Friday, June 1, 2012


As I reflect on it all, I realize more and more that I initially came to Heavy Metal for light, not darkness. My best friend Nick would describe to me his early metal experiences and they were not like my own. Whereas he would listen to 'Fight Fire With Fire' and feel like setting his dad's pickup truck on fire for sweet revenge, I never felt like that exactly. Heavy Metal felt mystical, instead. Like a portal to somewhere not exactly inwards... more like turning oneself outside out. More like retreating, back turned, towards the exit. Does it become an entrance, then?

Sure, the primal forces of this bludgeoning sort of music had some effect on me (it takes a certain kind of masochist to put their ear to so many decibels, but that's a different piece I always mean to write) and yes, I have headbanged alone in my room as a youth as much as anyone – or more? I remember denting my head against a heating body by mistake. Metal took its place, right? Anyway, it always felt like it was leading to something, even as early as twelve years old, I was looking for something more than a sore neck in all of this. This explains why I moved quickly from what turned out to be thrash to power metal at that age. I didn't know of course what these things were yet, but after picking up on Helloween and that whole Teutonic sound, I didn't look back into the darkness for at least three or four years.

Well... the Starlight's dim, frankly. A strange song for twelve year old Helm. Now I understand where it comes from much more. There's an intro before the song proper, it's a sound collage and we must spend a moment with each sound that comes in because, let me tell you, some of these signifiers here really left child Helm baffled.

The intro starts with someone snoring. They they wake up and – of course have their morning beer. Then a song comes on, on the tv, on the radio? Not clear. The song clearly says 'Happy happy Halloween', even at twelve I caught as much. Then... silver sheppard? That doesn't make sense. Silver shamrock, it turns out. Years later, with the benefit of our most-powerful Gnostic demiurge in play (that is Google) I found out that this song comes from a peculiar source:

Halloween 3? Pulpy slasher films? In my Power Metal of Light? Oh shit. The blood-curdling scream by Mr. Kai Hansen is not very power metal at all, is it? The implication is that the freshly woken up person in the intro has become a victim to molten steel, of course. Listen to Death growl like the primordial entity of terror that he is while his skeleton crew revs up the mixed metaphore. Mean and sloppy, muddy with reverb and filth Death is. And what's this riff now? Well, it's thrash, of course. Or 'speed metal', hilariously. Do you remember that Helloween debuted in the Noise compilation named “Death metal” just few months earlier than when the Helloween E.P. came out?

I wouldn't know it at twelve but what I was introduced to by friends and metal press as 'Germanic power metal' didn't come directly from Judas Priest and Iron Maiden. It wasn't a self-conscious invention by Helloween to start a new genre. Not yet. It's very clear here they were listening to Bay Area bands as much as the more classy European bands that usually get connected directly as power metal inspirations. But at twelve these weren't concerns, I could hardly tell how this enormous racket was produced, much less have an opinion on discerning thrash and speed and power metal.

The equal measures of pomp and filth here can be sampled clearly in the intro switch-up from glam rock chords while Mr Death here goes 'whoo hoo! Alright!' after the scream and the absurd polka tempo change that introduces the shape of the verses. It's so clear to me now that just like I, in the late '90s, were listening to two very different Heavy Metal bands at once and mixing their aesthetics up and thinking 'this is all Heavy Metal', Helloween were a product of a similar aesthetic mix of what was for a pre-fall of the Soviet Union, a largely foreign music. This is important. You cannot understand how Heavy Metal was shaped in countries under Soviet influence if you're judging from an American or British standard. Most of us, even people older than me, they didn't get the full story. They didn't follow Heavy Metal from its birth in the seventies through its resurgence in the eighties, the progression wasn't clear. They listened to whatever they got their hands on and if it was distorted, then it was good. If it was from 'the Western world', it was good. If it had anything to do with Robocop and Conan, it was good. I can imagine, now, Kai Hansen and co. at age sixteen, madly hunting for records from the USA and being just as happy with returning home with a Dokken record if a Metallica vinyl could not be found. Or, more to the point, with a Van Der Graaf Generator record. It's got distortion and it's not disco, it must be worthwhile, right?

