Helloween - Unarmed(reissue) [Talking Elephant Records - 2017]Helloween have become something of an institution over the years and with their current Pumpkins Unite world tour in full swing it feels a most appropriate time for this reissue. Unarmed was originally released in 2010, to coincide with the band’s 25 anniversary, the album features re-recordings of several Helloween classics in quirky and interesting styles.
Opening with their classic Dr Stein, instead of killer riffs the song begins with some killer saxophone, before settling into some kind of 80s lounge pop style. Bizarrely it works quite well for the most part, it feels more than a little strange when you’ve known the heavier version for over 30 years, however it doesn’t sound misplaced. That is followed by an acoustic version of Future World, the power metal anthem has become a fun, quirky, country folk track. Again it works quite well, at no point are the re-recordings in the same league as the originals but as a curio piece to celebrate the bands anniversary they work quite well. If I Could Fly is up next and features soaring orchestral backing coupled with some lovely jazz piano. Similar to the original recording in the way it is sung, the key difference here is the change of instrumentation. Again, it is harmless enough, and one could even enjoy listening to it. Where the Rain Grows, on the other hand works really well as an acoustic ballad, and could easily have been written to be played in this way.
The next section is a re-imagining of the Keeper of the Seven Keys trilogy as one long seventeen minute orchestral epic. The symphonic nature of Helloween’s original sound means this works really well with orchestra and choir. The songs are full of bombast and grandeur, and while Deris does an admirable job, you can’t help wondering how it would have sounded with Michael Kiske on vocal duties? This is however, the point at which the album ascends its curio status to be something a little more substantial than just an interesting experiment. Helloween are obviously one of those bands who were always destined to work with an orchestra at some point.
A pared down Eagle Fly Free has the difficult task of following the Keeper suite. I really like this version, it works really well with Andi Deris’s voice, and taking things right down seems the only way to go after the full-on bombast of the Keeper suite. Perfect Gentleman is up next and we’re back in that 1980s lounge, again it works well and whilst it preserves the original tempo the instrumentation is quite different to the original. Forever and One is an epic power ballad and the change to a piano led orchestral ballad works beautifully. The choral backing is sumptuous and adds that little bit of class to the vocals. I Want Out with full on kids choir backing is a little strange, I’m not so sure about this one. The rest of the performance is in keeping with the rest of the album, mostly acoustic with some electric lead work, but those kids feel out of place. It’ obviously a tip of the hat to Pink Floyd, but it worked better for them. Fallen to Pieces is the track that for me just doesn’t work here. Performed in a 90s pop style it simply doesn’t work. The album comes to a close with the epic ballad A Tale That Wasn’t Right from the original Keeper of the Seven Keys record, this was one of the standout performances from Michael Kiske during his tenure with the band, and whilst Deris does an admirable job he’s no Kiske. The orchestral backing is beautiful and works very well. What a great choice of song to close the album.
Overall the album is a slice of fun, aimed at being nothing more and nothing less, and whilst most of the original versions are still streets ahead of these re-imaginings, this album has its place. The symphonic stuff works very well, and the lounge versions of Helloween classics can’t help but raise a wry smile. Inessential fun, and not something I return to very often, but I don’t hate it.Darren Charles