Helloween - _Gambling With the Devil_
(SPV, 2007)
by: Jeremy Ulrey (8.5 out of 10)
Don't let the title fool ya: Helloween take few risks here, instead withdrawing from the prog epic heights of 2005's _Keeper III: The Legacy_ and getting back to the singles-based songwriting they've hit their biggest strides with.

In spite of a revolving line-up that today sees only guitarist Michael Weikath and bassist Markus Grosskopf remaining, Helloween have always insisted on contributions from all members of the band, including the new guys. Well, at this point, histrionic belter Andi Deris has been behind the mic longer than anyone, and has come to write some of the band's better material in recent years, and five year strong axeman Sascha Gerstner more than pulls his own weight (skinsman Dani Loble is the only one resting his pen this time out).

Speaking of which, kind of ironic that Roland Grapow and Uli Kush bailed after 2000's _The Dark Ride_ ostensibly failed to push Helloween in a darker, more serious direction, as a) I didn't really find _The Dark Ride_ to be nearly as "dark" as it was obviously intended to be, or even all that radically different from the band's previous material, in fact, and b) Deris' "Kill It" probably IS the darkest, heaviest thing the band have written. Pretty brilliant segueing that spinning fortune wheel in the intro into a cyclical guitar riff, after which we get something more akin to speed metal than anything the band have done since _Walls of Jericho_... but just so no one's fooled, the chorus plays nice and melodic. Still, some of Deris' most high pitched, intensive vocal workouts extant. Deris is pretty prolific throughout, bringing similar melodic angst to "Bells of the 7 Hells" and "I.M.E.", and despite a certain band-shared penchant for AOR balladry ("As Long as I Fall") Deris seems to be the one bringing the heaviest of the metal these days.

Now, if you've been listening at all at any point along the extended crests & valleys that represent the Helloween saga, you probably have a pretty good idea what to expect out of lifer Michael Weikath, who more than anyone is the guy who keeps the engine running. That said, historically I've always found that I appreciate the musicianship in his material much more than the vocal melodies. The aforementioned way-too-chipper AOR tropes have never been more evident than "Can Do It", a self-motivating anthem that sounds like late period Queen if Freddie Mercury preferred fluffy platitudes to incisive lyrics. OK if you're in the right mood, but you really need a hell of a sweet tooth to avoid hitting the "skip" button.

Weikath seems most restrained in the cheese department when paired with second guitarist Sascha Gerstner. The pair of the songs the two co-write ("Dreambound", "Paint a New World") are furiously demanding in instrumental chops and dial back Weikath's flighty predilections into something equally epic but more melodically sound. And finally, fellow founder Markus Grosskopf chimes in with "Final Fortune" and "Heaven Tells No Lies", neither of which really distinguish themselves amongst a dozen tracks unusually lacking in filler, but Grosskopf more than anyone remembers the sound that established the band, and his contributions -- while marginally better than filler but little else -- at least help to keep the band's albums grounded in their roots.

_Gambling With the Devil_ is every bit the equal of _Time of the Oath_ and _Better Than Raw_, and possibly the pinnacle of the Andi Deris era.

Contact: http://www.helloween.org

(article published 2/12/2007)

12/22/2010 A McKay 8.5 Helloween - 7 Sinners
11/15/2005 A McKay 5 Helloween - Keeper of the Seven Keys - The Legacy
4/18/1996 A Gaudrault 6 Helloween - The Time of the Oath
2/9/1996 A Bromley 6 Helloween - Master Of The Rings
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