You have to feel sorry for Helloween. Once a band has released two genre/career defining albums forever shall they be judged by those said albums. It’s been almost twenty years since the first two Keeper albums and they are still being compared to their early material, which is a little unfair. For a start the band has gone through a couple of member shuffles over the past 2 decades so the song writers have changed. Secondly a band’s natural progression will inevitably take them away from their original sound. Sadly, many fans can’t get past these two facts and want the band to write ‘Halloween’ and ‘Eagle Fly Free’ all over again. The time these fans spend moaning about what Helloween aren’t should be spent realising what Helloween are, and that’s one of the best power metal bands around today. The Andi Deris years (covering over 13 years and 7 albums) has produced some excellent metal. ‘The Time Of The Oath’ in particular, and ‘Rabbit Don’t Come Easy’ for my own guilty pleasure, contain songs that equal many from their earlier works. Had ‘The Time Of The Oath’ come out in 1986 we’d all be talking about that album instead of ‘Keeper Of The Seven Keys Part 1’.
For their 13th release, the band has gone back to the tried and tested album format of a bunch of songs with some fast, some slow, some poppy some mellow. 2005’s ‘Keeper Of The Seven Keys - The Legacy’ was a wasted opportunity and a lacklustre effort that wasn’t received very well by the fans (or it was, depending on which magazines/websites you read). For myself, it was a dip in song-writing and production, an aspect they’ve remedied with ‘Gambling With The Devil’.
With Charlie Bauerfeind behind the knobs it is little surprise that ‘Gambling…’ sounds like ‘The Dark Ride’s’ younger brother. Although the guitars are still too quiet (too quiet for me at least) they punch through the mix more than they did on the last album. The opening Intro, ‘Crack The Riddle,’ is a bit of a waste of time, and after I heard Saxon’s Biff talking over fair ground noises I’ve skipped it ever since. Thankfully the following, ‘Kill It,’ proves that there’s life still left in the power metal masters.
Helloween has always excelled on the speed metal tracks and ‘Gambling…’ is no different. ‘The Saints,’ ‘Paint A New World’ and ‘Dreambound’ are signature Helloween, containing souring choruses and great guitar work. But it’s in the mid tempo work that makes or breaks a Helloween album and songs such as ‘Heaven Tells No Lies,’ ‘The Bells Of The Seven Hells’ and ‘Final Fortune’ ensure that ‘Gambling…’ can be regarded as one of the band’s better releases. The usual pop/rock single is all present and correct in ‘As Long As I Fall’. A decent tune, but a little too close to ‘If I Could Fly’ from ‘The Dark Ride’ for comfort. The pseudo ballad ‘Fallen To Pieces’ is one of the best songs of its type they’ve ever done. It’s inventive and catchy without being overly nice and sickly. Unfortunately the joke/jolly sounding ‘Can Do It’ let’s the whole side down by being just plain crap. I wont go into much detail but suffice to say, if you have the 2 disc issue then it beggars belief how this song can make it above the two excellent bonus cuts on the 2nd CD. ‘Find My Freedom’ especially, wipes the floor with the dog mess that is ‘Can Do It’.
‘Gambling With The Devil’ is a good release. I doubt it’ll surprise many people, but after their dabble with the ‘Keeper’ legacy this is best reply Helloween can give to their fans. It won’t blow you away, but it’ll occupy time in your CD drawer. If you’re an old school Helloween fan then this could be worth a listen, and who knows, it may re-kindle your love for the band.