Metal Uber Alles

Feb 10, 2008 (Updated Feb 27, 2008)
Review by  
Rated a Very Helpful Review

Pros:Melodic Metal 101

Cons:Michael Kiske is missing

The Bottom Line: HELLOWEEN's debut masterpiece - the next-to-best Melodic Metal album of all times!


Walls of Jericho, HELLOWEEN's 1985 debut, is one of those few records apt to carry on their jaws the epithet "Melodic Metal 101".

By 1985 there was a never-ending stream of bands aping IRON MAIDEN's technically-inflicted melodicism and JUDAS PRIEST vicious twin-guitar knockout. IRON MAIDEN and JUDAS PRIEST by the way were the greatest Metal bands of the era alongside newcoming Thrashers METALLICA.

Few bands tried to bridge the gaps between melody and guitar-fueled aggression before HELLOWEEN. For sure MANOWAR upped their hands but they were too poseurs, too much keen on beer-soaked MOTORHEAD groupies to convey the urgency and epic moods that the German boys claimed rightly there on their debut. German fellows SCORPIONS with Uli Roth had their early punches by mid-1970s but they soon turned 180 degrees to AC/DCish lean and mean hurricane numbers. By 1985 they were unleashing Still Loving You.

The high-pitched banshee, the frantic twin guitars, the mysterious lyrics dealing with ancient myths, the technical prowess and the resulting sonic onslaught (a polished one, though, Heavy Metal with finesse) decisively belonged to second-wave German headbangers.

By 1985 HELLOWEEN comprised singer/guitarist/composer Kai Hansen; guitarist/composer Michael Weikath; bassist Markus Grosskopf and drummer Ingo Schwichtenberg. A strong quartet playing strong original compositions; otherwise the record wouldn't remotely be that influent. Nevertheless there's a crucial piece missing in HELLOWEEN's puzzle by 1985 - in the guise of singer Michael Kiske. Yes, we have great compositions; but singing duties are tentatively carried on by Hansen, the future leader of GAMMA RAY, the man responsible for bringing Kiske in - because he knew HELLOWEEN wanted more than just being a bonafide pioneer.
And it worked marvels.

20 years in advance "British Metal" is anyone's guess and Germany has become the Metal Valhalla; Melodic Metal is the leading subgenre and spawned some additional ones as well. IRON MAIDEN and JUDAS PRIEST themselves sent back HELLOWEEN some epic albums and frantic singles in the years to follow. Even METALLICA for a while seemed worried about those Progressive-tinged brand of European Heavy Metal.

Walls of Jericho is a noticeable improvement next to its EP predecessor, the eponymously-titled Helloween EP from the same 1985 that saw the German quartet take the Metal world by storm. Hansen and Weikath early on formed a thunderous dual team; Grosskopf and Schwichtenberg formed a solid rhythmic session playing on the eye of the hurricane. The lengthy compositions freed players from commercial aspirations as well as stylistic limits; the sonic achievements would become the bread and butter for the next 20 years.

Here I'm dealing with the real thing, the 1985 original version. 20 years in advance HELLOWEEN released a maxi-version of the original gem with the Helloween EP and the Judas single oddly tacked before the original tracks (Judas for the matter was released after Walls of Jericho). If you want some information on the "second" version of Walls of Jericho, try www1.epinions.com/content_185386700420...

Not less than a twin-song suite opens the album. The title track, 53-seconds length Walls of Jericho begins a pattern followed faithfully by every single Melodic Metal band since (even HELLOWEEN would keep and up the bet for their classic albums Keeper Of The 7 Keys I and II). A classic-tinged vignette announcing what seems to be a joust between knights, not a Heavy Metal album quickly incorporates the cracking sound of rainfall and then coalesces into the brutal, but elaborate outburst of Ride the Sky.

IRON MAIDEN with The Ides of March and JUDAS PRIEST with their The Hellion/Electric Eye suite may have provided inspiration but neither they packed so many urgency nor they had a sonic wallop comparable to what follows Walls of Jericho to become Ride the Sky (5:54), the acknowledged first masterpiece of the Melodic Metal genre. The compressed guitar riffs in tandem, the earnest vocal delivery (devoid of those Bruce Dickinson humorous dimension but obsessed with precision) and the mysterious, occult lyrics recall Ritchie Blackmore's RAINBOW updated with two guitar maniacs, German discipline and the trademark Melodic Metal guitar timbre. Countless, inferior imitators followed. A defining moment of Hansen's guitar playing bears one of his best ever vocal performances as well.

The remarkable following number is mid-pace Reptile, showing HELLOWEEN could successfully compete with their predecessors in what comes to Jurassic themes. The guitar cobwebs engendered by Weikath and Hansen propel the latter's limited vocal range to effective heights. The overloaded soloing is not HELLOWEEN's best but the silly chorus "Reptile/Reptile" is one of Metal's decerebration's best. The following "ooos" are a noticeable twist in Steve Harris' tail as well!

