HELLOWEEN – Tearing Down The Walls
Metal Forces, Issue 16 (1986)
While America is still very much at the forefront of pushing homegrown heavy metal through new barriers in the 80s, there can be little doubt that the European challenge is being spearheaded by the Germans. Scorpions of course are already up there with the giants of metal, while Accept and, more recently, Warlock are competing commendably on a commercial level with their US counterparts. But it’s on the vast underground metal scene that the Germans are making their presence felt the most. Grave Digger, Destruction, Iron Angel, Running Wild and Living Death are just a few of the bands that are becoming favourites of the underground hordes in a scene which at present is completely dominated by speed / thrash / death metal.
Now while Helloween themselves strongly object to being labelled a speed metal band, the Hamburg based four-piece have built up a huge following on the underground with their vinyl offerings to date, and in my opinion have the potential to make it big on an international level; a view that is shared by many.
The foundations for Helloween were first laid by guitarists Kai Hansen and Piet Sielck in 1978 when they formed a band called Gentry. At that time the band were playing Black Sabbath and Uriah Heep covers, but soon started to write their own material.
The band have had numerous line-up and name changes, but it was while under the moniker of Iron Fist in 1982 when founding member Piet Sielck was replaced by Michael Weikath that the present Helloween line-up of Hansen (vocals / guitar), Weikath (guitar), Markus Grosskopf (bass) and Ingo Schwichtenberg (drums) finally came together.
Having changed their name to Helloween, the band were invited to appear on Noise Records’ Death Metal compilation in 1984 along with Running Wild, Hellhammer and Dark Avenger. The two Helloween offerings to Death Metal – ‘Oernst Of Life’ and ‘Metal Invaders’ – were just a taster of what was to come. The
Helloween mini-album was well received in all quarters, but it’s their recent Walls Of Jericho (1985) album that’s really set the metal world talking, with rave reviews from the metal press and glowing compliments from fellow musicians. In fact, even Mötley Crüe’s Mick Mars was making favourable remarks about Helloween to our own Dave Reynolds recently in London.
So with this current buzz surrounding Helloween, now seems a good idea as any to get the views of guitarist Michael Weikath in this long overdue feature on the band.
Okay Michael, we’ve had the history lesson but how did you eventually arrive at the name Helloween? “We didn’t want to carry on using Iron Fist because Motörhead had brought an album out with that title and we didn’t want to have any connections with them, even though we had the name Iron Fist long before Motörhead released that album. So we were searching for a few months for a new name without success, then Ingo went to the cinema and saw a film called Halloween (1978) and suggested we call ourselves by that name. Well, we thought that it was a good name but we didn’t want to name ourselves after a film, so we replaced the ‘a’ with an ‘e’ and called ourselves Helloween.”
Have you played many live shows recently? “We’ve just played six shows with Grave Digger and five with Faithful Breath and will soon be starting a German tour with Celtic Frost and Grave Digger.”
Have you played outside Germany? “No, not yet.”
But there are plans for you to tour America, isn’t there? “Yes there is, but I think we may get a new singer first, because over there on a long tour we might have problems with Kai’s singing. As you know, the music we play is very complex and sometimes for Kai to sing and play at the same time is very difficult for him.”
Have you started auditioning for a new singer? “Yes we have, but we’re having problems in finding anyone good who can suit our style of music. What we want is somebody who’s similar to Bruce Dickinson or Geoff Tate.”
On the album track ‘Gorgar’ you have that short ‘Peter And The Wolf’ jig. Why did you include that? “‘Gorgar’ is an old Iron Fist song and it was originally written like that for live performances, but we left it in when we recorded it because we wanted to add a touch of humour to the album.”
When I’ve reviewed your records in the past, I’ve often mentioned the slight Iron Maiden comparisons. Would you agree with that comment? “No, not at all! Kai and myself have been playing for nearly 13 years and I don’t know how long Iron Maiden or say Metallica have been playing, but these and other top bands of today are not my idols. I like these bands, but I’m not influenced by them at all. I mean, our track ‘Phantoms Of Death’ was written even before Iron Maiden were on the scene. The people I respect and have been influenced by are Ritchie Blackmore, Michael Schenker, Ted Nugent, Uli Roth and Jimi Hendrix. My influences are much more earlier than Maiden.”
You have this figure Fang Face that has appeared on both Helloween album covers, which again could be compared to Maiden and their famous Eddie character? “Yes, Fang Face is a mask that Piet Sielck brought back from the States and Kai liked it and wanted to use it. So now Fang Face represents Helloween, and we have him doing things that we would want to do as you can see on the cover of Walls Of Jericho. The ‘Walls Of Jericho’ are all babbitts, boasters, poppers and the people in this world who are like a wall for us, and we would like to break this wall down.”
So do you plan to carry the Fang Face theme through to future album covers? “We don’t know. If we get too famous I don’t think we will use him so much because, like you said, a lot of people have compared him to Iron Maiden’s Eddie and we don’t need him that much.”
What’s your impression of the German metal scene at the moment? There seems to be a lot of talented bands coming out of Germany now. “I was very impressed when I saw bands like Faithful Breath and Grave Digger, because before I thought that these were bands who were made out to be better than what they really were. But after I’d seen them play I had to recognise that they are very good musicians and their musical qualities are very good too. However, last year I think it was too easy for a lot of young bands who didn’t have this musical quality to get record deals. But this year I hope it will be harder, because there are so many heavy bands now that I think quality should play a more important part in getting a record deal.”
You are going to record a video soon, aren’t you? “Well, we were going to make a proper video of ‘Guardians’ for MTV to show in the States, but it was too expensive, seeing as we’ve had no previous experience of making videos. So instead I think we may shoot a live video on our tour, although personally I prefer the original idea.”
Have you set a goal for the band? “Yes, with Helloween we are looking for quality and I’d like to see if a German heavy metal band like us can be successful and produce quality records for over ten years without going commercial like Scorpions or Accept. It is very important to us that we don’t shit on our fans and sell out like that.”
Well, success seems just around the corner for Helloween, and those last comments from Michael will be very reassuring for their ever growing army of fans. “Speed metal with class” is how I would term the band’s music – sorry Michael but Helloween are still a speed metal band in my book – and if they can keep producing quality material like they have done to date then in the European field Helloween will certainly be in a class of their own very soon.
Interview taken from Metal Forces, Issue 16 (1986)
Related Posts via Categories