United Alive in Madrid
The new live album from Helloween is a true celebration of the music catalog from the German power metal trailblazers. United Alive In Madrid suggests the excitement and camaraderie surrounding the official return of founding member, guitarist and singer Kai Hansen (1985-1988) and lead vocalist Michael Kiske (1987-1993), as the two joined the current five member lineup during the 2017-2018 Pumpkins United Tour.
Fans who could not attend the tour can enjoy up to seven “Pumpkins” at any point on United Alive In Madrid, potentially featuring three singers and three guitarists soloing. The 20-song, two CD collection is reviewed here, but the recording also is available on vinyl, Blu-ray, DVD and combination packages including bonus live tracks and footage. Despite the many onstage presences, the mix of United is well-balanced and clean with harmonized singing, guitar melodies, thunderous drumming and audience participation, all succinctly captured.
The 14,000 Pumpkinheads at the WiZink Center on Dec. 7, 2017 can be heard loudest on the songs from the band’s back catalog and for good reasons. Epics like “Halloween” and “Keeper of the Seven Keys,” when combined comprises 30-minutes of music, have become duets for Kiske and longtime current singer Andi Deris. The tracks featuring the two frontmen are the strongest offerings. They had not been previously recorded, putting a new spin on old tunes and the infectious enthusiasm by fans in the arena. Even the stripped-down restructure of the sad ballad, “Forever and One,” packs a heftier emotional punch as a duet. Adding to the expected Helloween concert energy, fans have not heard Kiske perform many of the classic “Keeper”-era songs live since the singer’s departure. To hear Kiske belt out “I’m Alive” and “Future World” with as much vigor and range as in the 1980s is something to marvel.
Deris reassumes the frontman position on all songs since Master Of The Rings. While longtime anthem staples like “Power” will be ageless, the band still manages to connect with the crowd during more recent cuts, including “Waiting For The Thunder” and the relentlessly heavy “Are You Metal?” The mixing is commendable owing to the sustained clarity on an already chaotic song. “Kai’s Medley” is a high paced 13-minute tribute to the band’s debut, Walls of Jericho. Hansen assumes lead vocals for large segments of Helloween’s early speed metal classics “Starlight,” “Ride The Sky,” “Judas” and “Heavy Metal (Is The Law).” A particularly special 11 minutes follows later in the album as Kiske and Deris return to the stage with Hansen for “How Many Tears.” Helloween had not performed the song live in more than 12 years prior to the reunion.
Similar to other metal heavyweights like Metallica and Iron Maiden, Helloween’s songs, with the elevated tales and sing-a-long choruses, are music candy for a live, head banging audience. Interviews with Kiske seem to indicate the reunion tour will bring a new studio album. Whether that means a fourth installment of the Keeper of the Seven Keys, or something entirely fresh, hopefully the move would add songs to live set lists which can match the energy of the 139-minutes on United Alive In Madrid.
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Editor’s Note: Having seen Helloween’s sold out performance at Irving Plaza in New York on Sept. 15, 2018, the writer can attest to the authenticity of the audience’s participation.
Justin Smulison is a professional content writer and producer whose first love is music. Smulison’s digital and print copywriting experience spans music, law, true crime, advertising and real estate, among other subjects. You can often find JS in Long Beach, New York, either running on the boardwalk or in the sand with his family.