It's a testament to the strength of this record (as we will see further on) that the band is more than an aesthetically muddy mix of “Heavy Metal as we see it in Hamburg, 1984”. It seems Helloween very, very quickly became more than the sum of their parts. But not on “Starlight”.

I know this song by heart, of course. I learned English with this record, more or less. The lyrics are obviously written by a non-native speaker and that suit me just fine as I was Рand now remain - as non-native as it gets. I had a talent for learning English and I picked up a lot at that crucial age from music, computer games and television/cinema from the US. I would say I picked up too much, actually. Enamored with your decadent entertainment, at some point I handled English (at least written English, my accent was always clearly Рand once embarrassingly - Greek) as if I was a cast-member for F.R.I.E.N.D.S. Later on, as I began to reevaluate those cultural influences, I began to purge my English from slang and more importantly, from the lingual clich̩ that comes with them. What is left is hopefully and obviously, Foreigner English. It is because I find this fitting and correct that I can read these lyrics by Helloween now and look at them kindly and embrace where they're coming from.

You're hangin' around and got nothin' to do

You wanna get out some pills in front of you
You fly on invisible wings
Be careful my friend for too many can kill
You say that the meaning of life's in those pills
You forget all earthly things

You swallow your pill you wanna feel free
A trip to a world made of games
You do it again yet it's never the same
But a junkie's not something to be

Starlight fallin' in deep through your eyes
Starlight shinnin' down for your soul to rise

Now there's a needle lying in front of you
I'm frightened of those things
But I know what you'll do
You need it to escape from the night

You ride on through heaven you don't feel no pain
You ride on and ride on again and again
On the needle that brings you the light
You feel the mind-blowin' stuff
Flow through your veins
You take off and fly to the sun
But when you get too near your wings will be burnt
You'll die in the flames and you'll fall

Thematically this is a “Winners Don't Use Drugs” screed. Or is it? We'll talk about the overarching theme later on, but I have to say that child Helm was totally on board because I was – and remain for the most part – phobic about drug use in general and and recreational drug taking in particular. Preach it, Helloween. I don't need those pills to find the meaning of life. I just need the metal. Right? Right?

Anyway, the nascent beauty of Helloween can be noticed in the bridge (“You swallow your pill and you wanna feel free...”). That's the European influence coming in, as Metallica wouldn't do that, and if the did in order to emulate their NWOBHM gods, they would chop it up into smaller, more staccato phrases and repeat it endlessly to show us how smart their little off-kilter melody is. Like a retarded Mercyful Fate, perhaps. Well, like a retarded Mercyful Fate with a Cliff Burton desperately trying to re-orchestrate the mess, let's say. Instead, Helloween's sense of melody overflows. They've got so much they tack it on to ends of prases everywhere. They try to play thrash here and can't keep it straight, their inner Scorpion longs to get out and play us a rock symphony. Wherever one guitarist plays palm muted single string backup, the harmony guitarist (usually Mr. Weikath) would elaborate (and NOT improvise) these long flowing melodies on top. Sometimes connecting with the vocal melody, sometimes countering it. Often, these melodies would be, ghasp! Shock! Quelel Horreur! Major in key. Hetfield is frowning and giving you the finger.

Truly, there's something magnetic for me, still, at the juxtaposition between the rough vocal delivery and the confident vocal melody here. I still sing along to this record whenever I play it and it's not because I've got this fucking range but because the rough delivery is inviting for us lessers to join in. This is key. Likewise, the rough, punkish basic riffing here and the overlaid melodies, well, I don't try to play along to them but I still have this erroneous feeling that if I tried, I could. Power metal wasn't always this cold thing that Stratovarious-and-onwards bands make it sound like. This is rough and diy-ish in the best NWOBHM tradition, still. Sure, the solos soar with a potency that cannot easily be matched even by the most willing air-guitarist, but it's not the technique that's on display, it's anearnest desire to use these machines to elevate the listener. We NEED all these notes. We NEED to play this fast. Why? Because we're reaching for somewhere where you can only go when you think, bereft of any irony or knowingness, that “more is more” instead of whatever that crutch of a cliché would have most believe.

