Helloween were a band that for me growing up represented all the classic elements of what made eighties heavy metal for me. They had sprawling lengthy album tracks, concept-like albums that came in two parts, and thanks to MTV also short punchy but catchy songs like “Dr. Stein” and “I Want Out.” Growing up and attending many gigs here, there, and everywhere, it was quite a surprise that I only previously managed to catch them live on one occasion (Donington Monsters of Rock Festival back in 1988). Like many bands of their generation, their line-up splintered and fractured over the years. However, there was a seismic happening in 2016 for many fans of all eras of the band when Kai Hansen and Michael Kiske rejoined the band. A European tour scheduled for 2020 fell victim to the global pandemic and dates had to be rescheduled twice. However, the band did manage to record and release a brand-new album that hit number one in their native Germany in June 2021. Fast forward to 2022 and the Helloween live experience would finally land for two UK dates in Manchester and London. I was fortunate to chat with some of the band prior to the show and their enthusiasm for playing what would be their first live show in two years was clearly apparent.
Playing the largest of the Manchester Academy shows, it was billed as a co-headliner with Swedish band Hammerfall. They are a band that I was aware of and undoubtedly, they have a very wide fan base as was evidenced by the amount of their merchandise being displayed by the crowds of fans waiting to get admission to the show. Despite originating back in 1993, I had never previously seen the band live nor actually owned any of their musical catalogue. Thus, I approached their set with a completely open mind. As Hammerfall played a full set with their own full stage production it would thus be ideal conditions for me to make a judgment call. The power metal legends delivered a diverse set, stepping through their musical legacy with effortless ease. Clearly a huge hit with the masses of adoring fans, unfortunately, they left me nonplussed by their metal by numbers approach. My opinion, however, was clearly in the minority as their passionate fans raised the roof with their approving applause and response as they exited with their own anthems, “Hammer High” and “Hearts On Fire.”
After a slightly delayed opening, the Helloween show began with the track “Skyfall” being played over the PA from their latest album release. One thing that immediately struck me was the very elaborate stage show, combining a huge back screen together with individual musician cameras – something that I had never actually previously seen at any live show. A huge stage production dwarfing even the impressive showing from Hammerfall as the screen shows their band mascot the pumpkin man and that mysterious hooded figure from the two Keeper albums. Visually impressive as it certainly ramps up the sense of atmosphere and anticipation among the positively salivating fans (though that could just be due to the copious pints of beer being consumed relentlessly) The band members then pick up and start playing “Skyfall” as they quite literally hit the stage with a flurry of energy. With so many band members on stage, it’s difficult to quite know where to look, as the individual musicians all step forward and take their turn both in the limelight and through their instrumental solo spotlight features. A new song gives way to an older one as the track “Eagle Fly Free” is played from one of those legendary Keeper albums. Visually it’s represented by a phoenix-like bird that swoops and soars, burning away on the screen behind the band members. This rotates with another newer tune before another one from my era, namely, “Future World.” This introduces the first crowd participation of the night as many voices are raised along with the catchy chorus. Crowd response is bordering on controlled chaos, as the band look to be enjoying their first Manchester show in over 15 years.
A personal highlight for me is when Andi Deris introduces Kai Hansen, the band’s original vocalist as well as guitarist. There is then a medley of early-era Helloween music from the Walls of Jericho album, “Metal Invaders,” “Victim Of Fate,” “Gorgor,” and “Ride The Sky.” This also allows the band’s twin vocalists Michael Kiske and Andi Derris to take a breather. I did wonder how the show would play out with a band containing three singers all representing different musical eras of Helloween. It worked much better than I anticipated seamlessly rather than coming over as disjointed.
A slight easing of the pace is served up with the ballad “Forever and One,” with the dual vocal of Deris and Kiske really coming across well on this track. A few more tracks are served up to an adoring audience before the familiar intro of “Dr Stein” is delivered to a rapturous response, and again the crowd takes over the singing, this time of the complete song, not just the chorus.
My own highlight in a night in which there were several was the performance of “Keeper of The Seven Keys,” the title track from their 1987 album. This track allows all the individual musicians to have a solo spot as they all appear to be thoroughly and fully embracing the experience of playing live once again for an audience of enthusiastic fans after a two-year layoff.
With the reception that they are being given the band also return for another catchy anthem as they deliver “I Want Out,” but judging from their facial expressions I actually believe that sentiment is ironic as neither the band nor the audience wants the “March Of The Pumpkins” to actually end. In conclusion, I completely loved welcoming Helloween back to a live stage again and I am eagerly looking forward to catching them again live in Clisson, France at Hellfest this summer.