Concert Review – Helloween (Espaço das Américas, São Paulo, Brazil, 10/29/2017)

What we once thought was unlikely to happen became reality and, my friends, it was one HELL of a night!

Have you ever imagined seeing Michael Kiske, Kai Hansen and Andi Deris together on the same stage? Yes, I know, we have seen Kiske and Hansen together with Unisonic before, we have seen Kiske singing HELLOWEEN classics beautifully, we have seen Hansen as a special guest on Helloween concerts, but the three pieces together feel so right that it is hard to think how it hasn’t happened before. The Pumpkins United World Tour is real now, it’s a huge celebration to the band’s legacy and I am not afraid to say that this is one of the most amazing tours of this year!

This tour was announced a year ago and the first date confirmed was in São Paulo (although the tour actually started in Mexico). I have got to say Brazilians love Helloween, tickets were sold out in a blink of an eye and the band announced a second date – again sold out. We were also informed that these two concerts were going to be recorded to a near future release in DVD, so we couldn’t be more excited. Unfortunately, guitarist Roland Grapow wasn’t invited to join the band on this historical moment (according to himself), which is really a shame.

Without an opening act, Helloween went straight to the point and got the party started at 7:30pm at the Espaço das Américas venue with the iconic Halloween, with Deris and Kiske singing together. This was enough to make 8,000 grown adults sing loud, smile, cry, jump, put their hands in the air, fall on their knees and thank for being there (I am not exaggerating, Brazilian fans are really this passionate and intense). After the song, both vocalists thanked all the fans and Deris remembered that 10 years ago they recorded a live album and DVD in São Paulo (Keeper of the Seven Keys – The Legacy World Tour 2005/2006) because Brazilian fans were the loudest in the world, so they wanted to do it again. The duo also introduced us to their two friends, Doc and Seth, the funny animated pumpkins on the screen who were responsible for “choosing” the night’s setlist, focusing on classics but also giving a space to songs released after the 2000s.

Photos by Leandro Anhelli – http://www.anhelli.com.br/

It was incredible to see Kiske and Deris singing side by side but the night wasn’t only about them. Kai Hansen, Michael Weikath and Sascha Gerstner were playing heavier and louder than ever, and in perfect harmony. Weikath was in his usual “low profile mode” on his corner of the stage, but as technical and impressive as always, while Hansen and Gerstner were moving all the time along the stage and interacting with the fans in the front row. Markus Grosskopf smiled all the time and alongside Dani Löble didn’t miss one beat at all. The whole team was clearly happy and connected.

When it was time for Hansen to take over the microphone on a medley of Starlight, Ride the Sky, Judas and Heavy Metal (Is the Law), the PA system died not once, but twice. On the first time, the musicians took some minutes to notice as the crowd kept singing in support as if nothing wrong was happening, until a sound technician came in to the stage and asked them to stop. They left and after some minutes Hansen apologized and said they were going to start over. When the sound failed for the second time, they left the stage for a little longer, 20 minutes or so, which made us think of a worst case scenario like a cancellation or something. Luckily, the team managed to fix everything and the band could hit the stage for Kai’s moment to shine.

Photos by Leandro Anhelli – http://www.anhelli.com.br/

Right after that, Deris and Kiske returned to the stage. Kiske joked that in all these years they have seen many things on the road, but never a PA that failed twice. Then, they gave the fans a moment to calm down a bit. Deris said it was a moment for a ballad, especially for the girls (he said the same thing before when they played If I Could Fly) and they made a beautiful duo singing Forever and One (Neverland); however, Kiske mentioned guys also love ballads, and all the fans shouted a loud “YEAAAH” in response.

There is no such thing as an ordinary concert for Helloween and they even know how to make a drum solo an emotional moment. Lights out on stage, Dani started with some beats and then images of a happy and precise Ingo Schwichtenberg – the original drummer, dead in 1995 at the age of 29 – were projected on the screen. Dani started to follow Ingo’s beats as if they both were on a very technical drums battle. It ended up with Ingo “playing alone” and many of us crying, clapping and shouting his name in a very loving tribute. It’s worth to mention that on the previous night the screen didn’t work for some time and unfortunately the fans couldn’t see such beautiful moment.

