Better Than Raw (Velvel)
by Martin Popoff
Those mischief-making pumpkins Helloween are back just in time for their namesaked Hallow’s Eve, and with classic metal making a comeback worldwide, it is none too soon. You see, these boys are doing brisk business in pretty much every music market around the world except for North America, their latest, Better Than Raw, already selling one million pancakes, months before the official North American release here in the Fall of ’98.
Yeah, you heard right. ‘Tis a lot of records, but success here remains elusive. So fresh with a new label (Velvel), and rubbed raw with their patented brand of tuneful super-quickness, vocalist Andi Deris and his jack-o-lanterns are ready for another try.
“Yes, we are happy, but to be honest, America is the biggest market,” Deris confides, on a rare promo trip to these shores. “It’s nice to have the sales around the world, but it would be something else to break it here.”
For the band as a whole, it’s been a fairly brisk comeback from their two experimental, ill-received records in the early ’90s (Pink Bubbles Go Ape and Chameleon). Deris, who joined ranks for the first of those comebacks, Master Of The Rings, can claim a key role in the band’s current good fortune. Andi explains the arduous pathway toward Better Than Raw. “Master Of The Rings was definitely done with a few stomach aches. I really didn’t have my confidence yet, I wasn’t secure, wasn’t sure if the fans would accept me, but Michael (Weikath, bassist and long-time friend) helped me a lot. The band itself wasn’t a band in terms of playing together for a number of years, being tight. So it was a record heavy on studio techniques.”
This half-million unit success was followed by The Time Of The Oath, which clocked 820,000 in sales worldwide. “Time Of The Oath proved that we were actually a band. We already had a world tour under our belts, and suddenly the studio work went much easier, because we all knew each other. We could play more things as a band. We were tighter, which helped with the arranging. And now with Better Than Raw I think we finally know and understand each other well. After four years, we are now finally a band (laughs). We’ve done several tours and now there’s no question that we’ve arrived.”
Within the grooves, the cohesion is apparent, Helloween blasting through their instantly recognizable sped-up Maiden-isms, their precision white-knuckle melodicism and their socially-conscious words of wisdom with refreshed abandon. “It’s definitely a record filled with self-confidence,” affirms Deris, “definitely something we’ve allowed ourselves to go for, and experiment sound-wise with as well as arrangement-wise. There’s new rhythms, new things on the guitar, mainly because of the help of Uli, our drummer. He plays guitar quite well, and he knows exactly how to combine riffs with drum rhythms. And that’s very interesting, hearing what’s there between the songs. I really like it. The first time I listened to “Push or a Revelation” I was like ‘Wow! What the hell is going on here!?’ I remember all of us sitting on the couch at the back of the studio, with these big smiles across our faces. It’s that smile you have when the power overwhelms you.”
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