STRAIGHT OUT OF HELL
When you history is as long as stoic as a band like Helloween's, people tend to come into each release with a series of expectations. They also tend to judge anything new they release by comparison to the rest of the catalog instead of as a standalone release. Certainly, that's justified. For me, I first remember discovering Helloween when I was stationed in Korea. They used to play their videos in a bar called the "MTV Club" in Itaewon, Korea. I watched for a year as videos for "I Want Out" and "Halloween" played over and over in this club. I remember buying KEEPER OF THE SEVEN KEYS: PART 1 in some bootleg shop in Seoul, and literally wearing that tape out in only a few months. From that point on, I've never missed a release of a disc by Helloween, and I've compared every release to KEYS 1. Some have been hit and some have been miss, but all have pretty much maintained the core sound of the band. Even changes in core members hasn't derailed Helloween...at least to my ears.
Now, we come to STRAIGHT OUT OF HELL. Really, there's not a whole lot to say about this release to be honest. In short, this is Helloween doing what Helloween does. STRAIGHT OUT OF HELL is a solid collection of power metal that's worth a listen or six, but ultimately seems destined to be one of the more unmemorable releases from the band. That's not to say it's horrible. It's really not. That said though, it's definitely a downgrade from the last two releases - 2010's 7 SINNERS and 2007's brilliant release GAMBLING WITH THE DEVIL. By comparison, these songs just sort of lay there. There's some cool stuff going on, but there's a little too much trying to sound like Helloween instead of simply "being" Helloween. On some of the songs, they try to hard to wedge a bit too much into the music. Take a song like "World Of War" as an example. This song is just way too busy. For one thing, the guitars of Sascha Gerstner and Michael Weikath are a mixture of classic power metal and modern D-tuning in some of the riffs. That does not work, at all. Some of the breakdowns leave the song sounding like what you would imagine Meshuggah would sound like taking a stab at power metal. That may work for some bands, but not a legacy band like Helloween. This problem surfaces over and over, which is surprising for Helloween. Songs like "Live Now" also feature new, lower tunings which are detrimental to the overall vibe of this release.
Another further distraction on STRAIGHT OUT OF HELL are the vocals of Andi Deris. While they are certainly clean and strong, they are just not as crisp and soaring as on previous releases. Further, there's a lot of echo and effects thrown in all over this album which is not, in my eyes, an enhancement by any stretch. Simply put, Deris is a brilliant vocalist who's voice doesn't need to be complicated by studio effects. When the effects are not overwhelming, his newly adopted passion for growling on almost every song is not overly welcomed either. Songs like "Far From The Stars" find him sounding like a cleaner vocal version of Jon Oliva than that of the once huge vocalist that has powered this band for more than half their career. Maybe it's just age setting in on Deris, but whatever the reason, STRAIGHT OUT OF HELL is simply not his best vocal performance in his history with the band.
PITRIFF RATING - 65/100 - As a huge fan of Helloween, I come into every release pumped up for greatness from one of my favorites. I didn't get that this time. STRAIGHT OUT OF HELL is not a bad release, but it's far less than expected from a band that has a standard with a bar raised sky high. Adequate listen, but not likely to find it's way to the player often.