HELLOWEEN’ S Michael Weikath – guitarist, songwriter and founding member of one of the most influential European Power Metal Bands, dating back to 1985. Helloween has set the standard for this genre of Heavy Metal, while exemplifying longevity and industry durability also breeds consistent quality albums. Since 1985, many changes have taken place in the world of Heavy Metal, major bands that once filled arenas are now filling clubs and musicians can now download and upload musical arrangements on a laptop. Throw in the fact, that a select group of Helloween songs have become rearranged, with the enormous help from the 70 Piece Prague Philharmonic Orchestra and The London Choir.
Helloween has reached a Heavy Metal milestone, celebrating their quarter century as a major player and mighty influence on the European Power Metal stage. Thus, saluting their catalog of albums with the release of “Unarmed – Best Of 25th Anniversary”. Michael Weikath or Weiki as he likes to be called, proved to be quite an intriguing conversationalist, with an admirable straight forwardness about him that this writer found most appealing. Weiki took the time recently to discuss with Hard Rock Hideout the aforementioned, plus added some interesting thoughts along the way. Here is what Weiki had to say:
HRH: How are you doing Weiki?
Weiki: I’m doing well! I’m looking up the Veronica’s right now and buying music on the internet. The Veronica’s are twins, they are really good! I like their music a lot. Do you listen to them?
HRH: I can’t say that I do, Weiki. I’ve heard of them though.
Weiki: You should definitely give them a try.
HRH: What other bands are you currently listening to?
Weiki: I’m a big fan of Chris Cornell. Nirvana, you know, I hated their music when it first came out, now, it’s good and not so bad. I’m a fan of The Moody Blues and technical stuff from the 1970’s. I’m pretty open, even original Disco, I’m with it.
HRH: Congratulations Weiki on Helloween’s 25th Anniversary! The new album is a unique celebration of your songs. What inspired this musical direction for “Unarmed”?
Weiki: Well, we just came off of a huge, a massive tour. We had some time off after the last tour and never really had a break for fifteen years. “Unarmed” was all the managers idea, the thought of doing something big this time around for the 25th Anniversary of Helloween. We employed outside arrangers to re-arrange all of the songs you hear on “Unarmed”. We picked some greatest tracks, still “Falling To Pieces” was not on the list. There was a ton of file transfers going on and everything was done this way, so I could stay on top of what was happening with the arrangements.
HRH: From concept to finish, how long did it take to create “Unarmed”?
Weiki: It took a little over a year. With the re-arrrangements, feedbacks, brainstorming and recording. We had to consult with so many people and work with numerous timetables regarding the classical and digital recordings. Having the opportunity, the means and the time to do this album all came together. I feel the result is great! So far, I have heard a fifty-fifty response to “Unarmed”, people either love it or hate it.
HRH: Well Weiki, I am not in the group that hates “Unarmed”!
Weiki: Thank you!
HRH: With all of the dynamics involved with “Unarmed”, what was the most difficult step in the recording process?
Weiki: Doing arrangements on the computer was no biggie. The Classical arrangements of the timing and where do you put these parts? That all takes time. During the session arrangements, I did not touch one string or guitar.
HRH: “Why” is a hidden track, with no hint of it anywhere in the liner notes. Why is this?
Weiki: I don’t know, it’s not on my CD either! I was pretty surprised myself when I discovered this. I’m not aware of why “Why” is a hidden track. It’s a mega surprise track! It surprised everyone, even me!
HRH: Would you consider creating music in the future with the 70 piece Prague Philharmonic Orchestra and the London Choir once again?
Weiki: It was so much hard work, it’s a good idea though. If our manager wants to, we do it. We would be extremely proud to do it again.
HRH: What other personal music goals do you still have?
Weiki: There are times, where I think I could have done many other things in the past. There was a time when I was not sure of staying in Helloween, it was during the “Chameleon” phase. I moved on with it of course. I like to consider each and every option. Well, for example, I’ve always liked the collaboration of Jim Steinman and Meatloaf, that is something I would like to do. Creative Rock and doing something in that direction I would like to try. ELO, Queen, Jim Steinman and Meatloaf are great examples.
HRH Note: “Chameleon” was the fifth studio album released by Helloween in 1993, (not counting their debut “Helloween” EP from 1985).
HRH: Where in America is your favorite city or venue to play?
Weiki: It’s so hard to say and choose. The United States is so vast! I do love B.B. Kings in New York City though. Maryland has many nice places, up around Niagara Falls and Arizona as well. The Key Club in L.A. I really remember well, it filled around eight hundred people and it was great. In America, there are too many interesting places.
HRH: What band would Helloween want to tour with, that you haven’t toured with already?
Weiki: It’s really hard to say. Judas Priest would have been cool in the past, only it’s not recommended now. One point in time, in the past, we should have toured with Judas Priest. We are out on our own now, as a headlining band. For us to do our own lineup show is dream stuff and wishful thinking. We’ve played the festivals in the past, with say, Cinderella and DIO. Then, Guns & Roses comes out to end the night. It was managements decision back then to play certain festivals and in which order.
HRH: Do you own an iPad yet? I’m just looking into them right now myself.
Weiki: Not yet, they are not available in Spain, at the time they are first available in America. I will get one though, an iPad will be pretty cool. They are thin and light weight, perfect for traveling in the airports.
HRH Note: Michael Weikath currently resides in Spain.
HRH: “Gambling With The Devil” is one of my favorite Helloween albums, there are many uplifting and positive songs on it, for example, “Can Do It”.
