If you are a frequent visitor to our pages, especially our gig reviews section, you would have undoubtedly noticed that on the 15th of April, a day prior to the one featured in this review, I attended a magnificent Pain of Salvation show at the Relentless Garage.
So what prompted a man my age, only a day later, to form part of another long queue, this time outside the Forum at Kentish Town? Well, for a young lad growing up in the 80s and listening to Heavy Metal, bands like Helloween and Gamma Ray were a classic staple so having them both performing on the same bill was enough to get me into gear once again.
Battling early signs of fatigue, I finally managed to enter the venue in time to find a good spot from which to watch Shadowside, the first support act of the night, perform their 30 minute set. Featuring a very energetic and powerful-sounding front woman in Dani Nolden, the Brazilian quartet was bound to win over some of the three hundred or so punters who filled the venue’s dance floor, but I was not to be one of them.
Creating a successful mix of Hard Rock, Power Metal and Thrash is not an easy task and, in my humble opinion, the band never even came close to achieving it. A combination of bad quality sound/mix, together with a horrible rendition of Motorhead’s classic “Ace Of Spades” convinced me that all hope was lost as far as Shadowside were concerned and so I decided to galvanise my strength for the second band of the evening – the mighty Gamma Ray.
Leaving a successful band like Helloween at the height of their career to go solo was a very brave move on Kai Hansen’s part but the last twenty five years have been more than kind to the German axeman in terms of career success.
Following the classic intro “Welcome” and moments after the first few notes of “Anywhere In The Galaxy” were performed, Kai and Co were given a heroes’ welcome by a very loud and expressive London crowd.
I believe that Kai actually said “good evening” to us three times in a row – such was the excitement evident in the expressions of the fifty year old guitar legend. When the crowd was asked to clap their hands and jump rhythmically to the tunes of “The Spirit” they did so without hesitation and both the fast-paced “Dethroned Tyranny” and the newbie “Master Of Confusion” were embraced by the band’s loyal fans.
A much improved sound and a more balanced mix ensured that the bombastic opus “Empire Of The Undead” lost none of its edge while both “Empathy” and “Rise” found Kai juggling between throwing shapes and messing about with his long term bassist Dirk Schlachter.
The highlight of the band’s set was undoubtedly their killer rendition of the Helloween classic “Future World” during which Kai performed a splendid twin guitar double-finger solo with the assistance of virtuoso lead guitarist Henjo Richter and the band left the stage in triumphant fashion only after they performed two more top compositions – the impressive opus “To The Metal” as well as the classic live sing-alone staple “Send Me A Sign”.
Following Gamma Ray’s departure, a thirty minute break was needed in order for the sizeable road crew to literally transform the Forum’s stage into a battlefield, as featured in the artwork of Helloween’s latest album “Straight Out Of Hell”. Actually a massive camouflage curtain separated the crowd and the stage up to the point that the last few notes of AC/DC classic “For Those About To Rock” were heard.
That’s when the “curtain” was suddenly dropped and the members of Helloween came charging out with the short “Wanna Be God”, followed by the amazingly melodic and highly addictive tunes of “Nabataea”. Just like the German national football team, Weikath and co were perfectly choreographed and totally professional on stage, much to our delight, but sadly the sound quality which had reached some levels of normality during Gamma Ray’s set had deteriorated again.
All those fine guitar nuances that make “Eagle Fly Free” the classic that we all know and love were buried under layers of Daniel Loble’s constantly pounding double bass drum but the crowd did not seem to mind much, rhythmically clapping their hands during both “Straight Out Of Hell” and “Where The Sinners Go”.
Andy Deris is an amazing front man, constantly connecting with his audience or engaging with bassist extraordinaire Markus Grosskopf while performing vocally challenging compositions such as “Waiting For The Thunder” and “Falling Higher”, while Michael Weikath, positioned at the right end of the stage waved his hands like a conductor of the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra.
Following a powerful drum solo we were offered killer renditions of the all time classic “I’m Alive” and the newbie “Live Now!” and while the emotionally charged ballad “Hold Me In Your Arms” was performed I saw at least three young couples holding hands – very touching! The latter part of the band’s main set featured two of my favourite more recent Helloween tracks, namely “If I Could Fly” and “Power”, both perfectly performed, and after the last tunes of the second had filled the air the band took its bows and left the stage.
Less than a minute after first leaving the stage, Deris returned, sporting a top hat, commanding his fellow troops into a bombastic rendition of “Are You Metal” and it really looked to me as if the whole venue was jumping up and down during the performance of the highly amusing ditto “Dr. Stein”. Of course what we all expected by now was to see Kai Hansen joining his band mates for a couple of classic tunes and we were not to be disappointed.
Sporting a red top hat quite similar to that of Deris, Kai placed himself right between his old comrades and together they performed a cleverly-crafted medley of “Helloween”, “How Many Tears” and “Heavy Metal Is The Law”. The show ended in spectacular fashion with members of both Helloween and Gamma Ray performing the classic hit “I Want Out”, following which the last few bows were taken, guitar picks were ceremonially handed out and this great mass of highly skilled musicians left the stage for good.
Moments prior to Helloween commencing their set there was a group of fans my age having a very interesting music-related discussion during which one question that kept coming up was what had deprived the Hamburg-based Metallers from becoming the new Iron Maiden – something that looked fairly feasible back in the late 80s when the fine Germans were performing in arenas rather than smaller venues around the world.
Even so, what we experienced here tonight by both Gamma Ray and Helloween is that German heavy Metal is alive and breathing in the UK and that it becomes more and more popular as time goes by. May this continue to be the case in the years to come!
Gamma Ray Set List:
- “Anywhere In The Galaxy”
- “The Spirit”
- “Dethroned Tyranny”
- “Master Of Confusion”
- “Empire Of The Undead”
- “Future World” (Helloween cover)
- “To The Metal”
- “Send Me A Sign”
Helloween Set List:
- “Wanna Be God”
- “Eagle Fly Free”
- “Straight Out Of Hell”
- “Where The Sinners Go”
- “Waiting For The Thunder”
- “Falling Higher”
- “Drum Solo”
- “I’m Alive”
- “Live Now!”
- “Hold Me In Your Arms”
- “If I Could Fly”
- “Hell Was Made In Heaven”
- “Are You Metal?”
- “Dr. Stein”
1.“Medley (consisting “Helloween”/”How Many Tears”/”Heavy Metal Is The Law”/”Helloween”)
2.“I Want Out”
Review by Yiannis (John) Stefanis
Photos by Noel Buckley
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