Helloween is a German power metal act that rose to prominence in the 1980's behind the strength of albums like Walls of Jericho, and Keeper of the Seven Keys Parts I and II. I cannot say I was ever a big fan of theirs. Of course, at the time I never really gave them the time of day, but if I knew than what I know now, well hindsight is 20/20, right? At the time I was more into the pop/glam/hair scene (you know, Def Leppard, Poison, Warrant and the like) and my other music interests was heavier stuff like Slayer and Metallica. In any case, in the intervening years I have gotten my hands on the two Seven Keys albums and now this release. As I listen to them, I have to ask, were these recorded by the same band? It certainly doesn't sound like it.
Seriously, this sounds nothing like the band that crafted those fine power metal releases some 25 years ago. This sounds like a pale imitation of what came before, a band that has lost its direction and is attempting to recapture past glory by heading in a completely different direction. Frankly, all I can see happening here is an alienation of the fan base as they try to figure out what the thought process was that led to this.
All right, perhaps I should back up a little bit. After all, I was a little confused when I started listening to this. I honestly thought there was a mix up and what I got was not Helloween and maybe a some sort of cover/tribute album. Then I read a little about the genesis of the release and can actually respect what they were trying to do, even if it is an ultimate failure.
It is easy for a band to throw together a greatest hits or best of collection and to celebrate a quarter century I am sure the idea was a big one for the band. However, they decided to go a different route. Rather than grabbing the old songs and remastering them, they went and rearranged and re-recorded them for this release. They see it as a "thank you" to the fans, offering something different. It is a sentiment I understand and a concept that I like. I only wish I actually liked what they created.
Unarmed is a record that has a loose feel to it, like it is meant to celebrate the band and the music but is not meant to be taken seriously. At least, that is how I am taking it considering some of the odd choices.
The album gets off to a bad start that puts it behind the 8-ball right from the start. It opens with "Dr. Stein," which originally appeared on Keeper of the Seven Keys Part II. They add a horn section and lead saxophone. It is embarrassingly bad. It sounds like a lounge act or maybe a late night talk show band. It is true that the original song was a little strange to begin with, but this is just, well, lets just say not good.
It is followed up by a bouncy, acoustic-inflected take on "Future World" from Keeper of the Seven Keys Part I. This track actually reminds me of what the poor Songs from the Sparkle Lounge album from Def Leppard, another band that has really fallen off over the years.
It just goes on from there, the songs have had their edge and energy sucked out of them, replaced with acoustic guitars, keyboards, string and horn sections, and a general mellowing agent has been applied liberally throughout (I picture something like the slime in Ghostbusters 2).
The centerpiece is "The Keeper's Trilogy," which comprises "Halloween," "Keeper Of The Seven Keys," and "The King for A 1000 Years." This seventeen-minute epic is accompanied by a 70-piece orchestra and a choir. It has moments that sound interesting, but other moments come across as dull and lifeless losing the quality that made the originals good in the first place.
Bottomline. This is for completists and the morbidly curious only. In other words, stick to the originals and give this a pass. I truly respect the band for trying to offer something different, but it just fails to come together. It kind of makes me want to take a nap.