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.
FEW AGAINST MANY
I know I wasn't alone in worrying that guitarist Gus G. joining Ozzy would ruin Firewind. Sure, we all get that it's a great move for Gus. Further, we also understand that it is an unbelievable opportunity that that has propelled every other guitarist except Joe Holmes to stardom. In short, we get why Gus did it. That said though, Firewind has been, along with Primal Fear, the most consistently great power metal band of the last decade. Seeing it become a part time project behind a very high profile gig could have spelled disaster.
Thankfully though, this has not happened. While it's not the best album Firewind has ever done, FEW AGAINST MANY is very much in tune with the greatness of previous efforts and continues to show development of the band as songwriters. To say the least, FEW AGAINST MANY kicks ass in the tradition the band had previously established.
If you aren't a fan of Helloween, you might consider Michael Kiske returning to metal after over a decade of saying that he hated everything about it to be hypocritical. If you are a fan of Helloween, you probably will look at it as a simple change of mind.
So Michael Kiske has changed his mind and returned to metal...:P
Seriously though, the great Helloween vocalist has joined forces with many of the best names in the current European metal market to form what has to be considered a supergroup of sorts; the new group Unisonic. The band, which also features former Helloween and current Gamma Ray guitarist Kai Hansen, Krokus/Gotthard axeslinger Mandy Meyer and the former bottom end of Pink Cream 69 (bassist Dennis Ward and drummer Kosta Zafiriou), have just released their first effort - the self-titled release UNISONIC. As a Helloween enthusiast, as well as a fan of every single band these guys are or have been with, this seems like a home run waiting to be hit.
There's really two kinds of German metal out there. There's the traditional power metal; stuff like Primal Fear or Scorpions that just kicks your ass with rhythmic playing and powerful vocals. Then, there's the other variety that sounds like the metal version of a battle at a renaissance faire. Bands like Blind Guardian come to mind. This kind of music has an appeal, but you'd better be brilliant if you want to pull it off. For years, Sabaton has been on the cusp of that greatness. With CAROLUS REX, they fall far short of not only that standard, but their own standard of excellence as well.
INNER MONSTER OUT
When it comes to traditional metal fronted by women, there's really two bands to pay attention to and a whole litany of bands that want to do this, but are just missing something. The two bands that "get it" fully are Benedictum and Shadowside. While both are different musically and sonically, they both do one thing very much the same. Where most female fronted metal bands these days try to highlight the woman thing over the music (example: Hydrogyn, Nightwish), these two bands really just create metal and do not go out of their way to promote the womanly wiles of their lead singer. It works for both bands, in my eyes.