"Unarmed: Best of 25th Anniversary"

(The End Records/Sony Music 2010)Helloween - Unarmed: Best of 25th Anniversary

For a lot of people, this is going to be as unexpected and unwelcome a shock on the scale of George Lucas having Greedo shoot first. German power metal titans Helloween, long since established as one of the kings of the genre, have decided to celebrate two and half decades of epicness by dropping a unique sort of project album. Instead of a simple greatest hits or special show or tour, they've instead dreamed up "Unarmed: Best of 25th Anniversary;" an interesting effort that sees the band completely retooling and rerecording some of their biggest tunes. And the results are sure to enrage a sizeable portion of the band's followers.

"Dr. Stein" kicks off this experiment in a stunningly puzzling fashion, the song's bright, driving metal being replaced with...wait for it...a guitarless saxophone and piano boogie. And as bad as that reads, it sounds even worse. Thankfully, with the bar set incredibly low, the quality immediately improves and the sax ridiculousness proves to be an anomaly. "Future World" is a zippy acoustic number, and "If I Could Fly" follows in the form of a wistfully string-laden ballad. And that's basically the template for the rest of the album: willowy ballads mixed with orchestral pieces choked with strings and choirs.

Hey, for a band to be around long enough to celebrate their 25th anniversary is beyond commendable. It's also worth of a tip of the cap for a band to pull something this unexpected out of left field (or from their asses, depending on your point of view). But the appeal of "Unarmed" figures to be relatively limited. Putting out an album of material that sounds nothing like your back catalogue isn't the best way to draw in new fans. On the other hand, it sure does have the potential to anger legions of hardcore Helloween enthusiasts; it's easy to imagine power metal nerds the world over in a huff, seeing the reimagined tunes as a greater affront than Peter Jackson leaving Tom Bombadil out of The Fellowship of the Ring. And no, I will not explain that reference, or even how I know what it means.

So yeah, this is quite a ballsy move for Helloween, and taken by itself, the music is pretty good, and a fun way to celebrate the bands silver anniversary. But they shouldn't be surprised if some uppity superfans decide to chuck a d20 or two at them when they perform live.


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