Power, How Many Tears, Eagle Fly Free, Keeper of the Seven Keys, Future World and I Want Out made a killer final sequence, with KOT7K being the highlight of the show undoubtedly. After 3 amazing hours the show was over, but we had energy left for more. Some great songs were left out of the setlist, including the recently released single Pumpkins United, but well, that’s okay. And despite the technical difficulties, I did not see one single person complaining; quite the contrary, everybody went back home with a big smile on their faces, and that feeling of being part of something really awesome and unique. To finish this review, if I can leave a piece of advice for you all, my metalhead friends, I’d say: please go see this concert if Helloween come to your town/country on this very special tour! You will remember this amazing night forever with a smile on your face and possibly tears of joy in your eyes.

Setlist
Intro: Let Me Entertain You (Robbie Williams song)
Halloween (with Michael Kiske & Andi Deris)
Dr. Stein (with Michael Kiske & Andi Deris)
I’m Alive (with Michael Kiske)
If I Could Fly (with Andi Deris)
Are You Metal? (with Andi Deris)
Rise and Fall (with Michael Kiske)
Waiting for the Thunder (with Andi Deris)
Perfect Gentleman (with Andi Deris)
Starlight / Ride the Sky / Judas / Heavy Metal (Is the Law) (with Kai Hansen)
Forever and One (Neverland) (with Michael Kiske & Andi Deris)
A Tale That Wasn’t Right (with Michael Kiske & Andi Deris)
I Can (with Andi Deris)
Drums Solo (Dani Löble & Ingo Schwichtenberg ‘battle’) – Ingo Tribute
Livin’ Ain’t No Crime / A Little Time (with Michael Kiske)
Why? (with Michael Kiske & Andi Deris)
Sole Survivor (with Andi Deris)
Power (with Michael Kiske & Andi Deris)
How Many Tears (with Andi Deris, Michael Kiske and Kai Hansen)
Eagle Fly Free (with Michael Kiske)
Keeper of the Seven Keys (with Michael Kiske & Andi Deris)
Future World (with Michael Kiske)
I Want Out (with Michael Kiske & Andi Deris)

Band members
Andi Deris – vocals
Michael Kiske – vocals
Kai Hansen – vocals, guitars
Michael Weikath – guitars
Sascha Gerstner – guitars
Markus Grosskopf – bass
Dani Löble – drums

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Album Review – Helloween / My God-Given Right (2015)

It’s our God-given right to keep banging our heads to the music by the happiest and most awesome Power Metal band in the world.

Rating2

My God-Given RightEvery single time Power Metal heroes Helloween release a new album, my metal heart is filled with joy. No other band beats those German metallers when the subject is fast and solid metal music charged with massive amounts of happiness and electricity. And when our beloved war dog guitarist Michael Weikath said My God-Given Right, the fifteenth studio album in their distinguished career, would be “just good old classic Heavy Metal the way it’s supposed to be”, I couldn’t get more excited to have it in my hands. What Mr. Weikath says, Mr. Weikath does, right?

After listening to My God-Given Right for the hundredth time let’s say he was absolutely spot on with his words, for the total delight of millions of Helloween maniacs all over the world, including myself. It’s beautiful and unswerving Heavy Metal, a metallic lecture to any musician on how to focus your energy and skills into crafting first-class music, and more important than that, it’s pure Helloween. In addition, guitarist Sascha Gerstner and drummer Daniel Löble seem to be getting more and more in sync with the rest of the band with each album, becoming an intrinsic part of the music by Helloween now, which of course brings only benefits to the band as a whole.

Thus, it’s when “Happy Happy Helloween” come ripping that you better get ready for an insane Rock N’ Roll party. Mixing elements from all of their albums, including even their iconic debut album Walls of Jericho, the opening track Heroes punches you right in the face with its powerful instrumental and beyond exciting rhythm and chorus (“Everyone can be a hero / We are, we are / Sometimes up then down to zero / We are, we are / Heroes, heroes”), followed by Battle’s Won, which reminds me a little of “Burning Sun” from their previous album, the also excellent Straight Out of Hell. It is Power Metal to the second power with Daniel leading the sonic attack, the type no other band in the world can create, with highlights to the balance between the lead vocals by Andi Deris and the efficient backing vocals. Then we have the title-track, My God-Given Right, which transpires Helloween from the Andi Deris-era, and I can’t wait to hear this tune live. Besides, you’ll be humming its beautiful riffs for weeks in a row, and it’s impossible not to love its “Star Wars meets Helloween” official video.

