge the gap created by the stale "Pink Bubbles Go Ape" and "Chameleon". By 1994's "Master of the Rings" the band was ready for a new direction and a big change.
Right out of the gate with that classic ting-ting-ting-ting sound came a roar from the band; with a huge and heavy guitar sound that was one part speed and one part mammoth guitar groove. When Deris came on with his "Oh Yeah" opening line...God you knew they finally hammered it just right. This was the much needed spark the group needed and it really pushed the group to new heights. Obviously new drummer Uli Kusch (ex-Gamma Ray) had a big impact, but it was Deris that really led the charge. His amazing vocals and "rock style" writing proved a winning gamble. "Master Of The Rings" elevated the band with powerful cuts that recalled "Walls Of Jericho" glory but also welcomed a modern age of heavy. Deris returned to the emotional ballads found with his Pink Cream 69 sound, making "In The Middle of a Heartbeat" and "Where The Rain Grows" instant fan favorites. The album was released for Castle and saw sales drastically improve.
The band followed with the successful "Time of the Oath" (again keeping a hard rock persona with "Anything My Momma Don't Like") before reaching their grand opus in "Better Than Raw" in 1998. By then the fans had returned and the group had even toured the globe, documented by commercial video release of "High Live". On "Better Than Raw" the band had perfect chemistry and showcased a power-hard rock sound that, in my opinion, has never been cloned or copied since. This was truly an innovative work catapulted by "Higher", single "I Can" and fantastic ballad via "A Handful Of Pain".
THE COMEBACK was a grand achievement...
THE GLORY: HELLOWEEN 2000-Present
Helloween continued their success with multiple touring and a label change to Nuclear Blast Records. The act released "Metal Jukebox", a fun collection of cover tunes, as well as studio album "Dark Ride". The band would later lose members Roland Grapow and Uli Kusch, with Helloween splitting over music differences. Grapow and Kusch went on to form Masterplan, a power metal vehicle with progressive elements.
Helloween continued with successful "Rabbit Don't Come Easy", followed by a grand return to the 80s style with "Keeper Of The Seven Keys: The Legacy", a two-disc album that really proved where Helloween had positioned for the future, grounded in roots but still exploring hard rock arrangements and catchy chorus sing-alongs. Since that release the band has released two live recordings, toured North America, released an anniversary record as well as the critically acclaimed "Gambling with the Devil". The group is still widely considered a leader of European power metal, and at this point the group still continues to please old fans while acquiring new ones.
Helloween bathed in troubled waters, but at the end of the storm found a life-boat captained by Andi Deris. This was a monumental up-swing and a key to the group's long-term success.
The ruin and the comeback led the band to glory and a trophy case in metal's top tier.
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