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Biographies: Helloween

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Reviewer: Iluvthe80s

Along with Switzerland's Celtic Frost, Germany's Helloween was one of the most influential heavy metal bands to come out of Europe during the 1980s. By taking the hard-riffing and minor key melodies handed down from metal masters like Judas Priest and Iron Maiden, then infusing them with the speed and energy introduced by the burgeoning thrash metal scene, Helloween crystallized the sonic ingredients of what is now known as power metal. Sadly, just as they were on the verge of breaking to a wider audience, the band's meteoric rise was rudely interrupted by internal strife and bad business decisions. Having taken their lessons in stride, Helloween continues to prosper in the international metal scene on their own terms and they remain the benchmark by which almost every power metal band is still measured today.

Helloween was formed in Hamburg, Germany, by guitarists Kai Hansen and Michael Weikath, bassist Markus Grosskopf, and drummer Ingo Schwichtenberg. Coming together from two separate local bands, Second Hell and Iron Fist, they morphed into Helloween in 1982 and signed with Germany's own fledgling Noise International two years later. With Hansen also handling vocals and the bulk of songwriting duties, the quartet recorded their self-titled debut mini-album in early 1985. The full-length Walls of Jericho followed later that year, and the media was soon buzzing over the band's thrash-fueled interpretation of classic heavy metal. Countless fans across continental Europe were also fast converting to the band's cause, but Hansen remained dissatisfied with his singing ability and felt Helloween needed a proper frontman in order to achieve their full potential. Enter teenage vocalist Michael Kiske, who made his debut with the group on 1986's Judas EP, and whose high-pitched delivery followed in the pedigree of previous heavy metal banshees like Rob Halford and Bruce Dickinson. The new chemistry proved explosive both in the studio and on-stage, and with their classic lineup now intact, Helloween was ready for the big time.

Returning to the studio in early 1987, the band emerged in May with Keeper of the Seven Keys, Part I, a landmark recording which remains arguably the single most influential power metal album to date. Its volatile combination of power and melody would inspire an entire generation of metal bands and transformed Helloween into bona fide superstars all over Europe and the U.K., even making significant inroads into America. The band toured relentlessly for the rest of the year and into 1988 (including a lengthy opening stint with Iron Maiden), but despite their manic work schedule, still found time to record the aptly titled Keeper of the Seven Keys, Part II. Released in September 1988, the record was another blockbuster and crashed the U.K. Top 30, but its uneven songwriting (especially from bandleader Kai Hansen) revealed the beginnings of a major band crisis. Helloween's watershed performance at that year's Donington Monsters of Rock Festival proved to be their crowning glory, but for Hansen, his dream come true also represented the culmination of his ambitions for the group. Shockingly, the guitarist soon announced his departure from the band he had founded and helmed so far, claiming that Helloween was now too big a beast for him to control. (He would soon make a fresh start with a new outfit called Gamma Ray, which, to no one's surprise, sounded remarkably like Helloween).

But the remaining members of Helloween weren't about to let their chance at stardom slip away, and after drafting former Rampage guitarist Roland Grapow, they got right back to work with a sold-out tour of the U.K. Impressed by the band's momentum, giant EMI stepped in and offered to sign them away from the always-troubled Noise Records; but in doing so, wound up igniting a legal dispute which would sideline Helloween for nearly two years. Several live albums (Live in the U.K. for Europe, Keepers Live for Japan, and I Want Out Live for the U.S.) were released to keep the fans happy during this hiatus, and the band obtained added support from the mighty Sanctuary management team (Iron Maiden, W.A.S.P., etc.) to boot. Confident that they'd accumulated little, if any, rust from their extended layoff, Helloween finally returned to action with the oddly titled Pink Bubbles Go Ape in 1991. But no amount of EMI or Sanctuary muscle could compensate for the scattered, unfocused songwriting which dominated the album. Furthermore, the band's quirky sense of humor confused fans, who weren't sure what to make of furious metal anthems with titles like "Heavy Metal Hamsters." The album bombed in no uncertain terms, as did its equally schizophrenic follow-up Chameleon. Recorded in 1993 by an obviously shell-shocked band, its poor showing only exacerbated growing internal dissention, which culminated with the ousting of both Kiske and founding drummer Schwichtenberg. Fair-weather friends EMI and Sanctuary also decided to cut their losses at this time, leaving the shattered remains of Helloween to fend for themselves.

Attempting to regroup, Helloween brought in new singer Andi Deris and drummer Uli Kusch to record 1994's Master of the Rings, a small, tentative step in the right direction. Then tragedy struck, when former drummer Ingo Schwichtenberg, a diagnosed manic depressive whose worsening condition had been partly to blame for his dismissal, took his own life by jumping in front of a train near his native Hamburg. Shaken, Helloween dedicated 1996's The Time of the Oath to their fallen friend, and, coincidentally, the album turned out to be their strongest in years, doing much to resurrect their career on the Continent. The ensuing tour spawned the double-disc set High Live and confirmed the band's return to form as major players in the international metal arena (in Japan they were bigger than ever). Now regarded as elder statesmen of the Euro-metal phenomenon, Helloween continued to prosper with 1998's Better Than Raw and 1999's celebratory Metal Jukebox covers album a tribute to their heroes and inspirations. 2000's The Dark Ride was also well-received but saw the departure of long-time guitarist Grapow and drummer Kusch due to musical differences. Ed Rivadavia

SOURCE: AllMusic.com

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