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Helloween – Unarmed

on April 01, 2010, 8:00am
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Metal bands like Helloween have a very special audience, and it’s not because they’re European. More often than not, metal is stereotyped with drawing crowds of huge Harley riders, complete with long beards and mullets who will beat the shit out of you with a crowbar if you as much as look at them the wrong way. Helloween definitely does not draw in the tough-guy metal-head crowd. In fact, Helloween is for total dorks. This type of metal, the virtuoso style yet fantastic lyricism, usually attracts angered Tolkien fans that have grown tired of Iron Maiden. In fact, the only metal band in my neighborhood growing up loved two bands, Iron Maiden and Helloween. Helloween isn’t metal for dummies, it’s metal for geniuses.

Therefore, it’s not shocking that the band decided to go the fancy route with Unarmed, a 25th anniversary celebration collection that turns some of their more known tracks into symphonic, elegant, and classical sounding pieces. Classical and metal have always sort of gone hand in hand to the point where I’m shocked Chuck Klosterman has yet to write a chapter in one of his books about this very idea. If Beethoven were around today, he’d probably play keys for the coolest virtuoso metal band ever. Helloween gets it….but does the public, or their fans? I think so.

“Dr. Stein” kicks off the record and sounds like it should be in a ’80s family movie (something like Short Circuit). The saxophone at the beginning is so typical of ’80s film scores, it’s almost appalling, but so awesome. Rather than diabolical, bone-crushing metal, “Dr. Stein” comes off as a jazzy piece that makes you want to move your feet rather than bang your head. “If I Could Fly” turns into a symphonic masterpiece, complete with Greek-sounding acoustic guitars, but the vocals and beat come off almost hip-hop-esque. In fact, during the chorus I could swear lead singer Andi Deris is using an auto-tune, but he’s not, he just has one of those gnarly, shrill metal voices. “Where the Rain Grows” sounds like a power ballad from 1983. The overdubbed acoustic guitars and high-pitched vocals bring you back to an age when hairspray was still considered alright for men.

“The Keeper’s Trilogy” is a three-song epic consisting of “Halloween”, “Keeper of the Seven Keys”, and “The King for 1000 Years”, complete with a full orchestra and operatic singers. The tune goes for 17 minutes, and sounds more like the soundtrack to the best videogame money could ever create. Either that or this should have been the song used throughout every chase scene in The Lord of the Rings trilogy. You can be the judge, however. “Perfect Gentleman” would probably be my anthem if I were a pirate roaming the high seas. The band adds a group of flutes to an upbeat track that makes you want to hoist a glass of beer to the sky. Leave it to a German metal band to make you crave alcohol. When he chants out, “Yes I am/I am a perfect gentleman,” you know he has to mean it considering the high-art instrumentation accompanying the vocals.

“Fallen to Pieces” also sounds like auto-tune, especially when the electronic sounding drums kick in. This melodic and elegant piece is the shortest on the record ranging just under three and a half minutes, but every minute of this song is as beautiful and well-constructed as the other songs the band has redone for this record. The finale is the song “Why,” which sounds more like a poppy release from the Cure, rather than a track from Helloween. The song is filled with acoustic, classical guitar playing and relatively minimal drumming compared to that of most metal songs. The song never picks up any distortion, or speed, or fury. It just sounds like a renaissance tune the entire time, closing with a decent sounding drum roll before the hypothetical curtain falls. And with that, you know the classy version of Helloween has left the theatrical stage and returned to their true selves; screeching goblins from Germany.

Helloween proves that they are not just a bunch of angry Hobbit-lovers with a knack for shredding guitar solos. They are well-defined and smart musicians who want to escape the boundaries that being a metal band entails. By creating this virtuoso masterpiece, they have been able to distance themselves from their power-shredding friends and proven to be much more than any cliché metal band could bargain for. If you have a brain and like metal, chances are you’ll enjoy this album for its unique, stylistic approach. If you’re looking to mosh, drink, and get a nosebleed, I’ll let you know when the new Children of Bodom record comes out, mainly because I’ll be just as excited for that as well.

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