The concerts to attend on my planning schedule had already been rather fruitful with interesting appearances from the legendary Carcass who brought a bevy of supporting acts with them, all the way through show featuring Trouble, Opeth and the mighty Motorhead which was actually only last night for me. Yet despite the roster of things already done and being worked out for the Metal legions to enjoy – the very premise of both Gamma Ray and Helloween touring together on the same package was enough to make you tremble in your leather jacket even if we were still dealing with the warmer weather that would find such things in our closets for the next few weeks. They called this event “The Hellish Rock Tour” and it would thankfully feature no other openers and only be the two main bands. I say it like this based on the wide assortment of opening talent that I had absorbed over the past couple of weeks and since the longer the show the more exhausting it can be, I was happy to just see the pair of killer Power Metal acts taking the stage. Plus, with no openers to speak of this would mean a much longer set for each of the bands and one cannot go wrong with that. The show once again would be something that took place at B.B. King Blues Club and the venue was jam packed from the moment that I walked inside the place. I won’t lie when I say that I loved seeing that many Metal heads gathered together for the cause. Here is how the very exciting event took place if you were one of the few Metal heads that seemed to miss out.
Gamma Ray: Historically speaking, the band Gamma Ray and Helloween are very closely tied together as the founding member of what is done for the Power Metal in Gamma Ray is none other than one of the original members of Helloween. This is of course Kai Hansen who was the bands original singer and guitarist and now in today’s Metal realm handles the same duties in this very thrilling band. Gamma Ray was a band that impressed me from the get go with “Heading For Tomorrow”, a Metal CD that absolutely cooked and remains one of my favorites even today and while they have issued a whole lot more since that time, this CD continues to be a special part of my collection. The tour tonight found the band supporting their latest release on SPV Records called “Land Of The Free II” which as you might expect is the band revisiting or better yet, continuing that which began on their acclaimed release from 1995 – “Land Of The Free”. It’s a solid album throughout and it made sense to have a second chapter, especially since so many other bands are doing this and reminding their fans about why they like the band in the first place.
Gamma Ray live is a terrific band and totally is a group that handles the headlining capacity well, but for tonight it would be primarily about Helloween and that left Kai and the boys the task of winding up the crowd with a set that they would not easily forget. They hit the stage to amazing applause and chants from the crowd of “Gamma Ray”, “Gamma Ray”, and you know this makes a band feel very well loved when they hear this as they walk out. As expected, the band performed exceptionally well and is as close to a well-oiled machine as can be with really quick riffs over some pounding drums. As a four piece unit, Kai handles the main vocals but has background help from everyone else which gives a much bigger and better sound. The opening tune would come from the new album but unlike many artists who present a healthy focus on the new release, the guys in Gamma Ray decided to give the fans a wide variety of their classics from many of their other releases. To be honest, I prefer this to be the case with a band like this because they don’t come around this way too often and while the new material is really great, I like those blasts from the past. It was a quick paced hour plus for their set and through the whole thing Kai and second guitarist Henjo Richter were smiling as the audience responded to every note with screams and fists held high in the air. Dirk remains rather intense during the show which makes for an interesting dynamic visually. Either way they are visibly having a great time and it was fantastic to see the place this packed while they did their thing. Now it was time for Helloween and it had been far too long since I saw them on stage.
Helloween: Helloween had been scheduled to tour a couple of years ago for the “KOTSK Legacy” album and I don’t know what happened but the gigs never came to pass and it left a lot of disappointed Power Metal fans in the states. Since that time the band recorded another CD which is called “Gambling with The Devil” and I just love what they were doing on this one. It was as heavy as all get out and it reminded me a lot of the earlier days of the band when I first was blown away by them. I guess it would be safe to call this a comeback album from another band who had not actually gone away, as this was a year that found many bands returning to a form that helped make them popular. Helloween was now following suit with a really killer album that was also coming to us via SPV Records. Fronted by Andy Deris for quite a few years now, the band and their music still pack one hell of a punch. The lineup has largely remained stable for the last few years as their new drummer Daniel Loble has been pounding the skins since 2005. Deris has been handling the vocal chores since 1993 and now fifteen years later has doubled the time served from fan favorite Michael Kiske. Fortunately for all of the fans of Helloween, Deris is no slouch in the vocal department and really knows how to put on a good show. Had this been any different I am sure that longtime members Michael Weikath and Markus Grosskopf would have replaced him.
