HELLOWEEN (1982–PRESENT). Classic lineup: Michael Kiske (lead vocals), Kai Hansen (vocals/guitar), Michael Weikath (guitar), Markus Grosskopf (bass), and Ingo Schwichtenberg (drums).
One of the most influential European heavy metal acts of the 1980s, Helloween combined the energy and speed of thrash metal with the harmonic structures of traditional metal bands like Judas Priest and Iron Maiden to create the template of what would come to be known as power metal. Though they never achieved worldwide success or U.S. stardom, the band remains a potent influence on the
metal that followed them.
Starting out in 1982 as a four-piece out of Hamburg, Germany, the band initially consisted of guitarist/lead vocalist Kai Hansen, guitarist Michael Weikath, bassist Markus Grosskopf, and drummer Ingo Schwichtenberg. The band’s first recording was a self-titled EP released in 1985, which was followed by the fulllength album Walls of Jericho in 1986. The band’s innovative mix of classic and thrash metal won them critical and fan appreciation in Europe and set the stage for their second full-length recording. Hansen, however, was not convinced that he had the vocal ability to carry the band to the heights that he envisioned for it, and the band sought a frontman to take over the vocals.
In 1987 vocalist Michael Kiske joined the band, and they entered the studio to complete their second album, Keeper of the Seven Keys, Pt. 1, released later that year. The album was a winner, and its unique combination of melodic songwriting and metal power made it an important contribution to the evolution of power metal. For his own part, Kiske fulfilled Hansen’s hopes for the band, proving himself to be a fine vocalist in the tradition of belters like Rob Halford or Bruce Dickinson. The album was a hit in Europe where the band became stars and began to generate interest in the U.S. market as well, as the band went out to support it with an extensive tour.
Keeper of the Seven Keys, Pt. 2 came out in September 1988 and was another major hit for the band, despite a decline in the overall quality of the songwriting. A performance at the legendary Donnington Monsters of Rock Festival was a high point for the band around this time. Surprisingly, founding guitarist Hansen soon left the band, citing the fact that he felt he could no longer control the direction of the band once it had grown so big.
Nonetheless, the rest of the group continued, drafting ex-Rampage guitarist Roland Grapow into their ranks, and embarking on a successful U.K. tour. Around the same time, EMI records offered to take over the band’s contract from their troubled label Noise Records. As a result, a legal dispute followed that effectively put a hold on the band’s activities for close to two years.
Finally returning to work with a 1991 release with the strange title of Pink Bubbles Go Ape, the band didn’t exactly put its best foot forward, as the album featured strange attempts at humor (the title track and another entitled “Heavy Metal Hamsters”) and generally uneven songwriting quality. Not too surprisingly, the album was a failure commercially. The band’s follow-up shared its fate, and shortly afterward both vocalist Kiske and drummer Schwichtenberg departed the band.
Despite the losses, and the loss of their EMI contract, the band regrouped, adding singer Andi Deris and drummer Uli Kusch, and recorded Master of the Rings in 1994, which proved an improvement over the band’s previous two efforts.
When the band’s former drummer Ingo Schwichtenberg, who had been suffering from mental health problems, took his own life, the shaken band dedicated their subsequent album, The Time of the Oath, to him in 1996. A fitting tribute to their friend, the album turned out to be the band’s strongest showing in five years and went a long way toward repairing their reputation. A successful tour followed and produced a double-live release, High Live, which they put out later in 1996. The return to form seemed to take hold through 1998’s Better than Raw and Metal Jukebox (an album of covers) in 1999, and 2000’s The Dark Ride.
Longtime members Grapow and Kusch left in 2001 and were replaced by guitarist Sascha Gerstner and ex-U.D.O. drummer Stefan Schwarzmann.
Discography: Helloween (Banzai, 1985); Walls of Jericho (Noise, 1986); Helloween/Mini LP (Noise, 1987); Keeper of the Seven Keys, Pt. 1 (RCA, 1987); Keeper of the Seven Keys, Pt. 2 (RCA, 1988); I Want Out: Live (RCA, 1989); Live in the U.K. (EMI, 1989); Pink Bubbles Go Ape (Castle Music UK, 1991); Chameleon (European Import, 1994); Master of the Rings (Castle, 1994); Mr. Ego (Import, 1994); The Time of the Oath (Castle, 1996); High Live (Castle, 1996); Better Than Raw (Velvel, 1998); Metal Jukebox (Never/Sanctuary, 1999); I Can (Castle, 2000); The Dark Ride (Nuclear Blast, 2000); Rabbit Don’t Come Easy (Nuclear Blast, 2003); Keeper of the Seven Keys: The Legacy (Steamhammer, 2005); If I Could Fly (Nuclear Blast, 2006); Keeper of the Seven Keys: The Legacy World Tour 2005/2006 [live] (SPV, 2007); Gambling with the Devil (Steamhammer, 2007); The Best, the Rest, the Rare (Noise, 1991); Pumpkin Box (Victor, 1998); Treasure Chest (Metal-Is, 2002); Treasure Chest [Box] (Import, 2002); Karaoke Remix (Seoul, 2002); Singles Box Set 1985– 1992 (Castle, 2006).