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Helloween: Keeper of the Seven Keys, Part II - Album Of The Week Club review

Described as a "perfect album" by no less an authority than Chris Jericho, Helloween's Keeper Of The Seven Keys, Part II, has a lot to answer for

Helloween: Keeper of the Seven Keys, Part II cover art
(Image: © Noise Records)
Helloween: Keeper of the Seven Keys, Part II

Helloween: Keeper of the Seven Keys, Part II cover art

(Image credit: Noise Recxords)

Invitation
Eagle Fly Free
You Always Walk Alone
Rise and Fall
Dr. Stein
We Got the Right
March of Time
I Want Out
Keeper of the Seven Keys

Very few tunes anticipate the sound of an entire subgenre as powerfully as Eagle Fly Free, the first song on Helloween's game-changing third album. For years after its release, musicians the world over were frantically trying to replicate its magic ingredients. 

There were the heroic, nut-squeezing pipes of self-trained vocal dynamo Michael Kiske; Kai Hansen and Michael Weikath’s intricate, high-energy twin-guitar leads; lush symphonic backing; Ingo Schwichtenberg’s explosive percussive momentum; and lyrics about birds of prey in flight. It started here. 

“People ask, ‘What exactly is a perfect album?’", WWE superstar wrestler Chris Jericho told Metal Hammer. "For me, the definition is that every song has to be an A- or better. If every song checks that box, it’s a perfect album. And Keeper Of The Seven Keys – Part II is that for me.

"They created the whole genre of music that’s now known as power metal. But when they first started there was no power metal. Metallica had the speed and Iron Maiden had the harmony guitars, but Helloween put it together – you had the massive double bass beat with these crazy, intricate harmonies."

Every week, Album of the Week Club listens to and discusses the album in question, votes on how good it is, and publishes our findings, with the aim of giving people reliable reviews and the wider rock community the chance to contribute. 

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Other albums released in August 1988

  • Chimes of Freedom - Bruce Springsteen
  • Punishment for Decadence - Coroner
  • Don't Be Afraid of the Dark - Robert Cray
  • Dragon's Kiss - Marty Friedman
  • What Good Is Grief to a God? - D.I.
  • Out Of This World - Europe
  • Winger - Winger
  • Leprosy - Death
  • Homesick Heroes - Charlie Daniels
  • Soul Searchin' - Glenn Frey
  • The Eight Legged Groove Machine - The Wonder Stuff
  • Dangerous Age - Bad Company
  • Nothing's Shocking - Jane's Addiction
  • Two Nuns and a Pack Mule - Rapeman
  • Danzig - Danzig
  • Other Roads - Boz Scaggs
  • Slow Turning - John Hiatt
  • Interior Design - Sparks
  • Viva Santana! - Santana

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What they said...

"Having established an immensely influential blueprint with Keeper of the Seven Keys, Part 1, Helloween released the obviously titled follow-up, Keeper of the Seven Keys, Part 2, a year later. But it seemed that Helloween's heretofore leader, guitarist Kai Hansen, had lost interest in his own band, and the result was a terribly inconsistent album." (AllMusic)

"With its resolutely positive atmosphere, serious themes approached with humor and an exceptional vocal performance, we have here an opus that is without fault. Despite a production that still lacks some depth, Keeper Of The Seven Keys, Part II remains an absolute must-have album for any fan of heavy metal with a speed tendency." (Music Waves)

"While Part 1 abandoned the band’s speed metal energy and aggression in favour of complete melody, this album brings back the intense speed of the debut while retaining extremely melodic and uplifting songwriting, resulting in a concrete example of fully formed power metal... incredibly diverse, both in terms of themes and songwriting, with incredibly poppy numbers sitting between hyper speedy power assaults." (Metal Music Archives)

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What you said...

John Davidson: Struggling a bit with this one to be honest. It's got plenty going for it but for some reason the ingredients don't seem to quite gel. It's not got the hairy-arsed charm of Iron Maiden, nor the sophistication of Queensryche. It seems to be stuck in between Dio/Judas Priest fantasy metal and prog metal.

I Want Out is a decent enough slice of radio-friendly rock. Keeper Of The Seven Keys comes close, but the drumming lets the song (and to a some extent the album) down a bit. After my initial listens I wan't convinced by Kiske's voice but having listened to the songs a bit more (and some others as suggested ) I have warmed to it. 

