I wasn’t around when Keeper of the Seven Keys Part I got released, but I wouldn’t be surprised if several fans wondered what happened to the band’s aggression. Let’s be clear here: the difference between this album and Walls of Jericho is pretty damn big. Now fronted by Michael Kiske, who is without a doubt a proper singer, the band would never sound the same again and honestly, both of the Keeper of the Seven Keys albums have never won me over. First and foremost, I don’t think that Michael Kiske is a bad singer by any means, but whereas Kai Hansen has attitude and sounds like he gives a damn, I can never tell whether he means what he’s singing about. Sure, Michael Kiske hits several high notes with ease and clarity, but where’s the heart? It’s also clear that the band has adapted to Michael Kiske and not the other way around; so mean riff-numbers like ‘Ride the Sky’ and ‘Phantoms of Death’ are nowhere to be found anymore and instead, the majority of Keeper of the Seven Keys Part I sounds far less heavy. ‘I’m Alive’ is still a speedy and captivating track when it comes down to it; owing its success to the blazing guitar work and never-ending solos, yet in terms of mood sounds more upbeat than threatening due to Kiske’s ear-friendly wails and the upbeat lyrics. It’s a solid opener, though… and if you’re already turned off by its pompousness, then you better prepare yourself!
You’d think that Helloween are far better off once they get extremely serious, but don’t be fooled. ‘A Tale That Wasn’t Right’ should have been called ‘A Song That Wasn’t Right’, because it’s as emotionally captivating as the weather forecast. Michael Kiske’s lower register works fine on its own, but the acoustic passages have no redeeming features whatsoever and that ‘’big’’ chorus is even worse; it’s unconvincing, overly dramatic and best not heard again. Goofier, yet lame as well, ‘A Little Time’ has little energy to keep things going and with Michael Kiske at his most bored, it’s another failure that shouldn’t have been on the album. The backup vocals sound out of place, guitars plod through the motions and even the solo fails to impress. To think that this is the same band that wrote Walls of Jericho almost becomes hard to believe.
So, it’s no longer an onslaught of ballsy metal that we’re dealing with and occasionally Helloween mess things up badly, yet in general, they still manage to deliver. ‘Twilight of the Gods’ is a worthy sci-fi galloper with plenty of power injected back into the guitars. The flashy leads are a lot of fun, the riffs manage to retain my attention and the song also happens to feature a memorable chorus. ‘Future World’ sounds like something Iron Maiden could have written, if only they aimed their music at children; it’s stupid fun at its best and perhaps a guilty pleasure if you will. But the most superior cut of them all appears at the very end and it’s fantastic! ‘Halloween’ opens up with some heavier chords that foreshadow doom and damnation, yet it quickly turns into a flexible tune of riffs that gallop and rattle onward with semi-thrashing intensity. Michael Kiske sounds silly in the best way possible here, but just like the track itself, he’s rather dynamic; alternating between his trademark wails and his manlier croons. Few cleaner sections appear later and allow the track to breathe a bit, yet it’s clear that the guitars are the main factor here. Not to mention that even solos are worth to praise; ranging from emotive and thoughtful between the calmer sections to neo-classical shredding during the tune’s finale section.
As inconsistent as it is, Keeper of the Seven Keys Part I sounds enjoyable enough, even if I’m not convinced that it’s a top-notch album. You could do a lot worse, however. Now, if you’re a grumpy loser who believe that metal should be as serious as it gets, you’ll probably hate this album – but if you’re a doofus like the rest of us… then what are you waiting for?
Score: 72/100 – Stupid fun
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