Concert-goers round the world are familiar with the sense of disappointment in going to a concert where the openers can’t begin to keep up with the headliner. What makes the Hellish Rock tour so great is that it combines the awesome power metal styles of Helloween and Gamma Ray, the latter being a band comprised of one of Helloween’s former guitarists (and in the past, one of their ex-drummers as well). The Hellish Rock Tour first came through Finland back in 2007, and was a big hit with lovers of Helloween and Gamma Ray alike. There isn’t a more perfect combination of bands to play a gig together, so naturally, fans were thrilled to find out that there was going to be Hellish Rock Part II traversing the world once more. It stopped in at The Circus in Helsinki on March 29th, 2013.
Gamma Ray was first on the menu, as always. The appropriately titled track, “Welcome,” introduced them to the stage and they kicked off the show with “Anywhere in the Galaxy,” from their 1999 release, Power Plant. They had that very old-school power metal vibe about them, from the sound right up to the visuals.
Vocalist/guitarist Kai Hansen’s leather coat and cool but fun composure was reminiscent of Tobias Sammet from Edguy, another legend in the world of power metal. Hansen is a generally happy-looking, wonderful frontman. He is full of smiles and good energy, keeping that perfect balance between vocals and guitarwork. He also has a fantastically diverse voice, ranging from the sweet lows right up to some Halford-esque wails.
Admittedly, their setlist could’ve been better. They dropped some of their best standard tracks for some songs off their upcoming album, Empire of the Undead, which is due to be released in 2014, including the title track and another called “Master of Confusion.” The latter of the two had a bit of a familiar sound, going back to the Power Plant days of “Send Me a Sign.” Unfortunately, some of the newer songs weren’t quite up to par with the band’s classic material, so the set wasn’t as good as it might’ve been if they had stuck with the more familiar tracks.
Nevertheless, they had a fairly solid span with their set. Though it doesn’t seem to be one of their all-time regular tracks, “The Spirit” seemed to bring out the voice of the crowd, with all the big Gamma Ray fans singing along. Hansen also explained the background of the song, “Empire of the Undead”: dying sucks, especially if you’re a sinner and will certainly be going to hell… so you might as well get bitten by a vampire and live forever! And during “Dethrone Tyranny,” every fist in the house seemed to be in the air. The drummer was pulling out all stops with the showmanship, with perfectly executed stick spins and the works. Hansen couldn’t keep the smile off his face when the crowd chanted “Gamma Ray” between songs.
The band wasn’t big on movement; for the most part, they each had their own place on stage. If you were standing at the left side of the venue, there was a good chance that you didn’t lay eyes on guitarist Henjo Richter through the entire show due to the massive crowd. The live presentation didn’t suffer from it, however, and the horde of dedicated fans ate up every second. Little interjections, like a hint of “Hall of the Mountain King,” and some tasty guitar solos kept things alive. They even covered Helloween’s “Future World,” which was written by Hansen back when he was a part of Helloween.
They ended their part of the show with “To the Metal,” stating that heavy metal unites us all. The crowd was one unified voice crying out, “hail to the metal,” in the chorus. Their whole set was fairly short, only ten songs, but they were called back nevertheless for an encore. They joked around, with some Elvis-style singing, before playing the ever-popular “Send Me a Sign.”
It’s awesome to see a venue already packed full when the opener is starting. When Gamma Ray started up, the venue was crammed full from the front barricade right up to the balconies. There was a bit of shifting after they finished – the fans who were more excited about Gamma Ray moved to the back, while the die-hard Helloween lovers made their way up to the front to take their place. The backdrop was switched over, revealing Helloween’s pumpkin on the logo, who now sports a gasmask. It seemed like a pretty painless shift between bands on stage, and “Walls of Jericho” played in the background as Helloween hit the stage.