This is not the best song in this record, by far (it's not the worst either) but what can still be gleaned is that there's a new statement about Heavy Metal here. Perhaps not fully formed, but something's going on. The extensive solo section that doesn't just lick and lick lazily over one established past riff but instead builds “new parts as needed” to extend towards a direction is testament. Sure, even in the '70s some great bands would build these elaborate solo sections (Wishbone Ash comes to mind) but it wasn't all the time, and it certainly was a point into itself. Here Helloween can barely contain themselves, there's not a single song in this record that doesn't, when given an opportunity to solo, become an elaborate mock-orchestra suit for a moment. Even the punky opener. The light is getting brighter. Mr. Hansen and Mr. Weikath arrogantly trade solos, they want me to know whom is playing which, as my soul is washed by their inspiration's light. Seriously, in the booklet it clearly spells what personnel is performing what lead section. And after all these years, I can tell just by listening to their particular tones and inflections which is which.

Starlight ends quickly because Helloween didn't yet know how to write an epic, or know that they could if they tried. But put it next to openers by other metal bands of the time (especially thrash metal bands, don't forget this is 1985, most of what was vital in thrash metal had already occurred) and see how there's a different focus to that stuff. We'll talk about this more, as there truly is only one thematic point to the whole album, repeated again and again. And that point is integral to this record's enduring potency.  


  1. It's a solid song but I have some problems with it. I feel both moved and insulted by it's "message".

  2. How so on the latter? Please do elaborate!

  3. Well first of all I know it's kind of silly to be "insulted" by lyrics that are this naive but I don't think that being naive AND judgemental is wise at all. I'm not sure what kind of "pills" the band had in their mind when they wrote the song but probably something like MDMA (ecstasy) or plain medical drugs with high recreational use value but as I have had to take benzodiazepines for anxiety/panic attacks and yes some times even for the fun of it (mostly because of some self-destructive impulse on a bad day) all I can hear is a band without proper undestanding of the motives and behaviorism behind the drug use judging me. Their "message" falls flat because it feels akwardly similar to the 70s & 80s anti-drug propaganda which in many ways didn't even work well at all. I was scared of drugs too when I was little and I still do feel a healthy ammount of fear and respect for powerful, mind altering substances but I remember how it felt when I first time smoked cannabis. So I can still control myself quite easily! Why is this such a big deal? THEY HAVE LIED TO ME!

  4. So basicly I feel that they insult my intelligence.

  5. I don't think MDMA had hit by 1985, do you?
    I agree they come off of as if they don't even know what drugs are. Dying from pills? They seem to subscribe to the theory of 'gateway drugs'. It all sounds fishy.

    Yet, they're on record for losing a drummer that was depressive and very bad with drug use. Perhaps that came later? I think heroin had been a real thing in their life by then.

    What we're talking about reminds me of the 'Ritual misery pain monopoly / chop your breakfast down a mirror' line, which so horrified and befuddled me as child because I took it literally. As in, eat your own face after you chop it off. I didn't think of cocaine. And I'm sure by 1986, Hetfield being the good christian scientist son he was kept his vices to alcohol. I doubt he took cocaine. Yet he felt it was within his rights creatively to talk about addiction (which is what ostensibly the song Master of Puppets is about).

    I understand where you're coming from. As I'll go into later, the big theme of Helloween on Walls of Jericho is "Freedom at any cost! Freedom from tyranny, freedom from personal shortcomings, from anything and anyone. I need to be free". This is why this record still resonates. They don't need to understand drugs very well to tell you that they're no pathway to freedom (as they understand it at least). Their method of getting that point across is kind of hilarious-dated "Winners Don't Use Drugs" as I said, but they didn't lie to you. What they're about is 100% true.

