Helloween is a German power metal band founded in 1984 in Hamburg, West Germany by members of bands Iron Fist and Gentry. Its first lineup consisted of singer and guitarist Kai Hansen, bassist Markus Grosskopf, guitarist Michael Weikath, and drummer Ingo Schwichtenberg. After the release of a self-titled EP and their debut album Walls of Jericho in 1985, it expanded into a quintet with the addition of singer Michael Kiske, Hansen choosing to focus on guitar instead. Under this line-up, they released the Keeper of the Seven Keys albums (1987 and 1988), which established Helloween as a notable heavy metal band and led to the creation of the power metal subgenre. Hansen left the band soon after the release of Part II and was replaced by Roland Grapow. After leaving Helloween, Hansen formed Gamma Ray.
Helloween’s first two albums without Hansen, Pink Bubbles Go Ape (1991) and Chameleon (1993), were commercial and critical failures, which created tensions between band members and led to the firing of Schwichtenberg and Kiske. They were replaced by Uli Kusch and Andi Deris respectively. The albums released under this line-up, Master of the Rings (1994), The Time of the Oath (1996), Better Than Raw (1998) and The Dark Ride (2000), received warmer reception from both fans and critics, gradually establishing Helloween as a successful band again.
However, tensions led to the dismissals in 2001 of both Grapow and Kusch, who then went on to found Masterplan together. Grapow was replaced by Sascha Gerstner, but the attempts to find a new drummer were chaotic and finally, Mikkey Dee of Motörhead fame recorded the drums for the next album Rabbit Don’t Come Easy (2003). The band finally found a stable drummer in Daniel Löble in 2005. Under this line-up, the longest in its history, the band has released four successful studio albums: Keeper of the Seven Keys: The Legacy (2005), Gambling with the Devil (2007), 7 Sinners (2010), and Straight Out of Hell (2013). Their fifteenth and latest studio album, My God-Given Right, was released on 29 May 2015.
On 14 November 2016, the band announced that both Kai Hansen and Michael Kiske were rejoining Helloween for the Pumpkins United World Tour that would take place from October 2017 to December 2018. The tour ended up being the biggest one in the band’s history as it comprised 69 shows and lasted for 14 months. On 4 October 2019, the live album United Alive in Madrid and the live DVD/Blu-ray United Alive were released. The reunited line-up perdured after the tour, with a new studio album, Helloween, planned for a 2021 release.
Since its inception, Helloween has released fifteen studio albums, three live albums, three EPs, and twenty-seven singles, and has sold more than eight million records worldwide.
Early years and first album (1984–1986)
Helloween formed in 1984 in Hamburg, Germany. The original line-up included Kai Hansen on vocals and rhythm guitar, Michael Weikath on lead guitar, Markus Grosskopf on bass, and Ingo Schwichtenberg on drums. That year, the band signed with Noise Records and recorded two songs for a Noise compilation record called Death Metal. The compilation featured the bands Hellhammer, Running Wild, and Dark Avenger. The two tracks were “Oernst of Life” by Weikath and Hansen’s “Metal Invaders,” a faster version of which would appear on the band’s first full-length album.
Helloween recorded and released its first record in 1985, a self-titled EP containing five tracks. Also that year, the band released its first full-length album, Walls of Jericho. During the following concert tour, Hansen had difficulties singing and playing the guitar at the same time. Hansen’s last recording as the band’s lead singer was in 1986 on a vinyl EP titled Judas, which contained the song “Judas” and live versions of “Ride the Sky” and “Guardians” recorded at Gelsenkirchen. (The CD edition has the live introduction, but the songs have been replaced with studio versions and crowd noise spliced in.) Following these releases, Helloween began the search for a new vocalist.
Keeper of the Seven Keys (1986–1989)
The band found an 18-year-old vocalist, Michael Kiske, from a local Hamburg band named Ill Prophecy. With their new lead vocalist in tow, Helloween approached record labels Noise International and RCA and proposed the release of a double-LP to introduce the line-up. This proposition was turned down. Instead, they recorded a single LP, Keeper of the Seven Keys: Part I, which was released in 1987. In 1988, Helloween released Keeper of the Seven Keys: Part II, the companion album. MTV put the single “I Want Out” into heavy rotation and in support of its “Headbanger’s Ball” show. MTV also presented the inaugural Headbangers Ball Tour with Helloween joining San Francisco Bay Area thrash-metal band Exodus in support of headlining act Anthrax. The band was slotted in the prestigious second spot, right before Anthrax’s set. On the heels of this exposure to U.S. audiences, the band achieved worldwide success.
