Album: The Dark Ride
Label: Nuclear Blast
When autumn rolls around, there are a handful of albums that I start listening to with a great deal of nostalgia, largely thanks to this playlist, and one of them is The Dark Ride. I can’t remember which metal album I first fell in love with, but this was certainly one of them, and it was quite new when I was a blossoming metalhead. I just love this album. I discovered Helloween via “If I Could Fly” and “Mr. Torture”, which my brothers had put on our computer. While some people are big fans of Helloween’s earlier material, I’ve never much cared for the Kai Hansen -era of their music, as it doesn’t hit me the way this does. And, I believe that songs like “Time of the Oath” (The Time of the Oath, 1996) paved the way for this album, which in turn has paved the way for some of Helloween’s best sounds in later albums, like “Where the Sinners Go” (7 Sinners, 2010). I may be biased, as this was my first Helloween album and remains a very dear album to my heart, but I think this album is nearly perfect and that Helloween will likely never be able to top it.
[This review has been backdated from 2016]
Feel free to listen along:
01. Beyond the Portal
This is one of those intros that 100% sets the tone for the album, for the most part. I have always adored the eerie ‘abandoned carnival on Halloween’ vibe to this song, and it perfectly blends into “Mr. Torture” without requiring “Mr. Torture” to come next, which I love.
02. Mr. Torture
This is one of my first favorite metal songs ever, and I think to this day, maybe 15 years later, it is still one of my favorite metal songs. I love every second of this song, from the creeping intro to the chugging guitar parts, BDSM lyrics amazingly sung by Andi Deris, and overall really fun, heavy sound. The flow of this song and rather menacing way of portraying the subject matter make everything about this song perfect. Plus I had that added fun moment of realization when I one day learned what BDSM, and this song by association, were all about. The masterfully broken drum kicks in this song were one of the first and only drumming bits that I can ever recall thinking were cool, as someone who knows next to nothing about drumming. This, with the creeping intro part, as well as the other guitar riffs, mix together to create a feeling that is nothing short of perfect.
03. All Over the Nations
This is by far the low point of the album, thankfully showing up early, and I don’t say that because this song is bad per se, but rather that it is completely out of place in the context of the whole album. The fast-kick, perky energy, and choral chorus contrast significantly against the dark and heavy tones that the rest of the album is mainly comprised of. Unlike some of the other borderline cheery songs on this album, this song lacks the prominent heaviness completely. I might’ve enjoyed this track better if it had been on another more power metal -centric album, but as it stands, I can’t get into it because it totally throws off the flow of the album for me. To their credit though – very nice solos in this one.
04. Escalation 666
Why is Helloween considered a power metal band? I mean, with songs like this, I can hardly enjoy Helloween’s upbeat music, because it pales in comparison to their heavy material. I do understand the power metal label, but damn, this is just so good. That intro – dah-da, dah-da, dah-da, dah-da, dah-squeal! So good! On this album, there is what I call a trifecta of heavy songs: “Escalation 666”, “Mirror Mirror”, and “I Live for Your Pain”. This could likely include a few more songs, but there is something about these three songs that makes them feel like they belong with each other. It’s partly the feeling and ambience of them all, and perhaps to some degree the lyrical content, which creates a lot of the overall atmosphere on the album. We get a good view of how high-pitched vocals can still be used to create heavy sounds in the chorus here. Plus, when Deris goes raspy and low, I just like that.
05. Mirror Mirror
Heavy intro, ominous first verse, hard n’ heavy chorus… this song rides up and down on my favorites list from this album. Sometimes it’s just good, sometimes it’s really great. This is perhaps the heavier side of Helloween as the second song in my trifecta, even if it does have its contrasting parts (“no, my life is beautiful!”), and I can’t get enough of those deep, chugging rhythms. The chorus of this song is perhaps the heaviest of them all, and as you’ve now figured out, I like when Helloween gets gritty and dark.
06. If I Could Fly
If I complained about “All Over the Nations”, you might wonder why I don’t find “If I Could Fly” out of place on this album. Perhaps it works as the ‘token ballad’ on the album (ever notice how often albums slow down around track 6?), even though you can’t exactly call it a slow song. But I wouldn’t really call this a light and airy power metal song either. The lovely piano melody with the still-totally-heavy-metal-guitar pairing prevent this song from being too ‘happy’ for the album’s dark sound. Or, maybe I just love this song because I was a teenager who was feeling teenager-y things when I discovered this song, and yet it is still 100% relatable now that I’m 30. There might be a deeper meaning to this track, but I think the lyrics in the chorus have the potential to speak to literally anyone: “If I could fly / like a king of the sky / could not tumble nor fall / I would picture it all / if I could fly / see the world through my eyes / would not stumble nor fail / to the heavens I sail…”
This song is another iffy one for me. It’s almost as perky as “All Over the Nations” but doesn’t manage to be quite so… power metally. I mean it is – it still has the super duper power metal drumming and the deliciously cheesy choral chorus. I think it’s actually in Deris’ vocals; they’re not going full-force high-screams during the verses, which manages to keep this song from going too deep into the power metal pool to throw off the album again. It’s not my favorite, but it’s a pretty fun, energetic song.