I'm not huge fan of Power Metal in general which doesn't help Helloween hit the spot for me. I'd still score it as a 7/10 though because the individual elements are generally good its the songwriting overall that pegs it back for me.

Mike Canoe: Like the first two Ozzy solo albums (or the first two Dio-era Sabbath albums), Helloween's first two Keeper albums are two of a kind, destined to be locked in an endless battle for aural supremacy over the other. I suppose you could like them both equally but where's the fun in that?

For me, the difference between the two Keeper albums comes down to the two primary songwriters for each. Guitarist Kai Hansen wrote the majority of the songs on Keeper, Part 1, while guitarist Michael Weikath did the same on Keeper, Part 2. And, for me, it's the difference between an excellent album and a good one.

Hansen's songs tend to be deliriously overstuffed with technical razzle-dazzle and sonic wizardry, like the doomsday scenario Save Us, a bonus track on the original U.S. version, which starts with military chatter and roaring engines and only gets bigger and louder from there. The song's coda is one of the best minutes in metal; Kiske howling as the band chants "SAVE US!," while guitars streak by like missiles and the rhythm section rumbles like falling buildings. Elsewhere, Hansen stacks March Of Time" full of tempo changes and choral flourishes while I Want Out proves he could obviously write a straightforward hit.

The "Sturm und Drang'' that gels so easily on the Hansen songs feels more forced on the ones by Weikath, especially on the title track which strives mightily to be epic but just ends up long. Singer Kiske seems to struggle with the unwieldiness of it all, a feeling I never got from their previous epic, Halloween. I like Weikath's writing better on the lighter tracks like Dr. Stein and Rise And Fall and they seem to suit Kiske better as well.

Helloween is another band that was easy for me to like - at least with Michael Kiske on the mic and Kai Hansen as the primary songwriter. Kiske's soaring voice combined with the band's Iron Maiden gallop on steroids was a great combination.

I'll have to check out this year's self-titled album with the seven-man lineup that brings Kiske and Hansen back into the fold. The return of the prodigals - sounds like a great title for a Helloween song.

Greg Schwepe: Helloween… Hell Jah! Another great selection and one I can add to my growing “How Did I Not Know About This?” list of albums and bands!

So, a few years ago on VH1 Classic there was a series about the origins of Heavy Metal. Each episode was a different genre and began with a graphic that contained a “flowchart” of the bands to be covered in that episode. The flowchart showed the influences of the bands and where they evolved from. One episode covered power metal, and Helloween was one of the bands covered. Found out about them and the whole Wacken festival and the fun fanaticism of the fans. Count me in now.

And let me just say, this is cool, fun stuff that I like. This covers all the metal styles I am into, all melded into one. Shreddy Yngie-ish guitar… check. Operatic Halford-ish vocals…check. Melodic background vocals, think that angelic “ahhhhhhh!” sound…check. Fantasy inspired lyrics that aren’t too geeky… check! Sing along choruses…check. Just enough 1000 BPM double kick drums, but not too much… check.

Basically, there was not a song on the album that I didn’t like. I loved the little nod to the Beatles at the end of Dr. Stein, where the band borrowed that same piano note heard at the end of A Day In The Life. And the 13 minute 37 second Keeper Of The Seven Keys title track was worth every minute.

To be honest, I didn’t even listen to the entire album for my review, I was about two and a half songs from the end when my treadmill run was done. But it didn’t matter, because by about halfway into the album I was sold and already searching the rest of their catalogue in Spotify. “Man…what can I listen to next? Must find more!”

9 out of 10 rating and am looking forward to checking out the rest of Helloween’s catalogue.

Andrew Cumming: Hadn’t listened to this for years. Helloween were a massive deal in the late 80s, but in my opinion this hasn’t aged too well. It’s quite gimmicky (example Dr Stein) where Part I felt like it was a genuine contender. Great challenge but a no for me.

Brian Carr: Back in the early 90s, my best friend joined the Marines. Before he left, he gifted me quite a few items from his cassette collection. If I remember correctly, one of them was this week’s Album, Helloween’s Keeper Of The Seven Keys, Part II.

For some reason, probably because his tastes ran a little heavier than mine, I didn’t listen to it much (or at all?). After a single pass through the album this week, I may have been missing out. Though one spin wasn’t enough to allow the songs to grab me, the performances were skilled enough to make me want to listen again. The vocals are metal, but not unmelodic shouting - at least a couple of songs reminded me of Geoff Tate, which for me was a good thing. I rated it a seven, but based on what I heard, more time could move it higher.

