|Review: Helloween - Walls of Jericho|
|Walls of Jericho|
Label: Noise Records
Year released: 1986
Genre: Power Metal
Review online: August 8, 2010
Reviewed by: Bruce Dragonchaser
for:Walls of Jericho
Here it is, kiddies. The place where it all began. A band that spawned a thousand imitators and influenced a thousand more, German nutbags Helloween almost single handedly invented the Power Metal sound, and without them we wouldn't have some of the biggest names in the business. Formed out of the ashes of no name underground entities like Gentry, Iron Fist, and Powerfool, Helloween was the eventual brainchild of guitarist/vocalist Kai Hansen (the veritable godfather of this genre), and with their 1986 full-length debut Walls Of Jericho, they made an indelible dent on the world of Heavy Metal.
Now, Helloween aren't an easy band to describe. Of course, their later incarnation of "Iron Maiden On Speed" would not surface until they unleashed their two most famous releases (The Keeper Of The Seven Keys albums, in case you're a drooling Neanderthal), as earlier on they had a meaner, more Thrash-orientated sound, not unlike the style Blind Guardian would later use as a template. Led by the unmistakably high warble of Hansen, Helloween took the Maiden guitar harmonies, sped them up to a whirlwind of thrash double kicks, added some neo-classical pretension, and topped it off with majestic, nursery-rhyme melodies that gave their sound a comedic, yet whimsical feel. They have retained this formula over the years (and mutated it in all shapes and forms), but the basic premise is the same. They were doing stuff that hadn't been done before, and still operate under that dictum.
So what's with the lukewarm rating? Well, for one thing, Black Metallers I know insist that this is the only Power Metal album they will ever own, and I can see why. The production on this thing is so harsh it sounds like the first Emperor record, and if you're familiar at all with this genre you will know a clear production is essential. Considering this was 1986 (and their first full-length) we can forgive them. Secondly, though, and perhaps most important, the songs just weren't as good as what came after. For a debut, there is an astonishing tightness to the playing, and in the now sadly deceased Ingo Schwichtenberg the band had possibly the best double-kick drummer ever, a man with unlimited energy and ability. The songwriting is of a high standard, and future Helloween (and Power Metal) classics were first aired here, including "Ride The Sky", "How Many Tears" and the infinite "Guardians" (the first Happy, Happy Power Metal Tune, I believe). But Kai Hansen...oh, man. It was said he stopped singing for Helloween and concentrated on writing and playing because he couldn't do all at the same time, and it shows. Personally, I think he has one of the best voices in the genre, now that Gamma Ray are about, but back then he could barely hold a note, especially those high ones. Keeping in line with the production, his voice is very raw and shaky, and when you hear the songs sung by Ill Prophecy wunderkind Michael Kiske at a later date, you see how much they could've been improved.
Depending on which version of the album you have, you might also find the band's self-titled EP they recorded a year before, as well as the song "Judas", which is one of the better tunes here. The EP is actually better song-wise than the full-length, with "Starlight", "Murderer" and the excellent "Victim Of Fate" (which you can still hear Gamma Ray play live these days) all being quality early Power Metal cuts, complete with some of the best guitar trade offs between Hansen and Michael Weikath.
If you're looking into Helloween for the first time (and if so, where the hell have you been?), go for the Keepers albums and work backwards. Walls Of Jericho is an outstanding release in that it invented a new style, but as an album, it just isn't that great. Sorry, all you purists who are spitting at the screen, but that's the truth. Helloween, in both this incarnation and the one with Andi Deris at the helm, would go on to make much better albums. As it stands, this is still an album you have to own. Eventually.
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