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Helloween is a German power metal band founded in 1984 in Hamburg, Northern Germany. The band is a pioneering force in the power metal genre, and their second and third studio albums, Keeper of the Seven Keys: Part I and Part II, are considered masterpieces of the genre. Twelve musicians have been a part of the band's line-up in its history, which has consisted of singer Andi Deris, guitarists Michael Weikath and Sascha Gerstner, bass guitarist Markus Grosskopf, and drummer Daniel Löble since 2005.
Helloween was formed in 1984 by members of bands Iron Fist, Gentry, and Powerfool. Its first line-up consisted of Weikath, Grosskopf, singer and guitarist Kai Hansen, and drummer Ingo Schwichtenberg. After the release of a self-titled EP and a first album in 1985, it expanded into a quintet when singer Michael Kiske joined, with Hansen only acting as guitarist. Under this line-up, they released the Keeper of the Seven Keys albums (1987 and 1988), which established Helloween as a notable heavy metal band and led to the creation of the power metal subgenre. However, Hansen left the band quickly after the release of Part II and was replaced by Roland Grapow. He then created the band Gamma Ray.
Helloween's first two albums without Hansen, Pink Bubbles Go Ape (1991) and Chameleon (1993), were commercial and critical failures, which created tensions between band members and led to the firing of Schwichtenberg and Kiske. They were replaced by Uli Kusch and Andi Deris respectively. The albums released under this line-up, consisting of Master of the Rings (1994), The Time of the Oath (1996), Better Than Raw (1998) and The Dark Ride (2000), received a warm reception from both fans and critics, gradually establishing Helloween as a successful band again.
However, tensions following the release of The Dark Ride led to the dismissals of both Grapow and Kusch, who then went on to found Masterplan together. Grapow was replaced by Gerstner, but the attempts to find a new drummer were chaotic and no band member was credited for drums on the album Rabbit Don't Come Easy (2003). The band finally found a stable drummer in Löble in 2005. Under this new and current line-up, the longest in its history, the band has released four successful studio albums: Keeper of the Seven Keys: The Legacy (2005), Gambling with the Devil (2007), 7 Sinners (2010), and Straight Out of Hell (2013), with all members except Löble contributing to songwriting. Their fifteenth studio album, My God-Given Right, was released on 29 May 2015.
Since its creation, Helloween has released fifteen studio albums, three live albums, three EPs, and twenty-seven singles, and has sold more than eight million records worldwide.
Early years and first album (1984-1986):
Helloween formed in 1984 in Hamburg, Germany. The original line-up included Kai Hansen on vocals and guitar, Michael Weikath on guitar, Markus Grosskopf on bass, and Ingo Schwichtenberg on drums. That year, the band signed with Noise Records and recorded two songs for a Noise compilation record called Death Metal. The compilation featured the bands Hellhammer, Running Wild, and Dark Avenger. The two tracks were "Oernst of Life" by Weikath and Hansen's "Metal Invaders," a faster version of which would appear on the band's first full-length album.
Helloween recorded and released its first record in 1985, a self-titled EP containing five tracks. Also that year, the band released its first full-length album, Walls of Jericho. During the following concert tour, Hansen had difficulties singing and playing the guitar at the same time. Kai's last recording as the band's lead singer was in 1986 on a vinyl EP titled Judas, which contained the song "Judas" and live versions of "Ride the Sky" and "Guardians" recorded at Gelsenkirchen. (The CD edition has the live introduction, but the songs have been replaced with studio versions and crowd noise spliced in.) Following these releases, Helloween began the search for a new vocalist.
Keeper of the Seven Keys (1986-1989):
The band found an 18-year-old vocalist, Michael Kiske, from a local Hamburg band named Ill Prophecy. With their new lead vocalist in tow, Helloween approached record labels Noise International and RCA and proposed the release of a double-LP to introduce the new line-up. This proposition was turned down. Instead, they recorded a single LP, Keeper of the Seven Keys: Part I, which was released in 1987. In 1988, Helloween released Keeper of the Seven Keys: Part II, the companion album. MTV put the single "I Want Out" into heavy rotation and in support of its "Headbanger's Ball" show. MTV also presented the inaugural Headbangers Ball Tour with Helloween joining San Francisco Bay area thrash-metal band Exodus in support of headlining act Anthrax. The band was slotted in the prestigious second spot, right before Anthrax's set. On the heels of this exposure to US audiences, the band achieved worldwide success.
