'Helloween' - Helloween (8/10)
Even before there was "Keeper of the Seven Keys", the German power metal titans Helloween were flying high. Although they hadn't yet redefined the genre with which they would be most associated, there are plenty of monumental riffs and falsettos to behold in the band's early canon. Drawing upon the styles of Judas Priest and the melodic gallop of Iron Maiden, Helloween's debut EP sets a solid foundation for the glorious power metal to come. For any fan of Helloween, or slightly thrash-infused speed metal, this self-titled release shouldn't be missed.
As opposed to the more refined atmosphere and fantasy vibe of their later work, the Helloween of 1985 are much more in tune with the typical topics and sounds of metal. As opposed to singing about mythology, quests and autumnal holidays, Helloween are writing about Satan, murder, and war. As you might guess, "Helloween" is a fair bit darker and more aggressive than their future sound. Anyone who has heard Iron Maiden's "Killers" before should know what to expect. In twenty six minutes, Helloween manage to run the gamut of human misery. In contrast with the subject matter, Helloween bring many of their trademark choruses to the mix here. In particular, "Starlight" and "Warrior" stand out as great tracks that could have fit on later albums.
Although Kai Hansen was the driving force behind what made early Helloween so good, it shouldn't come as a great surprise that his vocals aren't as technically impressive as those of Michael Kiske or Andi Deris. Although his singing ability would ferment and mature in his time with Gamma Ray, Hansen's vocals don't have the same operatic bravado that later Helloween vocalists would bring to the table. That's not to say, however, that he is a bad singer. Kai Hansen's raspier style fits the early Helloween's thrashier leanings. Particularly on the Judas Priest-esque "Victim of Fate", Hansen pulls off a few pretty impressive falsettos. The latter vocalists' contributions may have brought a greater finesse to the band's sound, but Hansen's more weathered voice gives Helloween an added sense of heaviness that they may have partially lost as the years went on.
Especially considering this is the band's debut EP, the quality of the production is surprising. While not as fine-tuned as the either "Keeper of the Seven Keys", the sound quality would not sound out of place on a professional full length. The guitar duo of Hansen and Weikath are, without a doubt, the strongest aspect of Helloween's sound. Although they were both in their early twenties at the time of the EP's recording, they already have a firm grasp of the neoclassical leads and speed-oriented riffs that would define the band's later sound. As far as the lingering question of whether Helloween were already innovating power metal as early as this EP (as opposed to pioneering it with "Keeper of the Seven Keys Pt. I"), the essential elements of power metal were already in the mix, but the songwriting and slight thrash edge may lure the style closer to being rightfully called speed metal, or perhaps a Teutonic adaptation of NWOBHM. Regardless of any arbitrary genre-tags however, "Helloween" is a fitting companion to "Walls of Jericho", and precursor to the band's better-known "Keeper of the Seven Keys" duology. Although it may be a pre-debut EP with the appearance of a fans-only apocrypha, "Helloween" is an excellent album and one of the better releases from one of metal's best-loved acts.