Gambling With the Devil by Helloween
Release date : October 2007
Reviewed by Mark Fisher
Nowadays, German Power Metal legends Helloween maintain a busy schedule. In August 2004, it was rumoured that the two decade old group had inked a deal with SPV Records. Keeper of the Seven Keys - The Legacy was issued in October 2005, preceded a month earlier by the single “Mrs. God” which spoke of the emancipation of women. Featuring American vocalist Candice Night from Blackmore's Night (a vehicle for erstwhile Deep Purple axeman Ritchie Blackmore), “Light the Universe” came in November. In late 2006, Helloween taped shows which took place in the following areas; São Paulo (Brazil), Sofia (Bulgaria) and Tokyo (Japan). The fruits of that toil, the live effort Live On 3 Continents came in February 2007. While its CD issue reached fifty-eight on the German charts, its DVD counterpart claimed ninth position on both the German and Swedish DVD charts, and fared tenth on the French DVD charts. Wind the clock eight months forward from February, and Helloween is releasing another album of new studio material. Produced by Charlie Bauerfeind (Blind Guardian, Rage, Halford) at Tenerife at Mi Sueno studios, Helloween laid down a total of sixteen tracks in support of twelfth studio full length Gambling With the Devil (twelve of which made the general release). Martin Häusler designed the album's cover artwork, as the man had done for the group's last two releases. The same tale as Helloween's last few records, Gambling With the Devil hits a creative stride in certain areas, and woefully misses in others.
A woefully cheesy introductory segment, “Crack The Riddle” supplies the inaugural clue that Gambling With the Devil will prove an inconsistent listen at best. Spoken by Saxon vocalist Biff Byford, it strives to lay down a haunting, atmospheric framework which the album can gradually develop. In truth though, it bears overt similarities to nothing more than lost audio footage from a low budget horror picture. “Kill It”, the first genuine composition, immediately revives Gambling With the Devil's waning appeal, a phase witnessed on many Helloween records of the past. The song's destructive aural assault approaches the grandeur of Better Than Raw’s “Push”, or the group's signature cut “I Want Out” (from 1988's Keeper of the Seven Keys Part 2).
Stumbling through “The Saints” rapidly thereafter, the group endeavour to maintain a heavier poise, yet fail in this mission. Mediocre albums define Andi Deris' tenure with Helloween. When blame has to be ascertained, Deris' voice should largely shoulder the blame. While Helloween's admirers, and perhaps even the members themselves, want Helloween to remain a Heavy Metal act, it's most audibly apparent they are not. If The Dark Ride (2000), Keeper of the Seven Keys 3 – The Legacy, and Master of the Rings (1994) taught a valid lesson, then that lesson was that Deris truly gleams when donating vocals to mid-tempo material which can be classified as melodically over the top. In this specific instance, the same statement applies. The radio-friendly “As Long As I Fall” (the album's inaugural single, available in digital format only) teamed with the marginally heavier “Paint A New World” both follow in brisk succession, swiftly reviving fortunes lost on behalf of “The Saints”. Spectacular Helloween compositions, their destiny is to blast throughout the globe's spacious arenas, all complimented by a thousand plus fists and voices raised together in unison. “The Bells Of The 7 Hells” and “Heaven Tells No Lies” conclude the album's melodically driven songs, causing one to muse as to whether a Melodic Hard Rock EP would have yielded more positive results.
The glaring issue which has plagued Helloween throughout their whole career, particularly in the last decade or so, is the inclusion of ill-conceived “drama” that can be frankly described as Heavy Metal goofiness. When Helloween strain too fiercely, material such as “I.M.E.”, “Final Fortune”, and “Dreambound” clearly transpire as the hapless aftermath. As opposed to solely focusing upon their respective strengths, Helloween opt to fiercely strain more and more frequently as each new album sees the light of day. Master of the Rings and Better Than Raw rank amongst Helloween’s finest records, and credit for that winning feat can be attributed to the fact that Helloween choose to exclusively concentrate on the group's melodically heavy inclinations. In turn, this makes Gambling With the Devil a difficult listen for the ears of longtime admirers. Andi Deris' tenure behind Helloween's microphone was welcomed quite some time ago, though the fans patiently await for the moment when Helloween also fully embrace Deris' tenure. Gambling With the Devil smoothly surpasses Keeper of the Seven Keys - The Legacy, and one has to thank the Lord on high that this isn't akin to Rabbit Don't Come Easy. However, it definitely lacks the musical solidarity present within Helloween's classic records. In all likelihood, Helloween's diehard admirers will greet the album with a disoriented mixture of awe and sadness. When Gambling With the Devil hits a successful stride, the full length soars like a winged beast. When its vision loses focus however, it clumsily limps, struggling to discover its balance once again.