Hansen and Kiske's departures (1989-1993):
Guitarist Kai Hansen unexpectedly left the band soon after the European leg of the Keeper of the Seven Keys: Part II tour, due to ill-health, conflicts within the band, troubles with Noise International, and a growing dissatisfaction with life on tour. He was soon replaced by former Rampage guitarist Roland Grapow, who finished the rest of the tour with the band.
In 1989, the band released a live album called Live in the U.K. (Keepers Live in Japan and I Want Out Live in the United States), featuring material from its 1988 European tour. The remaining members continued on but ran into label problems with Noise, and after litigation kept them from touring and releasing new material, they were eventually released from their contract. A new album would not appear until 1991 when, after several rumors about the band breaking up, they released Pink Bubbles Go Ape for their new record company, EMI. The album was less heavy and, with song titles such as "Heavy Metal Hamsters", "I'm Doing Fine, Crazy Man", and "Shit and Lobster", showed a shift toward - and an emphasis on - humor rather than the epic moods on previous releases. As a result, Pink Bubbles Go Ape failed both commercially and critically, and tensions started to build amongst the band members.
The pop-influenced follow-up Chameleon was released in 1993. Instead of taking a heavier approach, the band ventured into new territory, eschewing its signature double-guitar harmonies for synthesizers, horns, acoustic guitars, a children's chorus, country music, and swing. As with the previous album, Chameleon failed commercially and critically. Tensions within Helloween worsened, and the band split into three factions, with Michael Kiske and Ingo Schwichtenberg on one side, Michael Weikath and Roland Grapow on the other, and Markus Grosskopf in the middle, trying to keep peace between the four men.
Shortly after, the band began to disintegrate. During the Chameleon tour, the band would often play to half-filled venues. Drummer Ingo Schwichtenberg fell ill due to mental and drug-related issues, and was eventually fired, replaced by session drummer Ritchie Abdel-Nabi. Meanwhile, the conflicts within the rest of the band worsened, with Michael Weikath refusing to work any longer with Michael Kiske. The decision was made to fire Kiske. Since his firing, Kiske has not spoken positively about Helloween. In May 2008, Kiske released Past in Different Ways; an album featuring most of his old Helloween songs, albeit rearranged and re-recorded acoustically. Commenting on Kiske's dismissal, Grosskopf later said:
People thought we were crazy for firing a singer like Kiske, but then after all those years and listening to what he's doing now I hope people will understand why we did that decision. Otherwise he would have pushed us into the direction where he is going now and we didn't want that.
In addition to the firing of Kiske, Abdel-Nabi, whose inability to replicate Schwichtenberg's machine-gun style of drumming hindered Helloween's ability to play live fan-favorites like "Eagle Fly Free" and "How Many Tears", was let go by the band. 1993 would come to a close for Helloween with no singer, no drummer, and no record contract (EMI released the band from its agreement for the low sales numbers for Pink Bubbles Go Ape and Chameleon).
First years with Andi Deris (1994-2000):
Helloween returned in 1994 with former Pink Cream 69 frontman Andi Deris as their new lead vocalist and Uli Kusch, formerly of Kai Hansen's Gamma Ray, on drums. The band already knew Deris from some recording sessions in Hamburg. He had been approached by Weikath to join the band in 1991, but he had declined, despite being intrigued by the offer and having to deal with emerging conflicts between him and his band. In the years since, however, Kiske was fired from Helloween and the issues within Pink Cream 69 worsened. Faced with the inevitability of his firing, Deris accepted Weikath's offer during a night out with the band members. With this new lineup and a new record contract with Castle Communications, Helloween released its comeback album, Master of the Rings.