Right after that Power Metal trinity, why not hitting the dance floor with the entire band in the amazing Hard Rock/Heavy Metal tune Stay Crazy, one of the best tracks to be added to their setlist in my opinion? Those awesome riffs keep coming nonstop from the guitar duo comprised by Michael and Sascha, with kudos to Andi for an outstanding performance yet again. And sounding like a hybrid between “I Want Out” and “I Can”, the also excellent Lost in America is old school Helloween with the fresh touch of their latest works, with highlights to its fun lyrics and an amazing job done on guitars once again, especially in regards to the solos. Concluding this second trinity, the awesomeness goes on and on in Russian Roulé, a song that represents what I would call “badass Rock N’ Helloween”. Not only it has the heaviest riffs of the whole album, but Andi and Daniel are also thrilled while playing this song, with only one single question left to be answered: are you going to come out and play with the band?

Helloween 2015The Swing of a Fallen World is the weakest of all tracks, not actually fitting in with the rest of the album. Despite a desire for it to be epic, it ends up falling flat due to its very basic and repetitive instrumental, with no outstanding moments at all. Fortunatelly, the album quickly regains momentum with the relaxing ballad Like Everybody Else, a good option for soulmates to enjoy together. We know they’ve created better ballads through the years, but this is still a nice song, and of course the most interesting part are Andi’s vocals as they always work pretty well in slow songs. Then we have the superb Creatures in Heaven, a high-end Power Metal feast where Helloween prove why they’re the masters of this type of metal music: it’s exciting from start to finish, where they pay a tribute to themselves traveling back in time and back to the present and future of the band, with the riffs and solos by Michael and Sascha truly touching our hearts so amazing they are.

No one else could have written If God Loves Rock ‘n’ Roll but Mr. Andi Deris, as it’s pure Hard Rock with the entire band on fire delivering divine rock music to us mere mortals, enhanced by its witty lyrics (“Leather suits you better / Got to let your hair grow / Take the black and enjoy the new show / Welcome to an army spreading over the world / Wild and proud brothers / Haven’t you heard?”). And following the same rockin’ pattern, Living on the Edge is highly recommended to be part of your soundtrack for a road trip, where Michael, Sascha and one of my favorite bassists of all time, Mr. Markus Grosskopf, give us a lesson on how to flawlessly tame their strings.

Are you tired already? There’s no way you can get bored with Helloween, with more Power Metal at its finest to you in the form of Claws, a good complement to an amazing album, as well as You, Still of War, the longest of all tracks, which has an inner beauty that will turn it into a fan favorite without any doubt. It’s a lot more progressive than usual, showcasing those unique guitar duos we learned to love in their music, closing the regular version of the album the best possible way. And if you grab one of the special editions of My God-Given Right, there are different bonus songs, all pretty good, with Free World being my favorite due to its riffs.

However, as Helloween is not an ordinary band, My God-Given Right comes with the whole package. The artwork, once again created by German international photographer Martin Häusler, comes available as a 3D lenticular print (visible without 3D glasses), and you can also be totally entertained by the Helloween family providing their words of wisdom about each track of the album HERE, HERE and HERE.  Because, in the end, what really matters is that it’s our God-given right to stay crazy and keep banging our heads to the music by the happiest and most awesome Power Metal band in the world.

Best moments of the album: My God-Given Right, Stay Crazy, Russian Roulé, Creatures in Heaven and If God Loves Rock ‘n’ Roll.

Worst moments of the album: The Swing of a Fallen World.

Released in 2015 Nuclear Blast

Track listing
1. Heroes 3:51
2. Battle’s Won 4:53
3. My God-Given Right 3:30
4. Stay Crazy 4:05
5. Lost in America 3:35
6. Russian Roulé 3:53
7. The Swing of a Fallen World 4:53
8. Like Everybody Else 4:04
9. Creatures in Heaven 6:36
10. If God Loves Rock ‘n’ Roll 3:21
11. Living on the Edge 5:19
12. Claws 5:52
13. You, Still of War 7:21

Digital/Limited/Earbook Edition bonus tracks
14. I Wish I Were There 4:12
15. Wicked Game 3:56
16. Free World* 3:34
17. Nightmare** 4:43
18. More Than a Lifetime** 3:58

*Limited Edition Bonus track only
**Earbook Edition Bonus track only

Band members
Andi Deris – lead vocals
Michael Weikath – lead and rhythm guitars
Sascha Gerstner – lead and rhythm guitars
Markus Grosskopf – bass
Daniel Löble – drums

Album Review – ShadowIcon / Smoke & Mirrors EP (2015)

This Slovenian band proves an opera singer is not always needed to make great Symphonic Metal songs.