Alex Hayes: Man, 1988 rocked. This was a great time to be an aspiring metalhead just turning 14 years old. I may have fucking hated school overall, but the soundtrack to those years was awesome. We had rock and metal albums seeping out of every orifice that year. Were they all instant classics? Of course not, but many of them were still pretty damn good for the time.

As well as landmark albums like Seventh Son Of A Seventh Son and Operation: Mindcrime, we got new releases from all of thrash metal's 'Big Four' (plus The New Order from Testament). On the more commercial side of the spectrum we got stuff like New Jersey, OU812, Skyscraper and Long Cold Winter. Out Of The Silent Planet was released in '88, as was Odyssey (not a big Malmsteen fan really but, God, I love that record). We got one of the defining Magnum albums that year in Wings Of Heaven. I'm merely scratching the surface there. It would honestly be quicker to name the bands that didn't bless us with new music that year.

And in the middle of that, we also got Keeper Of The Seven Keys Part II from Helloween, literally a genre-defining piece of work. When it comes to the Keys albums, to be honest, we could just as easily be talking about the first part of the trilogy, released just the year before. I consider Keys Part I to be every bit the equal of Part II and, combined, they probably represent Helloween's artistic peak. This is coming from someone that greatly enjoys a lot of their later work too.

Something that needs to be pointed out about the first two Keys albums is that they are less conceptual than they first appear. Whilst it's true that there are certain lyrical themes that run through many of the songs ('follow the sign...'), if a novice was going off just the titles and artwork, it would be easy for them to come to the conclusion that we're dealing with full-blown concept albums here, and we really aren't. In fact, on tracks like Rise And Fall and Dr. Stein, we are starting to see Helloween's infamous 'madcap' humour manifest itself.

I only repurchased Keys Part II on CD a few months ago. My very first copy was on vinyl. I love the album, and it's predecessor. They pretty much wrote the rulebook for an entire genre of music, power metal. Given the sudden departure of guitarist/vocalist Kai Hansen, and Helloween's subsequent implosion (1993's Chameleon is really hard work in places), the band's 90s resurrection with Andi Deris was nothing short of miraculous. Many bands would have been killed off by such a sudden downturn in fortunes, but albums like Master Of The Rings (1994) and The Time Of The Oath (1996) were terrific and well worth a persons time.

Keeper Of The Seven Keys Part II is a power metal classic. Stand out tracks include Eagle Fly Free, the aforementioned Dr. Stein (really good fun), I Want Out, March Of Time and the album's sprawling title track. It might not be for everyone, but this hits all the right nostalgia buttons for me and is deeply cherished music.

Oh, and I've always got a kick out of the band's pumpkin-based logos and imagery. Really cool stuff. 9/10

Dustin Haralson: My familiarity with Helloween starts and stops with the video for I Want Out from Headbangers Ball in the 80s. That being said I am listening to this album now and enjoying it very much.

Uli Hassinger: Let's go back to the start. I was into Helloween from the start. I bought their first EP just after it was released. Their first full length record Walls Of Jericho on the day it was released. In 1984/1985 both records were a blast. After Metallica and Slayer stirred up the hard rock scene Helloween was the next hot stuff. Their EP and first record were fast, fierce, dark. That changed with Keeper Of The Seven Keys, Part I and becomes more melodic without losing the power and the speed. That's what makes this record such influential and groundbreaking. It has influenced countless metal groups since then, with Hammerfall and Stratovarius in first place.

When this record came out it was the end of my worship of the band. Especially the hits Eagle Fly Free and Dr Stein, which were frequently broadcast on MTV, and were a betrayal of metal music to me. Shallow, exchangeable and obviously targeting the charts. It appeared to me as they brought this record out with the attention to make a killing.

Growing older I didn't judge the record that harshly anymore. The epic title song alone is worth listening to the record. It's like a medley of several songs and simply a masterpiece. I Want Out and Rise And Fall are great power metal tunes too. The other songs doesn't knock me out but I can endure them now.

Because of the aforementioned great songs it's a 7/10.

Paul Hutchings: For me it was Keeper Of The Seven Keys, Part I that sealed the deal with Helloween. The raw speed metal of Walls of Jericho had been replaced by a more polished style. Part II doesn't have as dark a feel for me and tracks like Rise And Fall and Dr Stein were throwaway pop songs. This was the album that really was the breakthrough album for the band though. They fell off my radar after this, and it was only in the last few years including this year's phenomenal self titled release that they are back on it. Probably an 8.

