Shepherds Bush Empire, London
8th January 2008
All live pics and review by HannTu
What a way to kick off 2008! The bar has been set. Where 2007 for me closed with an earth-shaking performance by Therion, 2008 starts with pumpkins and singalong choruses. Power metal fans the world over must have been crossing fingers, toes and various other bodily digits when they heard that Helloween and Gamma Ray were embarking on a world tour. Together! "Please come to my town" was the universal cry.
Helloween surely needs no introduction. While thrashers were taking the San Francisco and California underground, this side of the Atlantic saw the birth of the power/speed metal movement – derived almost directly from the legacy of Judas Priest, and Helloween were among the frontrunners. Former Helloween members have gone on to big things; their alumni reads almost like a Who’s Who of the German power metal scene. The most famous Helloween alumnus however is Kai Hansen, founding member, one-time vocalist, and guitarist on the seminal albums KEEPER OF THE SEVEN KEYS I and II. He went on to form Gamma Ray, striking a name and sound of his own, and establishing himself as one of the legends of metal.
German power metal veterans Axxis had the easiest of tasks warming up the crowd. Unfortunately, although I arrived at about quarter past 7, I only caught the tail end of their set, literally midway through their second to last song. This was especially annoying: I had really wanted to watch the band, but I also wanted to shoot their new guest vocalist, the lovely Ana Mladinovici from the Romanian band Magica. She looked stunning from where I was standing, and I confess to being distracted from the quite excellent band. Vocalist Bernhard was in fine voice and great humour, smiling and upping the energy levels with his singing and exhortations to the crowd. He also has some quite unique stage movements. Damn, really wished I could have caught them.
I remember NO WORLD ORDER as my introduction to the world of power metal back in 2001. The album blew me away, and I still regard it as my favourite Gamma Ray album, even though on reflection POWERPLANT, SOMEWHERE OUT IN SPACE and LAND OF THE FREE are vastly superior albums.
As the “Welcome” theme blared from the speakers, and the MAN himself walked on, I was hard pressed not to just drop my camera and start headbanging. The infectious chorus of “Gardens of the Sinner” got everyone singing straight away, while I couldn’t help mouthing all the words to “New World Order” while I was shooting from the pit. From their latest album LAND OF THE FREE II, “From The Ashes” and surprisingly, “Empress” made an appearance.
The line-up of Kai Hansen, Henjo Richter, Dan Zimmerman and Dirk Schlacter has been relatively steady, and the ease and chemistry was there for all to see on stage. It was rumoured that Kai had some sort of trouble with his voice, but it wasn’t aurally evident from the way he sang, hitting the high notes, and letting the crowd help him a little. The way the band bounced around the stage meant that they would be a tough act to follow.
The ever-popular “Rebellion in Dreamland” led on to the awesomely cheesy “Heavy Metal Universe” (Kai inciting the balcony to get to their feet), but it was Helloween’s “Ride the Sky” that raised an almighty cheer. Kai wrote and sang the song back in the WALLS OF JERICHO album, Helloween’s first, and it never gets old even though he plays it regularly with Gamma Ray. “Somewhere Out In Space” gave the band a chance for an extended jam session, and “Send Me A Sign” closed the set. It was slightly surprising that they didn’t play some Scheepers era songs, and it would have been nice to hear “Heaven Can Wait” or “Gamma Ray”, but I’m not complaining…
I’m glad Gamma Ray didn’t disappoint. They looked extremely happy to be onstage and playing for an appreciative audience, and offstage they were regular nice guys as well. There is a reason why they are highly regarded in the metal world, and it’s not just for their quality music and pedigree.
Gardens Of The Sinner
New World Order
From the Ashes
Valley of the Kings
Rebellion In Dreamland
Heavy Metal Universe
Ride The Sky
Somewhere Out In Space
Send Me A Sign
As the chants of “Happy happy Helloween” started, I wondered whether Helloween could top the great set that Gamma Ray had just played. I saw them play London two years ago when they were touring in support of the KEEPER III album. From what I remember of the gig, they were tight and professional, but I don’t recall being blown away either.
Well I wasn’t blown away this time either, but they were very very very impressive (how many ‘very’s is that?). I’m not the biggest fan of Andi Deris as Helloween singer, and watching the LEGACY tour DVD and listening to GAMBLING WITH THE DEVIL didn’t really change my mind much. However I think he has really grown into his role as Helloween frontman and made it his own, and I guess it’s unfortunate that idiots like me will keep comparing him to Michael Kiske and Kai Hansen before him.
All the photographers in the pit were absolutely smiling when we saw the set list. Being restricted to shooting the first three songs, kicking off with “Halloween”, their 13 minute opus off the KEEPER I album would give us plenty of time to shoot Andi and co. All bands should write a 13 minute song and play it first at gigs. ☺
“Halloween” was spot on, and again I was mouthing most of the words in the pit, getting a smile from bassist Markus Grosskopf. He looked absolutely chuffed to be there, in contrast to the dour Michael Weikath and the slightly subdued Sascha Gerstner. Andi was his usual awesome self, ear to ear grin, rock star poses and some great singing. He has to be one of the most charismatic and photogenic frontmen out there today. “Sole Survivor” and “March of Time” followed “Halloween” with nary a break for breath, “March of Time” especially testing Andi’s vocal cords. “As Long As I Fall” from their latest album GAMBLING WITH THE DEVIL gave us something newer. The slow mournful ballad “A Tale That Wasn’t Right” had the entire crowd singing, a quite spine-chilling experience.
The band took a break, and it was time for drummer Dani Loeble to strut his stuff with a six minute drum solo. It looked like a warm-up routine, he made it look so easy behind that massive drum set that almost completely obscured him. Of course Helloween have never been one to take themselves too seriously and their wacky sense of fun led to a little “puppet show” consisting of Andi, Sascha and Markus dressed as little dwarves kneeling down inside a Punch-and-Judy stand. In a chipmunk voice, Andi started teasing Dani about his playing, who responded by playing the opening riff of “Smoke On The Water” on his electronic toms. The “dwarves” then joined in, until Michael appeared with a machine gun, yelling “I can’t take this shit anymore!” and massacred them all. How nutty was that?
The acoustic strains introduced another 14 minute rocker “The King For 1000 Years” from THE LEGACY. The simple chorus meant that the crowd including yours truly could join in. The lung-busting “Eagle Fly Free” was next, and Andi held his own very well indeed. Back to familiar territory from his point of view, “The Bells of Seven Hells” and “If I Could Fly” were next, before the lovably wacky “Dr Stein” cheered the audience up again. “Doctor Stein grows funny creatures/Lets them run into the night” – amazing!
The band went offstage again for a few seconds, then came out for a medley consisting of (among others) “Perfect Gentleman” and “Keeper of the Seven Keys”. My only complaint was that there was too much of “Perfect Gentleman” and only one chorus of “We are the keepers of the seven keys”.
The highlight of the night for me personally was when Gamma Ray came out to join Helloween onstage for the last two encores “Future World” and “I Want Out”. To see Kai onstage again with his former bandmates Michael and Markus was amazing, something I didn’t think I’d ever see. Of course having two bassists and four guitarists as well as a singer onstage at the same time is good for a laugh or two…
All in all, what a magnificent way to start 2008, with a healthy dose of good traditional power metal that only the Germans know how to serve up.
March of Time
As Long As I Fall
A Tale That Wasn’t Right
King For A 1000 Years
Eagle Fly Free
The Bells of Seven Hells
If I Could Fly
Future World (with Gamma Ray)
I Want Out (with Gamma Ray)