Guardian is the next number in line. A traditional Melodic Metal dealing with Dark Ages' imagery, dragon-slaying etc. Noticeable features are the blistering guitars in tandem, the percolating bass and the urgent raspy vocals from Hansen which bands such as HAMMERFALL would turn into even more robust cliches. But the solos are even better - the guitar galloping in particular is a flawless offering. HELLOWEEN distill loads of classic features that uncountable bands would render inoffensive. Even counting on Hansen's limited vocals, the exciting effects are undeniable.

Phantoms of Death (a distant cousin to METALLICA's Phantom Lord?) is another pretty exciting number on its own, an addictive rush of yodeling guitars crying in tandem with insane vocals, obsessed with details. The astounding riffing gets more and more epic and the sonic onslaught more addictive as if JUDAS PRIEST had fallen into a German music box. The lead breaks are wonderful early features of Melodic Metal and vocals, fortunately, also in tandem render the number positively transcendental. We have also a frantic double-guitar soloing worth of mention. But pummeling riffing steals the show once again, once for all! The number gets better every minute (almost 7 in length). One of the crowning moments of Melodic Metal - and Metal in general - during the 80s.

Metal Invaders (IRON MAIDEN's Invaders and METALLICA's Metal Militia come to mind) is a straightforward number but - differing from the aforementioned - it's all about melody not sheer power or vocal twists. Hansen can't compete with Dickinson and Weikath/Hansen are no Hetfield/Hammett in what comes to weight. No problem. The exciting "Metal Invaders" chorus is not for Thrashers; it belongs to a more traditional brand of Heavy Metal. The multi-rhythmic soloing that follows (predating DREAM THEATER by half a decade) is another entire matter, a long and winding original road that FATES WARNING and IVORY TOWER would cross frequently.

Gorgar, one of the most cherished numbers of HELLOWEEN fanatics, confers a Scandinavian perspective to an otherwise Eastern Europe-anchored brand of mythological Heavy Metal. The Earth-Shattering rhythmic bedrock and the mid-pace brooding vocals are trademarks not only of Melodic Metal but of almost everything that came out of Scandinavia past 1985. Those manic yelling even Kiske would adopt when joining HELLOWEEN! And what a powerful, controlled, infuriated chorus! One of Hansen's defining performances. Weikath manages to predate his idol Blackmore's Hall of the Mountain King with its melodic solo.

Nowadays quotes as "Heavy Metal/Is the Law" are pure mockery. By 1985 HELLOWEEN didn't take prisoners. The blistering onslaught that follows the first few bars are worth a thousand Melodic Metal albums but arguably only HELLOWEEN apart from the occasional one another could alternate moods and tempo shifts to perfection. This display of refined testosterone would be copied ludicrously until it became near-faceless. The pummeling riffing and the bass, drums and vocal soloing (!). As fairy tales and myths would. Originally a Japanese bonus track, this one was recorded live by a hungry young band that was changing the world.

Weikath's How Many Tears (7 minutes on and on) is a surprising contemporary political number, something Melodic Metal would quite frankly avoid in the future. But HELLOWEEN were no slouches and feared no one. Coming from a divided land, Germany, which "belonged" to rival superpowers, they could have only said things such as:

And the Russians won't be so late
Uncle Sam don't wanna wait
No matter if you're black or white
You never ever had a right


The angry Hansen vocals would become a trademark that even GAMMA RAY would keep faithfully. The above-average sonority is enhanced by remarkable lyrics, that formed a vital part of "happy happy HELLOWEEN"'s Melodic Metal optimism, in frank contrast with Metal's depressive and nihilistic cliches.

"So stand up for our human rights
Push back this pest of hate
Raise you voice pass on the light
Unite! it's not too late"


Weikath's moving solo is one of the highlights of early Melodic Metal. As if he was crying for the victims of Cold War without sounding a wimp.

"How many tears flow away
To become a sea of fears
How many hearts are torn apart
Till another torment starts"


Apart from guitar solos we have the breakneck drumming of future suicidal Schwichtenberg; the steady mainline of Grosskopf. And the ultimate resolution of Heavy Metal's association with violence and morbidity:

"But before the world
Turns into a sun
All cruelty and violence
On earth will be dead and gone"


Arguably HELLOWEEN would only improve in the next few years. But they had a solid base from what to improve on steadily. They were one of the best Metal bands ever from the start! See ya.

File under: Melodic Metal

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Tracklist:

* * * * Walls of Jericho
* * * * * Ride the Sky
* * * 1/2 Reptile
* * * * 1/2 Guardian
* * * * * Phantoms of Death
* * * * Metal Invaders
* * * * * Gorgar
* * * * Heavy Metal (Is The Law)
* * * * 1/2 How Many Tears


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