Picture it. Early September 1988. It’s a beautiful day in Massapequa, NY. Damian and his crew are walking down Merrick Road and, as they often do on a Saturday afternoon, they head into Record Collection where the latest metal releases are on full display. After chatting with the manager for a bit they go and check out all the goodies. Bear in mind, this was waaaaaay before the internet and social media told us when all of our favorite bands did everything from scratch their asses to release a new record. So if you weren’t constantly monitoring MTV News and/or Headbangers Ball you were bound to miss some things.
And on this occasion I found something I didn’t know came out already. That something was from HELLOWEEN. Sure, they had released a single but somehow the release date of new album Keeper of the Seven Keys Part II had completely escaped me. So in light of what time of year it is now, welcome to this week’s episode of Classic Albums. Now obviously I plunked down my $6.99 or whatever the hell a vinyl LP cost those days and hurried my ass home to put it on. After the “Invitation” we kick into high gear with “Eagle Fly Free”, a Power Metal anthem for the ages, the band picking right up where they left off on Keeper of the Seven Keys Part I.
Michael Kiske sounds fucking fantastic on this one, and his bandmates soar along with him. Guitarists Kai Hansen and Michael Weikath bring all the riffs and solos in their arsenal, while drummer Ingo Schwichtenberg goes to town. Bassist Markus Grosskopf actually plays a fretless on this track, and it’s got considerable punch to it. “You Always Walk Alone” has some dual harmonized leads throughout and a headbanging groove that I still love all these years later. As I sat in my room jamming I was kind of pissed I’d agreed to go to Massapequa High School’s stupid Homecoming dance because all I wanted to do was stay home and soak this thing in!
“Rise and Fall” is next, and the fact that it’s been in my head for several weeks now is probably the impetus for me writing about this album. Well that, and the informal poll I took on Facebook as to what the next Classic Albums piece should be. And this record won by a country mile. Still, there’s no denying the bouncy hookiness of the song, and once again Kiske carries the ball across the goal line. One of my all-time favorites follows in “Dr. Stein” and I’m still mad to this day that I’ve never gotten to experience it live. The sing-along chorus and intricate, moody solo make this a track to come back to again and again, as I often do.
The mood shifts drastically for “We Got the Right”, starting out slow and dark, then morphing into one powerhouse of a song, especially live. It’s impossible not to get caught up in the whole thing: the riffs and Kiske’s incredible vocals hitting an incredible crescendo. And that’s the end of Side One. This was as far as I got before I had to leave for the stupid dance. By the way, we got to MHS and there were maybe 20 people there total. I don’t think my buddies and I made it an hour before haul-assing it back to my house to finish the album!
So Side Two began with an impromptu listening party in my dining room. “March of Time” is another song whose chorus will randomly pop into my head now, 30 years later, which usually prompts me to reach for this one. And of course we come to my absolute favorite with “I Want Out,” a song I will never, ever tire of. All I wanted at age 15 was to be able to sing like Kiske. In that moment he was everything. Alas, that never happened, and while I can go pretty high, I just don’t have pipes like his. And who can forget that harmonized guitar solo??
Closing the album is 13-minute title track “Keeper of the Seven Keys” which takes us on an epic journey over hills and down into valleys, as a good story should. I remember being totally blown away both during the song and when it was all over. Obviously our next step was to flip the record over and start the whole thing again. In 1988 I was in my second year of a HELLOWEEN obsession, and Keeper of the Seven Keys Part II only cemented that. This era of the band will always hold a special place in my heart. And so, with that, it now and forever takes its rightful place alongside its predecessor in Classic Albums. ~dc