Rating5

SHADOWICON_SmokeMirrors_coverFounded in 2006 in Ljubljana, capital of the mysterious Slovenia, ShadowIcon possess the perfect features to make a Symphonic Metal band: heavy riffs, killer drums, powerful keyboards and orchestrations and a very talented and charismatic female vocalist. What makes them different from other Symphonic Power Metal bands we know is that the beautiful Ana Prijatelj Pelhan is not a lyric soprano like other European divas such as Tarja Turunen, Simone Simons or Floor Jansen. Instead, her vocals are a lot more Pop Rock than Metal, something closer to Gwen Stephani’s voice, which makes the whole difference in their sound.

After four years of the release of their debut album, Empire In Ruins, the band is releasing this year the EP Smoke & Mirrors, containing six tracks and with many special guests such as Sascha Gerstner, guitarist of Helloween; Stefan Schmidt, member of the a cappella metal band Van Canto; Olaf Senkbeil, guest studio musician of Blind Guardian; Betty Lenard contributing with backing vocals, among others.

shadowiconThe EP starts – and also ends – with the powerful and exciting (Now I See) Through a Mirror Darkly, full of imposing orchestrations and keyboards. The opening track also has a wonderful vocal duet between Ana and Sascha Gerstner, with its chorus being really catchy (which I consider one of the things that make a great metal song), and after days I have heard this song for the first time I was still singing “I’ll step into your dreams, I’ll find out where you’ve been, I’ll make you wish you were already dead”. The following track, If I Was the One, the first single of the EP (check its official video below), is a really nice track with several different layers, starting in a smooth way and ending a lot heavier. In addition, its backing vocals and keyboards are great, especially when combined with the guitar solos. By the way, the keyboards seem to be a crucial piece of their music, supporting all the heaviness and the drama throughout the EP.

The Edge is a good song, but not as heavy as the previous ones, just like The Beauty of a Rose, a very nice ballad which shows all the beauty of Ana’s voice – her vocals are definitely the highlights in both tracks – with an awesome work done in terms of backing vocals too. My Plea starts in a cool and calm way, with Ana singing accompanied only by a piano before all that symphonic thunder comes back, showcasing more heaviness and focusing a lot more on the guitar lines and orchestral moments than all previous songs. And finally, a version of (Now I See) Through a Mirror Darkly without Sascha closes this good EP. It is still a cool and intense song, but I hope during their live concerts one of the guys from the band can reproduce the amazing vocal duet with Ana because it really makes all the difference in the track.

Smokes & Mirrors is available on several online channels, such as iTunes, Amazon and others, being a solid preview of what can come next on their future full-length albums. Also, don’t forget to check their Facebook page for more news and updates: it’s indeed worthwhile to follow their growth and evolution, as ShadowIcon are a band that definitely proves Symphonic Metal is not a thing only for Northern European bands.

Best moments of the album: (Now I See)Through a Mirror Darkly and If I Was the One.

Worst moments of the album: The Edge.

Released in 2015 Independent

Track listing
1. (Now I See) Through a Mirror Darkly (feat. Sascha Gerstner) 5:35
2. If I Was the One 3:42
3. The Edge 3:42
4. The Beauty of a Rose 4:54
5. My Plea 3:26
6. (Now I See) Through a Mirror Darkly (reprise) 5:35

Band members
Ana Prijatelj Pelhan – vocals
Tomaž Lovšin – guitars
Bojan Kostanjšek – guitars
Matej Ravšelj – bass
Peter Smrdel – keyboards
Žiga Ravšelj – drums

Guest musicians
Sascha Gerstner – additional vocals in “(Now I See) Through a Mirror Darkly”
Stefan Schmidt – vocal choirs
Olaf Senkbeil – backing vocals
Betty Lenard – backing vocals
Jeffery Hayat – additional orchestrations and programming
Matthias Ulmer – additional orchestrations and programming