08. The Departed (Sun is Going Down)
I’ve had a lot of “favorite songs” in my life, but this one was perhaps the longest-standing of them all, lasting from about 2002 through 2008 (when it was then dethroned by the discovery of “To Holmgard and Beyond” by Turisas). I love the lyrics, which largely seem to be about getting betrayed by your best friend, even though I admit that I had misheard them originally and for a handful of years thought the song was about a loyal friend. Don’t be too hard on me – this was before the internet was a big thing and there were legit lyrics to be found online. But that riff in the beginning with its echo and the keys in the background… it just feels so apocalyptic, like someone in a lull during a battle, who eventually is turned on by someone they trusted. The guitar solo is passionate and unique and Deris’ vocals are perfect. This song is the climax of a great story never written. This song is the summary of an amazing movie never seen. If you want to know why I will always have a special place in my heart for Helloween, just listen to this song.
09. I Live for Your Pain
Oh, that bass intro! Of the trifecta of heavy songs, this is the last on The Dark Ride. This is a song where Markus Grosskopf shows his skills and takes the spotlight. Surely, the guitarwork is great in this track, with yet another fantastic solo, but this song wouldn’t be what it is without that sweet, sweet bass. I feel as though this is just a very well-put-together song. Everything works, from the drum rolls to the backing vocals, to the sinister lyrics… just everything.
10. We Damn the Night
I feel like there’s another story in this song, albeit less of a dark one than some of the other themes in this song. What is it about this song that feels so dark even in this rather bright song? It could be the deep bass lines and the chugging guitars in the verses. Even the solo is quite bright-sounding, but I can’t shake the feeling that this song fits in with the dark themes. It feels like it’s in the right place on the album, following a particularly heavy song (perhaps breaking things up for fans of the lighter side of Helloween). As well, the song feels like a positive build-up, as though its on the way to a big climax. This song makes me excited to keep going.
I’ve gotten a bit of crap from my friends for liking this song so much. To be true, lyrically it is a little cheery/cheesy, and “tonight we are stars” sounds a bit like a line from one of those touchy-feely bullshit wannabe-deep coming-of-age dramedy films that are so popular these days (can you tell I’m not a fan?)… however, I like the epicness of this song. Just listen to that gentle guitar intro, the power in the build-up, and the grandness provided by the added keys. It feels less like cheesy bullshit to me and more like… high fantasy, which to be fair is its own type of bullshit, but one that I’m far more open to.
12. The Dark Ride
Two of my family members died when I was listening to this song. Somehow that feels very appropriate. I’ve always likened ‘the dark ride’ to death, and this very black-and-white, Halloween-y album with all its dark themes feels like it should be completed by a song about death.
First of all, the creepy carnival intro followed by the voice that makes it sound like you’re selling your soul (another potential metaphor for this song?), followed by the strong riffs and heavy bass and drumming just makes this song great. Deris’ vocals are at their best and I love the addition of the ‘dark voice’ now and then. This song has everything I want, from the powerful chorus to the great solo, over to the slowed-down C-part (if I’ve gotten that right) that turns around once more to the darkness and another solo. This is a perfect example of proper dramatic arcs in a song and is exactly the sort of epic finale that this album needed.
Overall, this album takes everything I like about power metal (which isn’t a whole lot, I confess), but adds enough unique heavy sound to make it something completely new and largely unheard-of (at least to me) outside of this band. It’s the thing that has connected me to Helloween for so many years, and it’s something that I can come back to over and over and never get sick of it. If it wasn’t for “All Over the Nations”, chances are that I would give this album a perfect score. As such, it gets 9.5/10 and a 5-star rating.
1. Beyond the Portal
2. Mr. Torture
3. All Over the Nations
4. Escalation 666
5. Mirror Mirror
6. If I Could Fly
8. The Departed (Sun is Going Down)
9. I Live for Your Pain
10. We Damn the Night
12. The Dark Ride