I was always a little bit disappointed with Keeper Of The Seven Keys, Part II as I don't think it was as good as either the thrash/speed metal classics that were the Helloween EP or Walls of Jericho, or Keeper Part 1, which while a step away in direction from their early works, was still dark and aggressive.

I really like Keeper Of The Seven Keys, Part II, and it does have some great moments, but the likes of Rise And Fall, while good fun, is a bit throwaway and the title track does sound dragged out just so they had something to rival Halloween from Part I, and it isn't as good.

Keeper Of The Seven Keys, Part II doesn't sit in my top five Helloween albums as I prefer all that came before and a good few that followed, but there is no denying it's influence on the (often cheese-drenched) world of power metal. 8/10

Jonathan Kotz: I don't know that I can speak to this being the greatest power metal album of all time but what I can say is this. Helloween's Walls Of Jericho and the two Keeper Of The Seven Keys albums established power metal as a thing and the spectrum of influence of those three works is immeasurable. When I listen to any of those three albums it takes me back in time in a good way. 

So often we revisit things from our youth and it is a let down and while the songs are certainly a "sign of the times" the speed of the guitars, the opera vocal stylings, and the concept themes are just outstanding and always get my head a banging. Lastly, Mike Kiske's vocal range is just stupendous. I don't feel that Kiske ever got the notoriety that say a Halford, Tate, or King Diamond got and what's more amazing is that he still has those pipes and that range. This album is a 10 for me.

Marco LG: This is the second album in a trilogy that changed the world of heavy metal for good, gave rise to a whole new genre and established mainland Europe as a cluster of awesome bands. It is virtually impossible to overstate its impact, and the lasting impression it made on me as a 14-year-old kid.

Nowadays power metal is often frowned upon and dismissed as a joke, and it is fair to say the stereotype is based on the reality of way too many bands either taking themselves too seriously or playing too much on the parody. Keeper Of The Seven Keys Part II is where the joke began, but the brilliance of this album rests in the careful balance between the humour and the music. 

Helloween never tried to replicate Manowar's smugness or make fun of it, they never over-indulged in fantasy literature imagery, but always walked a fine line that could have easily produced any of that. It's impossible to listen to Dr. Stein without a grin, and it is impossible to watch the video of I Want Out without laughing at how goofy the whole band looks. At the same time the sheer brilliance of Eagle Fly Free, with that incredible intro, Rise And Fall and We Got the Right elevate this album well above the label of 'happy metal' which so often is associated with the band.

The original intention was to publish a double album, but Noise opted for two separate releases. This led to tensions within the band, most likely because both Michael Weikath and Kai Hansen had enough material to fill two double albums between them. The story goes that I Want Out was written by Kai Hansen in very literal terms, and in fact within a year he was effectively out of the band, and released an album that is considered by most the third instalment of the trilogy, the debut by Gamma Ray, Heading for Tomorrow.

Despite having been my introduction to Helloween, and the beginning of my everlasting love for power metal, Part II is not my favourite instalment of the trilogy. I think Heading For Tomorrow is a much more accomplished effort. In fact, the first three albums by Gamma Ray expanded the musical direction of the two Keeper Of The Seven Keys in a much more coherent way than the two successive efforts by Helloween, which culminated in the brilliant but totally incoherent Chameleon. By 1994 however both bands settled on a formula much closer to those two initial albums, and even though both released a few further great efforts, both lost the edge in terms of progression and innovation.

The self titled album released this year is an attempt at rekindling the original spirit. Hansen is back, and so is the original power metal singer Michael Kiske. I won't lie, it is the album I listened to the most in 2021, and will probably remain in my listening queue for quite a while still. But I am a fan, and it is an album created for the fans. The echoes of previous efforts by both Helloween and Gamma Ray are too strong to be ignored (heck, at the end of Skyfall Hansen even sings a few lines from the Gamma Ray song Somewhere Out in Space!).

In conclusion: Keeper of the Seven Keys, Part II is a great album, with an almighty legacy. It is possibly a tad inconsistent, and suffers in the comparison with both part I and the third item in the trilogy, Heading For Tomorrow by Gamma Ray. But it remains to this day the touchstone for any power metal release, and deserves a very high score for that.

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Final Score: 7.44 (89 votes cast, with a total score of 663)

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