Although they debuted in 1985 with Walls of Jericho, it was their first MTV video two years later for "Halloween" that sprung Helloween's brand of double-bass drum power metal mastery into the consciousness of metalheads everywhere. But unless you rushed out to your local record store and bought the band's Keeper of the Seven Keys: Part 1 cassette, you wouldn't have known that the 5-minute video was actually an edited version of a 13 1/2-minute masterpiece.
Hailing from Hamburg, Germany, then-vocalist Michael Kiske, guitarists Michael Weikath and Kai Hansen, bassist Markus Grosskopf and drummer Ingo Schwictenberg rode the MTV wave even higher with 1988's "I Want Out" off Keeper of the Seven Keys: Part 2. The mega-success from that video garnered Helloween a North American "Headbanger's Ball" tour opening for Grim Reaper and Armored Saint that turned Americans onto a band that would set itself apart from other power-metal monsters.
As with many artists who rise too fast for their own good, however, Helloween's fall from so much success resulted in Hansen departing in 1988 after the North American tour, then Kiske's firing and Schwictenberg's suicide, both in 1993. How apropos that Part 2 would include a track called “Rise and Fall.”
With Andi Deris replacing Kiske on vocals in 1994 and joining the constant rocks that are Weikath and Grosskopf, Helloween forged on, making album after album while Hansen formed Gamma Ray. Kiske, meanwhile, deviated from the scene for several years before emerging with Amanda Somerville on the Kiske/Somerville project, then his formation of Unisonic.
All the while, fans clamored for Helloween to get back together. In late 2017, they did just that . . . with a twist. Helloween brought back Kiske and Hansen, but not to replace anyone. Instead, they added to the current lineup, which also includes guitarist Sascha Gerstner and drummer Dani Loble.
The Pumpkins United septuplet was born. And it’s been making history ever since.
Having headlined the world's largest annual three-day metal festival, Wacken, in its native land in July before 80,000 maniacs, Helloween embarked last Friday night on the briefest of North American tours. With no Texas dates planned, a witnessing of the power-metal pumpkins necessitated a flight out to them. In this case, to Hollywood, California, where Helloween unleashed a riveting 2-hour, 40-minute set last Saturday night without a support act at the Hollywood Palladium.
Although San Antonio has its own historic venues such as the Majestic and Aztec Theatres, the Palladium's 4,000 capacity, all-general admission hall sparkles with history and chandeliers. Frank Sinatra opened the Palladium his way in 1940.
Nearly 80 years later, Helloween added its name to Palladium lore by starting with that 13 1/2-minute opus. Though the lyrics to "Halloween" could be considered by some to be cheezy with lines such as "Like the good ol' Charlie Brown, you think Linus could be right, the kids would say it's just a stupid lie," it's more appropriate to say the song exemplifies the fun the band genuinely has being unified. That applied when it was released in 1987. And it applied Saturday night.
With Kiske humorously adjusting the line "Am I in heaven" to "Am I in Los Angeles," Helloween was off and running. It didn't take long for a mosh pit to form in the middle with multi-cultural friends and strangers wrapping their arms around one another, dancing in unison. A Brazilian flag was held aloft near the front of the barrier as fans from all over hailed the German source of music playing in La La Land.
Kiske, in particular, is the intriguing piece to the Pumpkins' puzzle. Following his 1993 firing, the vocalist told several outlets, including yours truly in 2012, that he had not listened to a single Helloween song since his departure that featured Deris on vocals. Deris, meanwhile, is intriguing in his own right given that he has held down the vocal fort in Helloween for 24 years yet continues in some parts of the world to be a victim of his success due to hardcore fans clamoring for Kiske's return.
Now, Helloween faithful can experience the best of both worlds.
Following Kiske's and Weikath's chance meeting at a 2013 festival in which they patched things up, the seeds were sown for an eventual reunification. All of a sudden, not only was Kiske listening to Helloween material being sung by his replacement who has now been in the band much longer than he was, but they're singing duets onstage while enjoying their own spotlight on several tracks.
