You gotta feel sorry for Helloween. After the success of the two 'Keeper Of The Seven Keys' albums during the Thrash boom of the mid '80s, its been one disaster after another for the Teutonik Rokkers.
First a lengthy battle with former label Noise Records prevented the PUMPKIN ONES from touring, and not surprisingly, the ROT set in. The three-year gap between the AWFUL 'Pink Bubbles Go Ape' and the DISAPPOINTING 'Chameleon' also had a diverse effekt on the band; a RIFT appeared in the ranks!
In the red korner stood the drummer Ingo Schwichtenberg and vokalsit Michael Kiske. In the blue korner stood axeperts Roland Grapow and Michael Weikath. And the man in the middle was bassist Marcus Grosskopf, who akted as go between until push kame to shove when he sensibly sided with Messrs Grapow and Weikath.
So, marching orders for Kise and Schwichtenberg. Replacements were quikkly found in former Pink Cream 69 fromtman Andi Deris and skinpounder Uli Kusch, who, in a bizarre twist, joined Helloween from ex-'Ween axeman Kai Hansen's Space-Age Koncept band Gamma Ray!
The Resulting shakeup has done nothing but good for the band. Despite a drubbing in KERRANG!'s review pages, Helloween's new album 'Master of the Rings' is easily the best thing they've rekorded since those 'Keeper...' KLASSIKS!
But have Helloween left it too late? Are the GRUNGE KRAZE kids gonna take to Helloween's GRANDIOSE IDEAS and '80s style of metal? And just what did go wrong with the whole 'Pink Bubbles' saga?
For answers to these questions and others, I hopped on a plane to Hamburg, Germany- home of Helloween and Spurs tipple Holsten Pils!
So LADS, why was 'Pink Bubbles Go Ape' such a krokk of SHITE?
Michael Weikath lays much of the blame at the feet of veteran Brit Metal producer Chris Tsangarides.
"Straight away, I could tell things were going wrong," Weikath groans. "The show was being run by Michael and Ingo, and Chris simply didn't like my songs. He couldn't understand that certain cleverness they had.
"I wrote a song called 'Number One' that Ingo didn't like, so consequently he didn't play it properly! Then Chris said: 'This trakk doesn't ROCK!' But surely it was his job to make it rock!
"Sadly Chris was very set in his ways. Plus there was trouble brewing in the band, although I wasn't really aware of it all the time. It later bacame obvious that Michael was trying to take over a leader."
It was a really weird time," konfesses Marcus Grosskopf. "Michael would tell me trivial things behind the other guys' backs, which was very confusing. It was obvious to me that he was trying to split the band up."
But surely you koulda said to Tsangarides you weren't happy with his production?
"That wasn't possible," Weikath insists. "Chris was running the show. They only included the joke song 'Heavy Metal Hamsters' to wind me up. That song was only ever intended to be a B-side."
Instead 'Heavy Metal Hamsters' bekame Exhibit A in the prosekution of Helloween as useless, potty Euro-Gumbies!
"I was totally unhappy with the album," pouts Weikath, "Michael said, 'Well, aren't we going to do anything about it?' And I just said, 'No, just get it mixed and get it out- I don't care anymore!' That's how low I felt at the time.
"AS you know, I was the main songwriter on 'Keeper...II' which was quite successful, while on 'Pink Bubbles...' I was responsible for just one and a half tracks!"
Why didn't you quit the band there and then?
"I was feeling like it, believe me! Everyone was into their own problems. Not one of us looked into the interests of the band. It was totally unproffessional and really stupid. It was like a kindergarten. I was totally confused by the whole situation.
"Sadly Ingo never really recovered from Kai leaving the band. Ingo always sided with Kai. There was a roumor that Kai had approached him to join Gamma Ray but nothing ever came of it.
With Michael taking over as leader, Ingo tended to look up to him. He hardly ever talked to Roland- and this was right in the middle of a tour! Things came to a head in Hiroshima, Japan when we had to cancel a gig. Ingo's heart hust wasn't in it any more. He had to go."
And why did you give Michael the heave-ho?
"We just didn't want to work with him any more, pure and simple. So we asked him to leave the band. He was forever pulling the band apart and putting us down.
There was also this rumour that was continuously going around that Steve Harris was interested in replacing Bruce Dickinson with Michael, but anyone knows us and Maiden could tell you that, character-wise, it just wouldn't work out. You simply couldn't put a 25-year-old German guy in with a bunch of Maiden football fanatics!"
The 'Chameleon' album sank without trace. How do the band feel about it now?
"I felt it was totally different from anything we've aver done before," offers Marcus. "It showed that we wern't just another Power or Speed Metal band.
"Here was an album with melody and hookliness- a lot of it due to Roland's arrival in the band. The album got quite good reviews but the fans didn't really dig it!"
"During a Japanese gig I said to myself, "this is not right'," admits Weikath. Everything felt so slow and boring. Nothing was happening.
"It was weird. There were a lot of people looking at me with this expression that said, 'Michael, can't you change anything?'! And I was like 'Sorry folks, but this is what we've done!'.
"But those vacant stares got me thinking. I knew they were right and I was wrong. Two hours of slow tedium is not what Helloween are about! Where have all the good times gone? Y'know, like the 'Walls of Jericho' and 'Keeper...' albums. I decided it was time for a clear out and return to Helloween as it should be; melodic, powerful, aggressive metal! I hope we've captured that sould on 'Master of the Rings'."
But will the GRUNGE KIDS of '94 dig it?
"No, they'll hate it," Weikath laughs. "But it wasn't really written for them. If they want to hear all the '60s garbage recycled, then fine. Personally, I find this new album really exciting and I hope we'll appeal to a whole new crowd.
"We've taken the best of 'Keeper...' and sorta updated it. There's definitely a hunger again within the band."
So is the 'Master Of The Rings' related to the 'Keeper Of The Seven Keys'?
"I'm gald you asked that question," Weikath grins. "Believe it or not, the Master Of The Rings is the actual Keeper Of The Seven Keys! He comes back from his long journey and the rings are a reward. He had to touch them or they'll go up in the air and vanish! And if this sounds complicated, all is revealed in the introductory story on the new album!"
So what happened to the Keeper/Master on the 'Pink Bubbles...' and 'Chameleon' albums?
"Oh he ran into a lot of psychological problems on his journey," Weikath chukkles as he explains this nonsense. "He became a chameleon of himself. He didn't really know what to think of himself any more. We rescued him just in time!"
But WILL Helloween reskue their own kareer with 'Master Of The Rings'? Weikath remains optimistik!
"We hope to tour Europe in October. And if this band is going to happen in the future, we really needed the experience of the last two albums because we might have done that crap in the future!"
So it's official: NO MORE HEAVY METAL HAMSTERS!