Thursday, July 17, 2003 @ 4:06 PM
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That Teutonic metal veterans Helloween were able to get it together enough to even make Rabbit Don’t Come Easy is something of a miracle. That the album is as good as it is is downright amazing. Indeed it stands right up there among the finer works of the band’s long, but inconsistent career.
Helloween are old hands when it comes to handling line-up turmoil – with key members Kai Hansen and frontman Micheal Kiske having left in years past. But the past year was especially challenging, with longtime guitarist Roland Grapow and drummer Uli Kusch being asked to leave. The band’s first choice for a new guitarist said “thanks, but no thanks,” and Kusch’s replacement, Mark Cross, came down with mononucleosis as work commenced on Rabbit and couldn’t continue.
But the band, led by mainstays bassist Markus Grosskopf and guitarist Michael Weikath soldiered on, eventually signing on Sascha Gerstner to play guitar and scoring a fortuitous coup when Motorhead’s Mikkey Dee agreed to play drums on the album – ex-Accept drummer Stefan Schwarzmann was later hired as Kusch’s official replacement.
Yet despite all of the drama and disruption, Rabbit is the most focused and assertive Helloween releases in years. The ill-advised experimentation and off-putting eccentricities that spoiled some of the band’s previous albums are noticeable – thankfully – in their abscence. Save for the oddball Caribbean flavoring on the otherwise bruising “Nothing To Say” that closes the album, Rabbit is formidable, often ferocious German power metal. Period.
Though Dee merely sat in for the album, his direct, double-bass driven backbeats and muscular mid-tempo thumping give Helloween the no-nonsense energy they really seemed to have needed. He drives the band right out of the chute with the frantic “Just A Little Sign.” Topped by Weikath and Gerstner’s nimble, but meaty riffs, Andi Deris’ air-raid siren vocals and the huge harmonies the band is famous for, it sets the tone for what’s to come.
The anthemic “The Tune,” “Listen To The Flies” and “Hell Was Made in Heaven” match “Sign’s” intensity, while “Never Be A Star,” “Back Against The Wall” and “Sun 4 The World” boast a more menacing crunch as the tempos slow and the guitar/bass tones thicken and take aim right for the gut. It’s some of the heaviest material Helloween has done, especially on “Wall” where Deris’ teeth-clenched vocals lend an extra air of meanness.
Credit is also due to producer Charlie Bauerfiend, noted for his generally slick, crystalline work with Blind Guardian and Hammerfall, who does Helloween right by leaving a raw edge on the album’s sound. All clean and polished, Rabbit wouldn’t have had near the impact, despite the band’s determined approach. Instead, he just helps bring all the elements together and lets the results speak for themselves. And they do speak well.
Keep an eye out for Helloween in early October, when the band will be embarking on a short North American headlining tour, its first in many a moon.
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