Martin Häusler

No Egos or Doubts for Helloween

Old friends and musical flames make up Helloween 2.0.

Michael Kiske had to mend old fences and create new friends in order to create a new and expanded Helloween lineup. First, the singer had to let go of decades of anger toward founding guitarist Michael Weikath. Next, he had to make sure that he would get along with current Helloween vocalist Andi Deris to ensure that the aural assault would work. Thankfully, each issue got a hearty thumbs up, he joined the group, and now the band now gets along famously.

Helloween also enlisted former and founding guitarist/singer Kai Hansen to stretch into a seven-piece. The group also includes long-time members Markus Grosskopf (bassist and co-founder), guitarist Sascha Gerstner, and drummer Daniel Loble. 

The newly configured Helloween re-introduced themselves to the world with “Pumpkins United,” a new song, and a world tour that focuses on the group’s legacy. They’re playing the fan favorites, too, including Hansen’s vocals on early tracks from Helloween’s debut, Walls of Jericho, and the Kiske years (1986-1993), which include the beloved Keeper of the Seven Keys: Part I, and the follow-up, Part II. Deris has been with the band since 1994 and sang on latter-day hits Master of the Rings and Keeper of the Seven Keys: The Legacy.

During his post-Helloween time, Kiske produced a number of solo albums, appeared on a series of Avantasia discs, and fronted Place Vendome and Unisonic (the latter of which also included Hansen). It was in 2021 that he and the new roster released their first self-titled studio album. Helloween is now supporting that release for the first time in America, and they play Terminal 5 in New York on May 20 with special guests Hammerfall. 

Speaking of said LP, it shines with essential Helloween ingredients: soaring vocals, harmonious guitar work, sensational solos, and a fluid rhythm section. Album opener “Out for Glory,” in which Kiske takes the sole vocal, comes out swinging with his powerful, melodic voice not missing a step from his previous Helloween tenure. He also is a tour-de-force on “Angels.”

The remainder of the album – vocally speaking – features both Deris on his own and Kiske/Deris duets that see the two melding seamlessly with both back-and-forth vocals and harmony work. Hansen jumps in on epic closer “Skyfall” for a marvelous triumvirate on the mic. Loble and Grosskopf impress throughout, as well, but most notably on “Rise Without Chains.”

All is well in the world of Helloween. A house of “Pumpkins United” is a sight and sound to behold, so we wish a happy Helloween to all, but most importantly Michael Kiske, who we recently spoke to.

When the concept of Pumpkins United was floated, did you have to think about it or did you agree in a split second? 

I was running into Michael around 2015. I was on tour with Avantasia and we played at a festival and Helloween played there, too, and they had the dressing room next to ours. He stood in front of me and he said, “Michael, what have I done that you can’t forgive me?” I was thinking a little bit and then noticed there was no anger any more. That was 23 years ago. I told him, “I think I forgave you a long time ago.” I believe that is when it started to change. I had all that piled up anger and disappointment that comes with a situation like that over the years, but down the line things change. 

There was still no thinking in my head to do something like Pumpkins United. A year later we played with Unisonic in Spain. We did some great shows with Unisonic there. After one of the shows, Kai Hansen was there backstage and said to me, “You know Michael, we’ve got to do something again with Helloween before it’s too late.” And I said, “You know what? I’m open to it.” I had meetings with Weikath. We talked a lot, and in addition, I had to get to know Andi, because if we didn’t get along it would never work. I spent about two weeks with him. Almost every day we were talking and talking and it was almost like I really felt like I knew him like an old buddy. He felt the same and it was working perfectly. 

Was there talk of doing an album from the start?  

At first you just don’t know. We didn’t plan too far and we did a lot of pre-checking before we started this. It was a year-and-a-half of preparation and everybody getting to know each other again before we announced it.  We didn’t know how it would go down in terms of touring, but then it went down well. It was really amazing. We all got a lot from it energy wise and there was a lot of excitement. Since everything went down really well that’s when we thought, “Why not make an album and see where that leads us?” Now we’re pretty keen on continuing this as long as we can. It just feels right.

How does it work? Do you bring a part of a song or does everyone work together? And how do you determine which singer takes the lead on which songs? 

Pretty much all of the main songwriters in the band pretty much know what they’re doing so when they have an idea it’s usually worked out pretty much completely when it comes to the basic arrangement. It will still be the case that the drummer has to make his own drum arrangement and the guitarists will have their ideas. The singers will sort their own thing out of each song. That’s what makes a band. Sometimes someone is not particularly happy with a certain part of what they wrote. Sometimes someone else jumps in. That happens! But most of the time when the songs are offered to the band they’re quite complete. For singing roles, there’s no ego at all. It’s just about the songs and figuring out what works out best and I hope it continues that way. I have no reason to doubt it. 

How eager are you to play songs from the new album here for the first time?

It is especially exciting playing songs off the album in the US. We were hoping we could actually do the tour here. Getting into the country is a pain in the ass. It’s ridiculous what they want you to provide them with to say, “Yes, you’re allowed to come here.” Every year it gets worse and this year, for the first time ever, they even wanted to see gold records, they wanted to see chart positions, and they wanted to see if we were even worth it. That’s America. As soon as you’re in the country everything’s different. It’s great. I always love being in America – I’ve been there touring from my teenage years on. The average American is beautiful, good-hearted. It’s always the leaders that cause the problems.