Weikath, the most consistent songwriter in Helloween, rarely changes his sullen expression on stage but is actually quite humorous too. A vastly underrated guitarist on the Flying-V, Weikath is the architect of the majority of Helloween's double-bass drum fury and lyrics even though he doesn't kick a drum pedal or sing a lick. Whether he's dangling a cigarette while shredding away or not, Weikath has been known to contort his facial expressions in an affectionate way while expressing the source behind Helloween's drawing power.
Deris' showcase included "Are You Metal?" and “Waiting for the Thunder,” the two most recent Helloween tracks performed, from 2010's 7 Sinners and 2013’s Straight Out of Hell, respectively — other than latest single “Pumpkins United,” the only released tune featuring the reunited group. Deris also highlighted his first Helloween recording from 1994's Master of the Rings with "Sole Survivor." Moments later, he introed what he said was the first Helloween track he ever listened to, 1985's "How Many Tears," while sharing those vocal duties with Kiske and Hansen, who was the band’s original vocalist on Walls of Jericho prior to Kiske joining for the epic Keeper of the Seven Keys releases. Hansen, meanwhile, took the vocal reins alone on a Walls of Jericho medley of “Ride the Sky,” "Starlight," "Judas" and "Heavy Metal (Is the Law)."
While the nearly 3-hour exhibition provided small breaks for the vocalists, Loble was afforded very little of a rest, showcasing how much of an ironhorse he is on the drums. But he did have some unique company for a few minutes. Though Schwictenberg passed 25 years ago, the band did not forget him. Loble began a solo before conceding to the TV screens of a solo from his late predecessor that morphed into a duet between the two -- a heartfelt tribute that culminated with "In Memory of Ingo Schwictenberg.”
Alas, it was the Keeper songs that shined the brightest. Kiske and Hansen teamed up in the style of Helloween's pumpkin-head mascots Seth and Doc on the aforementioned "Rise and Fall." Second song "Dr. Stein" and furious Part 1 opener "I'm Alive" set the tone back-to-back for a blistering night of German power metal before the night's lone ballad, 1987's "A Tale That Wasn't Right," which Kiske said he was performing onstage (in the United States) for the first time since that year, with the exception of the tour's kickoff the night before in Las Vegas.
Deris joined in on the Keeper fun on first encore "Invitation/Eagle Fly Free" (ATM Facebook Live footage here). No professional video was allowed throughout the night, and the band had specifically requested of its team not to have to grant interviews prior to the scant seven-show/six-city North American tour. Those were the only downsides to an otherwise unforgettable evening that nevertheless was captured in the 125-photo gallery below — unless you count the fight that broke out during that track, which included one mosher left-footing a fallen patron in the face..
Helloween already had announced a live DVD from this tour forthcoming, possibly recorded in Brazil, and a new studio album with all seven members that will focus on the songwriting trio of Weikath, Hansen and Deris. Those hoping for Kiske to dominate such a recording vocally will, like Kiske himself, have to rely on his mates writing material catered for him, though he has gone on record saying he hopes it will remain in the Keeper of the Seven Keys realm.
All in all, the future for Helloween and its fans looks bright. At least, brighter than the scary pumpkin faces that dotted black beach balls throughout the Palladium’s lower level on fourth and final encore "I Want Out," the band's second-most popular track thanks to significant "Headbanger's Ball" airplay in 1989.
Unlike the groups that reunite for money and don’t even smile at one another throughout their performances, it’s refreshing to see the members of Helloween, past and present, being best buds once again.
Or, at least, Pumpkins United.
SETLIST: Halloween, Dr. Stein, I'm Alive, If I Could Fly, Are You Metal?, Rise and Fall, Perfect Gentleman, Walls of Jericho medley (Ride the Sky, Starlight, Judas, Heavy Metal is the Law), A Tale That Wasn’t Right, Pumpkins United, (Dani Loble drum solo with Ingo Schwictenberg tribute), Living in a Dream/A Little Time, Waiting for the Thunder, Sole Survivor, Power, How Many Tears. ENCORES: Invitation/Eagle Fly Free, Keeper of the Seven Keys, Future World, I Want Out