In 1995, original drummer Ingo Schwichtenberg committed suicide by jumping in front of a train in his native Hamburg. In the years since his departure from Helloween, Schwichtenberg had gotten involved in drug-use and suffered from depression. Dedicated to his memory, 1996's The Time of the Oath re-established the band as one of the most popular European metal bands (see 1996 in music). Following another world tour, a double live album called High Live was released. In 1998, Helloween released Better Than Raw, one of the band's heaviest albums since the full-length debut. The subsequent supporting tour was made up of stops in Europe, Japan, and Brazil, but on 20 December 1998, the band visited New York and played a show at the venue Coney Island High in Manhattan, the first show for Helloween in the United States in nearly a decade. The band would follow Better Than Raw with a 1999 release titled Metal Jukebox, a cover-album featuring Helloween's versions of songs from such bands as Scorpions, Jethro Tull, Faith No More, The Beatles, ABBA, and Deep Purple.
Some line-up changes (2002-2004):
The year 2000 saw the release of The Dark Ride, a more experimental and darker album than their previous releases. It came complete with downtuned guitars and a gruffer singing style from Deris. Immediately following the tour, Helloween parted ways with guitarist Roland Grapow and drummer Uli Kusch. One version of events states that Weikath, Deris, and Grosskopf felt that Kusch and Grapow, in particular, were spending more time on and paying more attention to their new side-project, Masterplan (Grapow's output on Helloween albums had dropped to barely one song per album by that point); since the others believed that Kusch and Grapow were not one hundred percent dedicated to Helloween, they were dismissed.
They were replaced by guitarist Sascha Gerstner (ex-Freedom Call, Neumond) and drummer Mark Cross (ex-Metalium, Kingdom Come, At Vance, Firewind), culminating with the recording of another studio album, titled Rabbit Don't Come Easy, in 2003. The band met Sascha via a recommendation by producer Charlie Bauerfeind. According to Grosskopf, one day he was recording something with Freedom Call "and later on we called him up and he went to first meet Weiki because it was very important that Weiki finds a player that he can play with and also communicate and understand. ... So we got him on the island where we recorded and let him hang out with us a little and then he decided 'Good, let's go'." Later in 2012, on an interview with Metal Shock Finland's Chief Editor, Mohsen Fayyazi, Roland stated:
I felt very secure in Helloween. In the middle of the tour I said something to Michael and Markus and I said my opinion about something. I wanted to make something the best for the band and I think they misunderstood me, like I wanted to be leader. I was telling the truth and that's how I am... It was a great time in Helloween... but I am happy when I left the band after Dark Ride because it's one of my favourite albums, it changed my life totally.
Cross could not finish the album due to mononucleosis, completing only two tracks; the drum tracks were completed by Motörhead's Mikkey Dee. Stefan Schwarzmann, former drummer of Running Wild and Accept would shortly thereafter take over the drumming duties. Despite a somewhat tepid response to the album, Helloween nonetheless completed a successful world tour, highlighted by the return of classic songs such as "Starlight", "Murderer", "Keeper of the Seven Keys" and "How Many Tears" to the setlist. Additionally, the band toured the United States for the first time since 1989, playing to sold-out crowds at nearly every venue.
Current line-up and recent albums (2005-present):
2005 saw yet another line-up change, following the "Rabbits on the Run" tour, as it became apparent that Helloween and Stefan Schwarzmann did not share the same musical vision. As further noted by the band, he had some trouble performing fast drum parts, so he was replaced by Daniel Löble, the former drummer of German metal band Rawhead Rexx. A change in record company also followed as they inked a deal with German label SPV. Any fears that what had now become a revolving door of band members would affect the quality of their new album were laid to rest as Helloween's new studio album, titled Keeper of the Seven Keys - The Legacy, was released on 28 October 2005 in Germany, and 8 November in the U.S.A. to commercial and critical acclaim. The album had a pre-release single, "Mrs. God", as well as a video for the track. The track "Light the Universe" was released as a single on 22 November, featuring Candice Night of Blackmore's Night on guest vocals. She also appears in the video clip for that track.
