Helloween + HammerFall
@ The Brixton Academy, UK
5th May 2022
Review and pictures by Graham Hilling
The United Forces tour sees both HammerFall and Helloween take to the same stage and promises a feast for power metal lovers as they sweep across Europe, and with a new album waiting in the wings, I’m curious to see how the new HammerFall songs play out live.
It is quite an early start in Brixton this evening and the Academy is about two thirds full as HammerFall take to the stage. Starting with “Brotherhood”, the latest single from the forthcoming album “Hammer of Dawn”, they set the tone immediately. It is a roller-coaster of a song, combining high musicality and hooks with a driving pace that drags the crowd along, great way to start the show and it is not long before they have the metal masses fully on board and enjoying the show.
“The Metal Age” takes us way back in time, although the song still sounds remarkably fresh and powerful live. “Hammer of Dawn” brings us back up to the present day again and it is clear that HammerFall have at least spent a little bit of time on their stage presence, with synchronised banging the order of the day. This is a little cheesy for my taste but clearly not a problem for the crowd tonight!
This is a band that knows how to work an audience for sure, the songs themselves are pure heavy metal with fantastic sing-a-long choruses that just scream out for audience participation. Throughout this evening the crowd obliges and it just makes for a great atmosphere. Vocalist Joacim Cans says, “There’s only one rule tonight – have fun!” and it is certainly clear that that is exactly what HammerFall intend to do this evening, and the same goes for the crowd!
Founding member Oscar Dronjak sports his hammer shaped guitar for some songs, matching the elaborate and impressive stage dressing, comprised of a massive drum riser and HammerFall shield and hammer on each side of the stage. The band themselves sound tight, although Dronjaks’ solos sometimes don’t sound as fluid as I’d have expected, probably my ears letting me down here as the audience certainly don’t seem to notice!
No such trouble from Pontus Norgren whose solos sound very impressive throughout. Couple the dual attack guitars with a very solid rhythm section comprising of Fredrik Larsson on bass and David Wallin (with his signature kit) on drums and you do have something a little special.
Joacim mentions that there is no merch as it is stuck between Manchester and London! No doubt disappointing for fair few of the audience tonight who will have to make do with memories or mobile phone footage.
“Venerate Me”, another from the new album, goes down well and “Last Man Standing” is another crowd pleaser. We are then treated to a medley of songs from the “Crimson Thunder” album from 2002 which sees synchronised jumping on the stage! “Let the Hammer Fall” sees Oscar donning his hammer guitar again and ending the song by pretending to hammer it into the stage.
“Glory to the Brave” slows things down and the whole room is clapping out the rhythm with the band. The vocals of Joacim Cans sound spot on in this track and his range is really impressive and while this is one of the less in your face tracks it is also one of the most impressive from the performance tonight IMHO. The set ends with “(We Make) Sweden Rock” which has the crowd waving and after a short break we get an encore consisting of “Hammer High” & “Hearts on Fire” with its chanty chorus being lapped up by the crowd. The show ends with Oscar throwing his guitar up in the air and (thankfully) catching it!
So, HammerFall leave the stage and a plethora of stage crew start disassembling the stage setup. A massive Helloween banner is unfurled and a massive roar goes up from the crowd. There is a palpable sense of expectation.
As soon as Helloween eventually take to the stage it is clear that if HammerFall were in top gear then Helloween are in overdrive! From the first notes of “Skyfall” they make their intentions to make this a special evening clear.
The stage setup is also very elaborate, with a masterpiece of a drum riser consisting of a giant Helloween pumpkin, with Daniel Löble and his huge kit sitting atop. Behind this is a massive projection screen that displays videos for each of the songs along with video of the band on the stage.
Three guitars could definitely lead to a muddied sound but Helloween are pretty clever about how they work this piece of the sound with the guitars sometime playing harmonies and playing off one another. All three guitarists take turns on the songs to shine with no grandstanding, just some very nice playing that sits perfectly with the songs. Much the same for 3 vocalists (including Kai Hansen here), taking it in turns and working with one another rather than against one another. Add to this the sound in the Academy tonight is actually as good as I’ve heard in here and there should be no complaints.
The set this evening covers much of Helloweens career with a couple of albums figuring prominently – “Keeper of the Seven Keys: Part II” from 1988 and the current album, “Helloween”, from 2021 plus a few other notable tracks and some firm favourites from the past. “Where Rain Grows” sees some fantastic guitar, with all three guitarists playing harmonised parts to great effect. The vocals of Michael Kiske & Andi Deris work so well together, both playing on their strong-points. Let’s not forget Daniel Löble & Markus Grosskopf who provide the most stable foundation for all of the music to build on. All in all, Helloween this evening sound like a solid unit with all of the components working beautifully together.
Markus Grosskopf plays a custom pumpkin bass and all of the instruments being played tonight have something a little special about them. Sascha Gerstner has his own designed guitar with an over the top support and Michael Weikath plays a custom flying V design. All very cool.
Back to the show, we then get a medley of songs written by Kai Hansen – “Metal Invaders”, “Victim of Fate”, “Gorgar” & “Ride the Sky”, all performed supremely and it is clear Kai is enjoying being back in the band he helped created back in the early 80’s.
“Best Time” is introduced by a fantastic solo piece by Sascha Gerstner which is quite a surprise and truly beautiful. We’re then into the song proper with its incredibly infectious chorus which you just cannot help but sing along with. Probably the high-point of the set for me to be honest.
“Dr Stein” takes up back in time again and this is a welcome addition to the set and a definite crowd pleaser, with some fantastic guitar deulling on display. The two final songs of the night are kind of inevitable but welcome none the less – we get “Keeper of the Seven Keys” and finally “I want Out” and what finer way to end the evening with a track that has a chorus that refuses to leave your head!
Indeed, another excellent evening of metal, with two bands playing their hearts out. It should also be noted that the atmosphere in the Academy was also super positive tonight, it really felt like everyone was onboard with having a good time and moving forward, gratifying to see in these troubled times.