Weiki: I wrote that song. “Gambling With The Devil” does have some positive songs. I like to stay positive with my lyrics and stay away from the dark themes. I like to write positive songs, with meaning. “The Dark Ride” was too dark of an album for me, lyrically.
HRH Note: “The Dark Ride” was the ninth studio album released by Helloween, back in 2000.
HRH: Who are your hero’s in life?
Weiki: You have to be very careful about who to idolize. It’s very hard to say. If I was to say, for example, Humphrey Bogart, how many skeletons may he have hid in his closet?
HRH Note: Humphrey Bogart was an American film actor, spanning three decades in film during the 1930’s, ’40’s and ’50’s.
HRH: Are you setting sight on a North American tour this year?
Weiki: In November a tour starts that will go into next year. Our last time out went extremely well for the first time ever! It was more of a condensed experience but a brilliant tour. The clubs, bus and accommodations were great and it was a great time. Our last tour was just organized better, it was very intense!
HRH: Which do you prefer better, an arena or club?
Weiki: Whether we play an arena or club, people, the fans, pay to be there. As long as we put on the best show possible for the fans, it doesn’t really matter. It’s always great being close to the fans in a club, as long as they are friendly! We like to play to a minimum of fifty people in a club, sometimes that is not always the case though. There have been times where there are say, seventeen people in the club! Regardless, Helloween must put on the best show and play great. When the show goes as planned, I’m happy. If a band were to ever fuck up a show in a small club, it would get on You Tube very fast! I believe you can still be a great band playing in a shit hole.
HRH: What Helloween album do you look back upon with the most pride?
Weiki: All of them! They are like photo albums. They all ooze something special, each album is unique. A lot of work went into each and every Helloween album.
HELLOWEEN – “UNARMED, BEST OF 25TH ANNIVERSARY” TAKES A METAL DETOUR!
For 25 years, this pioneering Power Metal band originating from Germany, has taken their fans along a journey of 12 studio albums. From Helloween’s legendary 1985 debut, Walls Of Jericho, to their 2007 release, Gambling With The Devil, this important, resilient, multi-talented and influential band has many a song to choose from for their Unarmed, Best Of 25th Anniversary album. One can debate for a year and a day, as to which of their favorite Helloween songs were included or ignored for this milestone album release. Regardless, Unarmed is by far and large, the most grandiose Helloween album ever to have been created.
Usually, upon my hearing the news of a new Helloween album coming up on the Metal horizon, I begin to lick my chops in anticipation of more speed, power and old school Heavy Metal from this incredible band. Well, Metal truth be told, Unarmed is quite the Metal detour for Helloween and their worldwide fan base too. These classic Helloween songs from years long past, have undergone some major changes in their arrangements! Allow me to explain further… an untold number of composers, producers and arrangers all embarked on the restructuring of these 11 Helloween classics heard on Unarmed. Try this on for Metal size – the 70 Piece Prague Philharmonics Orchestra and the London Choir also play a major role in the musical identity of Unarmed!
Certainly, these songs do sound remarkably different, only this detour did not disappoint me one bit. As an old Metal wise man once told me… “change is a good thing”. Still, this is quantum change for any Helloween fans ears to handle upon a first listen to Unarmed. It’s like shifting gears while driving a standard, it’s all about instinct – while accepting such a dramatic musical change of pace. I became instantly aware from the first note of “Dr. Stein”, that I needed to shift my Metal soul into a mellow soul. “Dr. Stein” does play out as a Classic Rock song, now. With similarities to early 1980’s E Street Band, (minus The Boss), “Dr. Stein” is a knee slapping, foot tapping good time… courtesy of the horn section that really adds to the flavor.
As Unarmed plays out, the quality and sum of the musical parts far outweigh any distractions that I may have experienced during several complete listens of Unarmed. The distractions being – where’s the Speed Metal? Hey, this used to be a Power Metal song! And… the ultimate distraction of them all… could I possibly be falling over for this Unarmed version of Helloween? Metal be thy name! Metal as my witness, I have a soft spot in my Metal heart for this Unarmed chapter of Helloween.
For those die-hard Helloween fans that may not absorb musical change with Metal ease… do not despair for you most likely will not be alone. Fans will either love or (gasp) dislike what Helloween has embarked upon here. I just so happen to be an open minded Metalhead that upholds a love for music, thus my appreciation towards such a drastic change by Helloween is not an alarming issue in my Metal world at all.
Truth be told, Helloween has showed me why I have admired them as musicians first and foremost for so many years, their musical transition on Unarmed has been presented upon my ears, with the highest of quality standards and without question… credibility. Helloween loyalists will embrace Unarmed, as for other curious fans out there… don’t be afraid, take a chance on Unarmed, it won’t ruin your Metal soul!
One last interesting note: there is a hidden track on Unarmed! The song title is – “Why”. My question is this, why is “Why” a hidden track? There is absolutely no mention of this song within the liner notes either. An Unarmed, Helloween mystery that may never be explained!
Rating: Out of 10
- Dr. Stein
- Future World
- If I Could Fly
- Where The Rain Grows
- The Keeper’s Trilogy
- Eagle Fly Free
- Perfect Gentleman
- Forever & One
- I Want Out
- Fallen To Pieces
- A Tale That Wasn’t Right
- Why (Bonus Track)
Andi Deris – Vocals
Michael Weikath – Guitar, Backing vocals
Sascha Gerstner – Guitar, Backing vocals
Markus Grosskopf – Bass, Backing vocals
Daniel Löble – Drums