Hansen and Kiske’s departures (1989–1993)
Guitarist Kai Hansen unexpectedly left the band in 1989 soon after the European leg of the Keeper of the Seven Keys: Part II tour, due to ill-health, conflicts within the band, troubles with Noise International, and a growing dissatisfaction with life on tour. Weikath chose his friend Roland Grapow to replace him, including for the rest of the tour. Grapow, who was a car mechanic at the time, stated in 2017 that, if Weikath had not happened to ask him to join the band, he would have kept his job and given up on his dream of becoming a professional musician.
In 1989, the band released a live album called Live in the U.K. (Keepers Live in Japan and I Want Out Live in the United States), featuring material from its 1988 European tour. The remaining members continued on but ran into label problems with Noise, and after litigation kept them from touring and releasing new material, they were eventually released from their contract. A new album would not appear until 1991 when, after several rumors about the band breaking up, they released Pink Bubbles Go Ape for their new record company, EMI. The album was less heavy and, with song titles such as “Heavy Metal Hamsters”, “I’m Doing Fine, Crazy Man”, and “Shit and Lobster”, showed a shift toward – and an emphasis on – humor rather than the epic moods on previous releases. As a result, Pink Bubbles Go Ape failed both commercially and critically, and tensions started to build amongst the band members.
The pop-influenced follow-up Chameleon was released in 1993. Instead of taking a heavier approach, the band ventured into new territory, eschewing its signature double-guitar harmonies for synthesizers, horns, acoustic guitars, a children’s chorus, country music, and swing. As with the previous album, Chameleon failed commercially and critically. Tensions within Helloween worsened, and the band split into three factions, with Michael Kiske and Ingo Schwichtenberg on one side, Michael Weikath and Roland Grapow on the other, and Markus Grosskopf in the middle, trying to keep peace between the four men.
Shortly after, the band began to disintegrate. During the Chameleon tour, the band would often play to half-filled venues. Drummer Ingo Schwichtenberg fell ill due to mental and drug-related issues, and was eventually fired, replaced by session drummer Ritchie Abdel-Nabi. Meanwhile, the conflicts within the rest of the band worsened, with Michael Weikath refusing to work any longer with Michael Kiske. The decision was made to fire Kiske. Since his firing, Kiske didn’t get along with Helloween for many years, until 2016, when they announced that Kiske and Kai Hansen would rejoin the band for the Pumpkins United World Tour in 2017 and 2018. In May 2008, Kiske released Past in Different Ways; an album featuring most of his old Helloween songs, albeit rearranged and re-recorded acoustically. Commenting on Kiske’s dismissal, Grosskopf later said:
In addition to the firing of Kiske, Abdel-Nabi, whose inability to replicate Schwichtenberg’s machine-gun style of drumming hindered Helloween’s ability to play live fan-favorites like “Eagle Fly Free” and “How Many Tears”, was let go by the band. 1993 would come to a close for Helloween with no singer, no drummer, and no record contract (EMI released the band from its agreement for the low sales numbers for Pink Bubbles Go Ape and Chameleon).
First years with Andi Deris (1994–2000)
Helloween returned in 1994 with former Pink Cream 69 frontman Andi Deris as their new lead vocalist and Uli Kusch, formerly of Kai Hansen’s Gamma Ray, on drums. The band already knew Deris from some recording sessions in Hamburg. He had been approached by Weikath to join the band in 1991, but he had declined, despite being intrigued by the offer and having to deal with emerging conflicts between him and his band. In the years since, however, Kiske was fired from Helloween and the issues within Pink Cream 69 worsened. Faced with the inevitability of his firing, Deris accepted Weikath’s offer during a night out with the band members. With this new lineup and a new record contract with Castle Communications, Helloween released its comeback album, Master of the Rings.
