Rabbit Don't Come Easy
~reviewed by Joel Steudler
Rabbits, and this review, don't come easy. This Helloween, the one on the new album Rabbit Don't Come Easy, is not the Helloween I grew up listening to a million years ago in the late 80's and early 90's. I will always remember Helloween as Kai Hansen and Michael Kiske's band... but Andi Deris has kept the legacy alive for some time now. This leaves me beside myself when pondering the merits of their latest release. Do I let go of my fond memories of the past, or should the present band have to live up to the pedigree of their predecessors? Depending on the answer, 'Rabbit' is either a hopping good powermetal album or one that just doesn't exude the raw euphoric energy the band had in days gone by.
When a band has as storied a history as Helloween does, and has influenced so many acts in all walks of metal, it is impossible to ignore their halcyon days when evaluating their recent output. At the heart of albums like Keeper of the Seven Keys (parts I and II) and Walls of Jherico rested a certain naive optimism and endearingly goofy commitment to writing fun songs. No band played 'happy metal' better, though they mixed in speedy thrash numbers and wandering guitar epics like the classic Keeper of the Seven Keys. I suppose it's surprising that any of that spirit remains given that the band's only ties to the past are now guitarist Michael Weikath and their revered name.
The current Helloween manages to conjure some of the upbeat enthusiasm of the olden days, but they present it in a much tighter, glossier, and conventional manner than Kai & co. did. Listening to ancient favorites like 'Future World' and 'Livin' Ain't No Crime' reveals just how different the band has become. The current lineup's songs are more structured and arguably less interesting. Thankfully, they still manage to pack in catchy choruses and melodies that will linger after the CD stops spinning. None of them reach the level of the classics, though, aside perhaps from the final track 'Nothing To Say', which was penned by founding member Weikath. This track alone dishes out the fun that's missing from the super-slick stadium metal on the rest of the album.
What it comes down to is this: if you are unaware of the band's past or can push your memories to the wayside, you'll be able to appreciate Rabbit Don't Come Easy as a prime cut of modern power metal. Helloween still rises above Power Metal: The Next Generation labelmates like Hammerfall or Primal Fear. The album's production is impeccable, the songs well crafted (though somewhat sterile), and the spirit of 'happy metal' isn't entirely quelled. If this album had arrived disguised as a different band's new release, I probably would have stated 'they sound like they must have listened to a lot of Helloween' in my review... so on that count, I guess Deris, Weikath and their rotating bandmates have indeed pulled a rabbit out of their hat.
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