Hamburg proto-thrashers Helloween were a big deal when I and many like me were growing up. As progenitors of the Euro power metal scene they still stand alongside Accept as probably the most influential German metal band of all time, so it’s timely that their former label Noise (via the good offices, one suspects, more of parent Label BMG than anyone originally involved with the Noise imprint) has decided to release a large retrospective of the band’s formative – and many would say best, including your not-so-humble reviewer – years.
I say large, because this two CD compilation is far from exhaustive. The 28 tracks on offer cover nine releases, from the band’s first appearance on the now-treasured Noise compilation Death Metal (1985) through the classic Keeper… records to their Better than Raw album for Castle Communications from 1998, which is a lot of ground. That said, and acknowledging that those compiling this record were under obligation to feature something from every release, it’s hard to see how their 1988 breakthrough single, Dr Stein and it’s excellent B-Side, Savage, could have been ignored in favour of tracks from the band’s infinitely shakier later work.
Still these sort of compilations always start up this kind of debate and in the circumstances it’s probably best to try and accentuate the positives, which are at least many. Early classics like Oernst of Life, Starlight and Gorgar are all here, though the eternal metal anthem Heavy Metal (Is the Law) seems to have unthinkably missed the cut; The two Keeper of the Seven Keys albums are understandably well represented, though again personal faves like Twilight of the Gods are missing and the awful video edit of Halloween is featured, presumably due to constraints of space, whilst the not-quite-as-good Keeper of the Seven Keys is here in full… All thirteen and ahalf minutes of it!
The band went into something of a creative dip at this point, coinciding with the departure of guitarist/sometime vocalist Kai Hansen, so it’s no surprise that the ‘fallow’ albums don’t feature so heavily here; 1991’s Pink Bubbles Go Ape is represented only by Kids of the Century (what? no Heavy Metal Hamsters?) and Back on the Streets, whilst the even less-liked Chameleon also features sparsely with just two tracks, one of which, Get Me Out of Here, wasn’t even on the original edition of the album.
The arrival of Pink Cream 69 vocalist Andy Deris for 1994’s Master of the Rings saw the band return to a more Keeperesque sound, and consequently fans and critics alike flocked back to the Helloween banner at this time; These happy days are represented by the quite excellent Mr Ego, Where the Rain Grows and Why, whilst the similarly solid – and satisfyingly heavy – The Time of the Oath is also represented by such incredibly strong selections as Steel Tormentor and Wake Up the Mountain, amongst others.
Hey Lord!, Time and I Can from 1998’s Better than Raw close proceedings, not as strong as the few cuts that precede them but not at all bad in themselves; And there you have it. Helloween, as noted, are one of the most important bands of the thrash era, and whittling their material down to a concise two-CD compendium was never going to be an easy task; And whilst this isn’t always to my taste, as an entry-level introduction to the Helloween story it’ll do.