Helloween - Gambling With The Devil

Bruce Turnbull 22/01/2008

Rating: 4/5

While for many Helloween continue to be the musical equivalent of a sight gag, the legendary German metal crew maintains their credibility as one of the top bands in the field with a constant, steady output of quality albums. Their twelfth studio excursion sees the revered genre-inventers paying homage to a series of past releases while sparking that original flame of German eccentricity that garners their successful progression. Without being a further sequel to 2005's third "Keepers..." opus, "Gambling with the Devil" is more in the same ball park as "Better Than Raw", with a number of the tracks having a similar feel - namely pulsating opener "Kill It" to the respective icebreaker "Push" - but there is a fair amount of old school pumpkin smashing with the bouncy "Final Fortune" and the sprawling "Heaven Tells No Lies". Symptomatic of the Deris-era material, "Gambling with the Devil" has a few odd twists and turns, keeping the listener engaged throughout. Mr. Deris himself is in fine form, though his vocals aren't quite as startling, or indeed as daring as they were on their last album, but his soaring, idiosyncratic whine is as streamlined as ever. The production is sturdy too, giving drummer Dani Löble a sonic boom in which to demonstrate his monster talents.

Things are a little heavier in places, a little softer in others, but as usual Helloween give us a lot to digest, making this excursion quite varied, but like many pumpkin-heads, I think their last release was the highlight of their post-Kiske career, and keeping that in mind, this is probably as close as they're going to get in the immediate future. I've been a Helloween fan for a lot of years, and I can honestly say I've never seen them in better shape. Since the recruitment of ex-Freedom Call axe-slinger Sascha Gerstner, things have become a lot tighter in the rhythm section and the songs themselves are wide-ranging and speckled with modern inflections, yet reach farther back into their past than any of the early 90s material. The lyrics seem to have taken a slump this time -most are reduced to rambling garble that doesn't even qualify as GCSE English - but the catchy melodies and gripping vocals make up for this lapse in effort.

With monstrous tracks like the infectious "Can Do It", the blasting, double-bass fuelled "Paint a New World" and the "Where the Rain Grows"-esque "Dreambound", "Gambling with the Devil" is a fine addition to the Helloween cannon that probably won't pick up any new listeners, but will please the Power Metal garrison immensely. Top marks would be awarded however, if Biff Byford didn't make an unsavoury appearance...