As the band hit the stage tonight there was a really powerful energy in the room and it was a combination of excitement from the fans and the band and the overall love of Metal that was making this something that buzzed in the very air around you. I know it sounds corny to say that but it was true, you really could feel the level of absolute pleasure the fans were having this evening. The opening tune of “Helloween” really surprised me since it is not only one of the bands most memorable tunes, but its epic nature usually finds it being something that is performed at the end of the night. They would also choose to keep the set very mixed in its composition and only perform “As Long As I Fall” and “Paint a New World” from the new recording which meant they would leave off a personal favorite of mine entitled “The Saints”. Oh well, you can’t always get what you want as the song says. Despite my one minor reservation the guys were so on point tonight and even better than I remembered them being when I last caught them back in 2004. The guys looked to be having a blast which could be observed from every vantage point in the room this evening and with music like this I like to see this be the case as opposed to them being all somber and looking like they don’t want to be there. Sing-alongs were par for the course this evening as the band thundered through classic tune after classic tune and mugged for all of the fans who had their little cameras in their hands and were holding them up with one and the horns or pumping first with the other. There was also a lot of movement from the audience and while the capacity crowd didn’t leave much room for moshing about it still happened in some parts of the show and the bodies were hurtling up and over the photo pit barrier where the security guys stood to catch them. To me, Helloween was never really crowd surfing or moshing type of music but if you are compelled to do so then by all means have fun but please don’t crash into me….
As they got deeper into the material for the night and pounded us with “Eagle Fly Free” and “Mr. Torture” and “Dr. Stein” they slammed into a clever medley that gave us a taste of five other tunes and was really well done. This was essentially the last song before the encore’s and believe it or not the best was yet to come when the band returned to the stage because this time they did it with the members of Gamma Ray as well who would be joining them for their two closing tunes. Ladies and Gentlemen I present to you – “GAMMAWEEN”. When this happened there was no easy way to describe the fan reaction other than by saying it was borderline fanatical. The screams were among the loudest that I had ever heard in this venue and having been there as many times as I have for the Metal shows, that is saying something. The encores would feature two of Helloween’s most popular songs of all time which are “Future World” and “I Want Out” and during these we found Kai singing as much of the vocals as Andy was and also playing the guitar. The display showed an amazing level of cross band togetherness and as the songs went down the band members slapped each others hands or embraced each other with huge smiles on their faces. Talk about your unity for the glory of Metal, this was it without any question and leaving incredibly drained. They also were tossing pumpkins into the audience and no need to worry folks because these were not real ones but instead inflatable ones. That was a cool thing to see and seemed to give a number of fans who kept it when it made it over to them one hell of a collectible.
This was by far one of the most exhilarating nights of Metal that I have experienced in a long time and probably also the most energetic out of all the shows that were caught during this crazy month of shows that it ended up being so far. There were about 20 amazing bands to see over the course of this month along and my personal Metal itinerary found me locked into eleven of them with four more to go that would actually take place this very week and I was hard pressed to believe that any of them would be as exciting. Iron Savior would be here in a couple of days and according to press these groups would be headed to Georgia for a popular Power Metal festival which I would not be attending. Given the amount of stuff to do right on home base ground, I doubt that it would even matter at the end of the day for me. The German Metal invasion would be followed by a Finnish one, so the Metal Legions were preparing themselves for a truly raucous time and I could hardly wait to see how the rest of the month played out. Stay tuned.
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Official Web Site: www.helloween.org
Official Web Site: www.gammaray.org
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