  6. MDMA has been around since early 1900s I think yeah it wasn't really used that much before the 90s I guess. I found this on internet:

    "1984: All hell breaks loose. The growing networks of therapists, chemists and users, which had managed to stay largely below the radar of the government, becomes impossible to ignore when Michael Clegg begins openly selling MDMA in Texas, using advertising, a 1-800 number to place orders, and even offering shipping. A former seminary student, Clegg considered himself an 'Ecstasy missionary' (having given the drug that name himself) destined to help bring MDMA to the public. At its peak, he was delivering half a million pills a month to the Dallas area.

    Responding to the crisis of people being able to get high without risking arrest, the Drug Enforcement Agency announced its intent to Emergency Schedule MDMA, placing it into Schedule 1 (the most restrictive class of drugs, such as heroin) for a year while it was decided how it should be permanently Scheduled.

    Shocked and angered by the DEA's plans to completely ban access to a drug that had become an important and valued part of their practices, psychiatrists, therapists, and other scientists and doctors challenged the Scheduling, resulting in government hearings on how MDMA should be Scheduled."

    But yeah I have no clue what was going on in the europe in the same time.

    I also love the freedom-aspect in Walls of Jericho but I heard the album without the bonus songs so I'm not all that fond of them even though I like 'em. But yeah the big picture is more important in this case than taking some parts with dated/stupid stuff and mocking them. This goes for WoJ. On keepers there are some songs so utterly stupid that I cannot ignore them anymore. That's why I like to make a playlist consisting only the best songs on both Keepers when I feel like listening to them.

  7. That they identified who is playing which solos is interesting to me. I think something similar was done on Blind Guardian's early records where Kai Hansen did some guest solos and singing. On the other hand, I recall reading an interview with Cliff Burton in which he mentioned the bass solo toward the end of "Orion" and that he doubted most people would even realize that it was a distorted bass and not just another guitar solo. As far as I can remember, there was no effort made in the album liner notes to identify who was playing what solo (I'd always assumed that any solo on any Metallica album ever was played by Kirk, and mostly, I think this is true). Indeed, before reading that interview, I hadn't noticed that it was a bass solo. So is this an example of a development in the attitude present in going from thrash to power metal?

  8. I hear you on the Keepers. Increasingly Christian bent on that stuff too. On Walls of Jericho the only salvation is to impose one's own freedom. The 'Keeper' suite on the other hand is all about some Christ-like figure saving us from woes. Bleh!

    I doubt MDMA are the kind of drugs that you could get in Germany in 1985, but hey, who knows. Perhaps Helloween saw pill-poppers in some movie only.

    Erenan, Helloween have said that they wanted to come off of as guitar heroes with Walls of Jericho (and boy, they were... still are, with any standard, really) which is why the liner notes say who is soloing at what time. Perhaps other Noise artists picked it up after Helloween, or Helloween picked it up from some 80's twin-axe-attack band. I'd love to know where this starts, historically. If anyone can drop the knowledge, go right ahead.

    Metallica would put who is soloing in the liner notes because yes, Hetfield doesn't take many solos (though there are some!). They are noted in Metallica guitar tabs as his solos, however!

    As a child I didn't even know what a bass guitar is or sounded like, much less that the intro to Orion is a bass guitar. My guitar teached informed me when I played him the song, however! Thanks mr. Rakopoulos! One of his many contributions in my life.

    I think it's not a power-metal-specific thing. I think it's a boasting-specific thing, across all metal genres that have a lot of flash. For example, Death used to have that infromation in their liner notes if memory serves. Chuck was really proud of his all-the-same-scale-same-intonation-same-everything solos, I guess! As much as he was a great riff-maker, his solos are intolerable sometimes.

    1. Erenan, Helm, in March 1985- Accept's Metal Heart rear album credits each guitar soloist and what model, brand guitar was played for solos and rhythm parts for each song. Perhaps that was an endorsement requirement?

      It precedes WoJ by a several months, has Teutonic flashing twin axe men. One, Wolf Hoffman echos several points mentioned in your text, Helm.

      Historically, I don't know the origin but perhaps marks a German coincidence.

    2. Great find. I do not know too much about Accept, never bought any of their records, so, huge blind spot.

  9. Death is a weird band any way. Big ambitions, some good results on paper but for some reason I rarely feel like listening to anything by them. And they were even the first Death Metal band that I got into I think.

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