With an album released in early January, Helloween pumped a lot of new material into the show. They started out with an old favorite, “Eagle Fly Free,” but followed that up with “Nabataea,” the first track off their latest, which combines a lot of Helloween’s best techniques into one epic track. “Straight Out of Hell,” “Burning Sun,” “Waiting for the Thunder,” “Live Now!,” and “Hold Me in Your Arms” were also heard from the latest album.
Considering all the new tracks on the set, they had to be pretty selective of which classics to play, and that might’ve been the one downside to the show. Of course, it’s tough to pick tracks, since you can’t please everyone. If “I Could Fly” is an old favorite, but anyone who has seen Helloween more than once has probably heard it live. “I’m Alive” is another old track that could’ve perhaps been changed up for something different, and “Hell Was Made in Heaven” was an interesting choice, from one of their lesser-outstanding albums, Rabbit Don’t Come Easy. “Where the Sinners Go” was a solid choice though, and the bass was so heavy that you could feel your whole body shaking.
Visually, they were a bit more dynamic on stage than Gamma Ray had been, with more movement between members. Bassist Markus Grosskopf wasn’t afraid to goof off and stick out his tongue while rocking out, and guitarist Michael Weikath is clearly not afraid of leather pants. Vocalist Andi Deris has, as always, a beautifully unique voice that delves into a deep area that can be hard to find in power metal, where high-pitched vocals are key. Without a guitar, like Hansen, he also had more freedom to gesture and interact with the crowd. The other guitarist, Sascha Gerstner, had a double-mic stand, and made special use of it during a track where he played acoustically. His showmanship came out mainly during his opportunities for solos within the songs though, playing with the guitar over his head during “If I Could Fly.”
Though drummer Daniel Löble isn’t exactly new to the band (joining in 2005), he still showed the enthusiasm of a “young” member, really giving it his all. An intro involving airplane noises and other such assorted sounds opened up to a drum solo – he was the only one in the band to have their own solo song in the show. He pulled off some impressive double-kick throughout the entire gig and managed to rattle many eardrums with his sound.
After they finished up with “Power,” they were called back for an encore, with “Are You Metal” and “Dr. Stein,” another old favorite. Deris always switches up his style a bit, bringing out a top-hat just for the fun of it.
The main highlight to the Hellish Rock Tour is not in the first encore, however, but in the second. The advantage to having bands who know each other’s material comes into full play here when the crowd calls them back a second time, and Helloween comes out to play a medley of “Halloween,” “How Many Tears,” and “Heavy Metal (Is the Law)” with Kai Hansen accompanying them. It only gets better in the second track, when the entirety of Gamma Ray comes on stage to have both bands perform “I Want Out.”
All-in-all, this tour is a do-not-miss for fans of German power metal. You get two bands with very similar styles, yet enough diversity to keep it from being boring. Even if the setlists for both bands weren’t as good as they might’ve been, the unbeatable combination of the two of them playing together in the end alone is worth it. If some countries reign supreme over certain styles of metal, it goes without question to say that Germany is the supreme land of power metal, and this is a show you don’t want to miss out on.
Gamma Ray Setlist:
1. Welcome (intro)
2. Anywhere in the Galaxy
3. Men, Martians, and Machines
4. The Spirit
5. Dethrone Tyranny
6. Master of Confusion
7. Empire of the Undead
10. Future World (Helloween cover)
11. To the Metal
12. Sent Me a Sign
1. Walls of Jericho (intro)
2. Eagle Fly Free
4. Straight Out of Hell
5. Where the Sinners Go
6. Waiting for the Thunder
7. Burning Sun
8. Drum Solo
9. I’m Alive
10. Live Now!
11. Hold Me in Your Arms
12. If I Could Fly
13. Hell Was Made in Heaven
15. Are You Metal?
16. Dr. Stein
17. Halloween/How Many Tears/Heavy Metal (Is the Law), ft. Kai Hansen of Gamma Ray
18. I Want Out, ft. Gamma Ray
Outro: A Tale That Wasn’t Right (unarmed version)