Better Than Raw


Velvel Records, 1998

REVIEW BY: Christopher Thelen


In the time of my life when I was a serious metalhead, I got into all the groups that were the groups to bang one's cranium to at the time. Artists like Motorhead, Metallica and W.A.S.P. are still bands I listen to with great regularity.

However, I never developed a taste for German metallers Helloween. I can't explain why I never got into such works as the Keeper Of The Seven Keys albums; I can only offer up the assertion that tastes in metal are as different as tastes in food.

Helloween itself has had enough crises to deal with, including the departure of guitarist Kai Hansen, the dismissal of vocalist Michael Kiske and drummer Ingo Schwichtenberg (as well as the latter's eventual suicide), the viewing of a more pop-oriented album, Chameleon, as a failure and distribution nightmares in the U.S. that lad people to think that Helloween had fallen off the face of the earth.

Well, grab your pumpkins and hold on tight, 'cause Helloween is back with a vengeance with a new label (Velvel) and a new album, my_heart_sings_the_harmony_web_ad_alt_250 Better Than Raw, which successfully merges the worlds of pop rock and speed metal in a blaze of glory... even if there are one or two misfires along the way.

New lead singer Andi Deris (new?!? Hell, he's been with the band now for five years) is a more than capable set of pipes for this band, easily going from a glass-shattering scream to a more subdued vocal delivery. While some long-time fans might pine for the return of Kiske, Deris does quite well on his own, thank you very much. The remainder of the band - guitarists Michael Weikath and Roland Grapow, bassist Markus Grosskopf and drummer Uli Kusch - prove themselves to be as powerful, if not more so, than the classic days of the band.

Lyrically, Better Than Raw contains some intense moments (including some that can't be deciphered without the lyric sheet, mostly those in a higher range). After the classically-influenced instrumental opening of "Deliberately Limited," Helloween throw it into high gear with "Push," a song that should have any aging metalhead flashing back to the days of their youth. Staying in the high-adrenalin beats, "Revelation," "Midnight Sun" and "Falling Higher" all shine quite well.

Some of the slower numbers on Better Than Raw tend to be the ones that have to grow on you. The first single "Hey Lord!" takes a little time, but turns out to be a great track, as does the politically-influenced "Don't Spit On My Mind". (Believe me, I am so tempted to make a Clinton joke here... no, no, I must withstand the temptation.) Other slower numbers like "Time" register success on the first listen, while still others like "I Can" just don't catch fire like the band would have hoped for.

Helloween also prove they're not afraid of taking chances - by tackling an old prayer, "Laudate Dominum" - even singing it in Latin. Thing is, it works.

Helloween has enjoyed great success in Europe and Asia with Better Than Raw; the question now is: Is there enough interest in America? I do hope that this album does well in the States, simply because it overall is a solid effort that is worthy of people's attention. I can even see "Hey Lord!" or "A Handful Of Pain" getting play on the rock stations, just like Megadeth got with "Trust" last year. At least, if there was any justice in this world, they'd get the airplay.

Better Than Raw is one of those albums you'll want to sink your teeth into, even if you never developed the taste for Helloween the first time around. Welcome back, guys.


Rating: B

User Rating: Not Yet Rated



© 1998 Christopher Thelen and The Daily Vault. All rights reserved. Review or any portion may not be reproduced without written permission. Cover art is the intellectual property of Velvel Records, and is used for informational purposes only.