HELLOWEEN — Walls of Jericho (review)

HELLOWEEN — Walls of Jericho album cover Album · 1985 · Speed Metal Buy this album from MMA partners
4/5 ·
siLLy puPPy
Tucked in amongst the diversifying sounds that were emerging in the 80s, the metal world found one German band in particular finding a way to carve out a new niche now called power metal by taking the melodic influences of bands like Judas Priest and Iron Maiden and marrying them with a ferocity emerging in the fledgling thrash metal movement as was gestating by the likes of Metallica and Slayer. HELLOWEEN, while most notable for their “Keeper Of The Seven Keys” power combo which pretty much raised the bar high from the very beginning actually had dabbled in the more raw and primeval world of speed metal on their debut album WALLS OF JERICHO. Released in 1985, HELLOWEEN was a new breed of band that was quickly taking the traditional sounds heard in the NWOBHM, emphasizing the melodies, deemphasizing the punk influences and adding more aggressiveness, virtuosity in guitar solos as well as the speed, which have earned this particular transition period as being tagged speed metal.

WALLS OF JERICHO, released in October 1985, can be seen as a mere extension of their debut eponymous EP which was released in April 1985 and were only separated for limitations of time length on vinyl LP records at the time. The album has two significant track listings. The original vinyl contained a mere nine tracks beginning with the title track but as soon as CD technology became common place the album was reformatted in 1987 to include the eponymous EP to provide the first five tracks as well as the bonus track titled “Judas” which very much takes a cue from the great “Judas Priest” not in style and compositional methodology but equally shows how the band had diverged from the sound as much as it shows the similarities at this point. So intertwined are the combo effect of the debut EP with the debut LP that most newer releases don’t even bother to distinguish how the tracks were really separate releases in the beginning.

HELLOWEEN was a different band at this point. Before Michael Kiske would join the band as the vibrant poster child vocalist for the entire power metal scene that the band launched with their “Keeper Of The Seven Keys” fantasy albums, vocals were performed by Kai Hansen who offered a more gritty raw 80s metal sound to the band. His style was very similar to Rob Halford and Bruce Dickinson without the distinguished operatic perfections. Like many an 80s metal band, lyrics were based in fantasy, morbidity and just plain fun as well (“Gorgar” is about a pinball game whereas “Heavy Metal (Is The Law)” provided a mindless anthem for fans to sing along about how great it was to bang their heads to metal music! How innocent were those days! Musically WALLS OF JERICHO shows a great deal of derivative tracks such as “Phantoms Of Death” which shows a “2 Minutes 2 Midnight” Iron Maiden type of riffing at first only to become a Judas Priest type of track reminding me a bit “The Sentinel.” Many other tracks are clearly linked to the NWOBHM heroes of the days but tracks like “Guardian” already show a clear deviation from the pack with pure power metal attributes and a prognosticator of exactly where the band was steering their sound.

The debut album by HELLOWEEN is hardly a perfect one for it does have a rather inconsistent selection of tracks that sometimes ring too close to their influences and sometimes surprise as to how far the band had already developed their sound at this point. From the production side of things, WALLS OF JERICHO is much less polished than the albums that immediately followed. This one is a filthy raw metal affair, one that serves it well for a debut as it gave HELLOWEEN the proper street creds to build their sound upon. When push comes to shove, i have to admit that WALLS OF JERICHO is hardly the most sophisticated album of the era dwarfed by the greats of the day as well as by the band's own following masterpieces but there is truly something special about WALLS OF JERICHO. It has an energy and feel unlike anything else of the era. True that bands like Omen were in the same camp, but no one else pulled it off quite like HELLOWEEN. When it comes down to it this is simply an enjoyable album to listen to even if one can intellectually find flaws in the analysis, at least it is quite the enjoyable album for me.
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