On August 29, 1988 "Helloween" released their third album "Keeper of the Seven Keys: Part II" and established their position as one of the most important and influential Power Metal bands in the world.
There probably aren't many power metal or symphonic metal bands that weren't influenced by "Helloween" and especially the album "Keeper of the Seven Keys: Part II".
It's an album that has all the elements of classic Power Metal. Starting with the fast-speed metal and the nervous double bass, through the neo-classical and melodic playing, and ending with the epic compositions, the symphonic influences, and the lyrics that draw from the world of fairy tales and fantasy.
The band, founded in 1984 in Hamburg by singer and guitarist Kai Hansen, bassist Markus Grosskopf, guitarist Michael Weikath and drummer Ingo Schwichtenberg, started as a Speed Metal band. In 1985, they released its first EP called "Helloween" and later that year their debut album "Walls of Jericho", in which guitarist Kai Hansen also serves as the lead singer.
But then, in 1986, the band undergoes a lineup change, which ultimately also affected its style. Guitarist Kai Hansen finds that the role of lead singer in the band's live shows limits his playing, which leads the band to look for a vocalist who will take the lead from him and allow him to fully utilize his abilities as a guitar player and songwriter. Singer Michael Kiske, who was then a young and talented 18-year-old boy with an amazing voice range of 4 octaves, was eventually chosen for the coveted role and his important addition simply added another dimension to the band's sound and musical style.
The move made by "Helloween" bears fruit, when already in 1987 they publishes their second album "Keeper of the Seven Keys: Part I", which was written mostly entirely by the guitarist Kai Hansen, who even contributed to the design of the special cover. The album marked a change in the musical line, which became a bit slower and melodic with classical and symphonic influences and thus the foundations of the European Power Metal genre were actually laid, which also relies a lot on the pathos-filled singing style of Michael Kiske, which sounds like a combination of Geoff Tate, Bruce Dickinson, and Rob Halford.
So it's true, some of you will rightly argue that these foundations were laid by "Rainbow" back in 1976, with epic songs like "Stargazer" or "A Light in the Black" from the album "Rising" or with the speed and double bass of "Kill the King" From the album "Long Live Rock 'n' Roll" released two years later. Others will say that it was Rob Halford's singing style and the "twin guitar" sound of his "Judas Priest" mates that influenced the creation of the subgenre. All true! It's just that "Helloween" managed to take these influences, stretch them to the limit and bring them to new heights as they did on the album "Keeper of the Seven Keys: Part II", which became one of the most influential in the genre and marched the band into the top of the metal world.
It is interesting to note, that all this good happened precisely at the stage when the guitarist Kai Hansen started to lose interest in the band. This allowed guitarist Michael Weikath to take the reins next to him and lead the writing process of this album and even the cover design, as his friend Kai Hansen did on the previous album. It was probably what was needed to produce a masterful album like this one.
As befits an epic Power Metal album "Keeper of the Seven Keys: Part II" opens with a short symphonic intro called "Invitation" intended to "invite" us into the wonderful world of "Keeper of the Seven Keys"... then comes the timeless track "Eagle Fly Free" " which manages to distill into just five minutes the entire essence of the Power Metal subgenre. Fast and powerful double bass drumming by Ingo Schwichtenberg, amazing melody and virtuosic and clean high vocals by Michael Kiske, jaw-dropping neo-classical twin guitar work by Kai Hansen and Michael Weikath, explosive and pulsating bass by Markus Grosskopf who even takes the lead for a few seconds, violins, choir, trumpets, what more can you ask of this mind-blowing song that so many others later tried to recreate its magic?
The album continues with "You Always Walk Alone" whose opening reminded us somewhat of "Iron Maiden", another band that undoubtedly influenced "Helloween". Later on, the song picks up the pace with amazing vocals by Michael Kiske who simply rises to crazy heights with a tone of voice somewhat reminiscent of Geoff Tate.
The album takes a turn with a comic anthem in the form of "Rise and Fall", penned by Michael Weikath who also made sure to wrap the song with strange sound effects. We must point out that when we listen to it and especially to the lyrics that tell about Romeo who, due to impotence was unable to fulfill his love for Juliet, it is hard for us not to think of "Alestorm", which must have been greatly influenced by the humor and style of "Helloween". That humorous vibe continues with "Dr. Stein", the entertaining hit single dedicated to none other than Frankenstein. This track is one of the band's most popular songs, and is played at almost every show. In 2010, the band filmed an entertaining video clip for the jazz-style remake of the song, recorded for the album "Unarmed – Best of 25th Anniversary".
The first side of the vinyl ends with the excellent and dynamic "We Got the Right" which slows down the tempo a bit. It is a perfect contrast to its two predecessors and manages to be a "more serious" counterweight and balance the first side, in front of the "Happy Metal" style characterized by the band. The song received an operatic-symphonic tribute version in which several well-known musicians such as Arjen Lucassen, Blaze Bayley, Tim Ripper Owens, and more.
The second side of the vinyl opens with an epic intro, to the piano and guitar sounds of "March of Time". A rhythmic song with a sweeping and melodic chorus, which is undoubtedly one of the best on the album. This is undoubtedly a crazy display of the "Power Metal" style. Weikath and Hansen's guitar work aspires to perfection, the rhythm section is at its best here, and again, even in this case Michael Kiske's amazing vocals somehow manage to outshine everyone, even the thundering drums and sawing guitar riffs.
It is followed by "I Want Out", perhaps the band's biggest hit and one of the best metal singles of all time, which even earned a slight rotation on the MTV channel. Yes, we stand behind this statement, because this song has such a catchy guitar "hook" and chorus that it can get into your head and not come out until the day you die, and believe us, this is all from just one listening. Hansen wrote the song following his feelings of frustration stemming from the load and stress involved in the live shows as well as the band's conflict with the record company, feelings that eventually led him to lose interest in the band.
The album ends up with the masterpiece and theme song "Keeper of the Seven Keys". It is Michael Weikath's epic and upgraded answer to the song "Halloween", which guitarist Kai Hansen wrote for the previous album and is the first part of the saga. It's an amazing work that goes beyond the thirteen-minute limit, with frequent changes of rhythms and styles, crazy solos, great vocal harmonies, classical instrumental parts with symphonic accompaniment, and operatic singing. This crazy metal theater is a mini rock opera that tells about the "keeper of the seven keys" whose job it is to lock the 7 days of the week. The role of the "keeper of the keys" is to eliminate Lucifer and he will only be able to do so if he throws the keys into the sea as instructed by the old prophet who accompanies and guides him. And so, the keeper embarks on a journey to the distant oceans to throw the keys to the sea of hatred and sin, the sea of fear, the sea of senselessness, the sea of greed, the sea of ignorance...
It should be noted, that the extended version of the album includes several bonus tracks, including "Save Us", "Savage", "Livin' Ain't No Crime" and "Don't Run for Cover", some of which do not fall from the rest of the songs on the album.
In conclusion, there is and cannot be a question about the influence of "Keeper of the Seven Keys: Part II" on the world of metal in general and the subgenres of Power and Symphonic metal in particular. The virtuoso playing, the crazy dynamics, the classical and symphonic influences, the epic vocals, and even the unique German humor, brought the Power Metal style to prominence in this album and created a whole legacy of bands that will try to follow and recreate this one-time magic.