In late 2006, Helloween filmed and recorded shows in São Paulo (Brazil), Sofia (Bulgaria), and Tokyo (Japan) for their live album Keeper of the Seven Keys - The Legacy World Tour 2005/2006. The DVD also featured extra footage of the band, as well as interviews and a road movie. This is the second Helloween live album to feature Andi Deris as frontman, and third overall. It enjoyed chart success in several countries: Germany: 9 (DVD) & 58 (CD), Sweden: 9 (DVD), France: 10 (DVD) Helloween has since completed their studio album Gambling with the Devil, which was released on 23 October 2007. It received many positive reviews, with most fans praising the album as being one of the best Deris-era albums. Despite being one of Helloween's heaviest albums, it is noted for featuring more keyboards. "As Long as I Fall", the first single, was released in early September and only available via download (save for Japan, where it was released on CD). The video for the song is available at their official site.
Helloween teamed up with Kai Hansen's current band Gamma Ray for their 2007-2008 "Hellish Rock" world tour, which started in early November 2007. Helloween were headlining and Gamma Ray were labeled as the "very special guest" with most shows also having fellow German "guest" Axxis. The tour went through Europe, Asia, and South America, as well as a few dates in the US. The tour is notable for Kai Hansen stepping on stage with his former band fellows Weikath and Grosskopf to perform hits "I Want Out" and "Future World" in the last encore segment of Helloween.
On 26 December 2009, Helloween released the Unarmed - Best of 25th Anniversary album in Japan. The album was released on 1 February 2010 in Europe. The album is a compilation of ten of the band's best known songs, re-recorded in different musical styles than the original recordings and by the current lineup. It features a seventeen-minute "Keepers Medley", recorded by a seventy-piece orchestra from Prague, mixing together "Halloween", "The Keeper of the Seven Keys", and "The King for a 1000 Years". There is a limited edition digipak, including a thirty-minute "making of"-DVD with interviews and studio footage. The band's website states that the album was released on 13 April 2010 in North America via Sony & THE END RECORDS labels. On 14 May 2010, it was announced on their site that they were working on a new studio album, which was the fastest and heaviest effort in years.
Helloween released their thirteenth studio album, 7 Sinners, on 31 October in Europe and 3 November in the US. Before its physical release, the band made it available worldwide for streaming via their Myspace page. The name of the album alludes to the seven deadly sins. According to Andi Deris, the album goes straight to the point: "After an acoustic album, we needed definitely something that shows the people without any question that this is a metal album." The band toured to promote the new album with Stratovarius and Pink Cream 69 as their guests. On 5 April 2011, via the band's website, it was announced that 7 Sinners was awarded 'Gold status' in the Czech Republic.
In June 2012, Helloween entered the studio to begin recording their fourteenth album, Straight Out of Hell, which was released on 18 January 2013. They then went on tour around the world with Gamma Ray again.
In September, Helloween played at Rock in Rio 2013 with former member Kai Hansen as a special guest. In October 2014, the band announced a new album for a May 2015 release. It was produced by Charlie Bauerfeind at Mi Sueño Studio on Tenerife and marked their return to the Nuclear Blast label with which they released The Dark Ride and Rabbit Don't Come Easy.
On 26 February 2015 the band revealed the name and the cover artwork of the album, My God-Given Right, released on 29 May 2015. The artwork was created by Martin Häusler.
In June 2015, it was discovered that the band members were working on a book, entitled "Hellbook". Markus stated that it will be a kind of history book with lots of pictures.
Michael Weikath - lead & rhythm guitar, backing vocals (1984-present),
Markus Grosskopf - bass, backing vocals (1984-present),
Andi Deris - lead vocals, acoustic guitar, megaphone (1994-present),
Sascha Gerstner - lead & rhythm guitar, backing vocals (2002-present),
Daniel Löble - drums (2005-present),
Jörn Ellerbrock - keyboards, piano (1988-2003),
Matthias Ulmer - keyboards (2007-2010),
Eddy Wrapiprou - keyboards (2010-present),
Kai Hansen - lead & rhythm guitar (1984-1989), lead vocals (1984-1986), backing vocals (1986-1989),
Ingo Schwichtenberg - drums (1984-1993; died 1995),
Michael Kiske - lead vocals, occasional guitar, acoustic guitar, tambourine, megaphone (1986-1993),
Roland Grapow - lead & rhythm guitar, backing vocals (1989-2001),
Uli Kusch - drums, backing vocals (1994-2001),
Mark Cross - drums (2001-2003),
Stefan Schwarzmann - drums (2003-2005)