In 1995, original drummer Ingo Schwichtenberg committed suicide by jumping in front of a train in his native Hamburg. In the years since his departure from Helloween, Schwichtenberg had gotten involved in drug-use and suffered from depression. 1996’s The Time of the Oath was dedicated to his memory. Following another world tour, a double live album called High Live was released. In 1998, Helloween released Better Than Raw, one of the band’s heaviest albums since the full-length debut. The subsequent supporting tour was made up of stops in Europe, Japan, and Brazil, but on 20 December 1998, the band visited New York and played a show at the venue Coney Island High in Manhattan, the first show for Helloween in the United States in nearly a decade. The band would follow Better Than Raw with a 1999 release titled Metal Jukebox, a cover-album featuring Helloween’s versions of songs from such bands as Scorpions, Jethro Tull, Faith No More, The Beatles, ABBA, and Deep Purple.
Line-up changes (2002–2004)
2000 saw the release of The Dark Ride, a more experimental and darker album than their previous releases. It came complete with downtuned guitars and a gruffer singing style from Deris. Immediately following the tour, Helloween parted ways with guitarist Roland Grapow and drummer Uli Kusch. One version of events states that Weikath, Deris, and Grosskopf felt that Kusch and Grapow, in particular, were spending more time on and paying more attention to their new side-project, Masterplan (Grapow’s output on Helloween albums had dropped to barely one song per album by that point); since the others believed that Kusch and Grapow were not one hundred percent dedicated to Helloween, they were dismissed.
They were replaced by guitarist Sascha Gerstner (ex-Freedom Call, Neumond) and drummer Mark Cross (ex-Metalium, Kingdom Come, At Vance, Firewind), culminating with the recording of another studio album, titled Rabbit Don’t Come Easy, in 2003. The band met Gerstner via a recommendation by producer Charlie Bauerfeind. According to Grosskopf, one day he was recording something with Freedom Call “and later on we called him up and he went to first meet Weiki because it was very important that Weiki finds a player that he can play with and also communicate and understand. […]
Cross could not finish the album due to mononucleosis, completing only two tracks; the drum tracks were completed by Motörhead‘s Mikkey Dee. Stefan Schwarzmann, former drummer of Running Wild and Accept would shortly thereafter take over the drumming duties. Despite a somewhat tepid response to the album, Helloween nonetheless completed a successful world tour, highlighted by the return of classic songs such as “Starlight”, “Murderer”, “Keeper of the Seven Keys” and “How Many Tears” to the setlist. Additionally, the band toured the United States for the first time since 1989, playing to sold-out crowds at nearly every venue.
Steady line-up (2005–2016)
2005 saw yet another line-up change, following the “Rabbits on the Run” tour, as it became apparent that Helloween and Stefan Schwarzmann did not share the same musical vision. As further noted by the band, he had some trouble performing fast drum parts, so he was replaced by Daniel Löble, the former drummer of German metal band Rawhead Rexx. A change in record company also followed as they inked a deal with German label SPV. Any fears that what had now become a revolving door of band members would affect the quality of their new album were laid to rest as Helloween’s new studio album, titled Keeper of the Seven Keys – The Legacy, was released on 28 October 2005 in Germany, and 8 November in the US to commercial and critical acclaim. The album had a pre-release single, “Mrs. God“, as well as a video for the track. The track “Light the Universe” was released as a single on 22 November, featuring Candice Night of Blackmore’s Night on guest vocals. She also appears in the video clip for that track.
In late 2006, Helloween filmed and recorded shows in São Paulo (Brazil), Sofia (Bulgaria), and Tokyo (Japan) for their live album Keeper of the Seven Keys – The Legacy World Tour 2005/2006. The DVD also featured extra footage of the band, as well as interviews and a road movie. This was the second Helloween live album to feature Andi Deris as frontman, and third overall. It enjoyed chart success in several countries: Germany: 9 (DVD) & 58 (CD), Sweden: 9 (DVD), France: 10 (DVD) Helloween has since completed their studio album Gambling with the Devil, which was released on 23 October 2007. It received many positive reviews, with most fans praising the album as being one of the best Deris-era albums. Despite being one of Helloween’s heaviest albums, it is noted for featuring more keyboards. “As Long as I Fall“, the first single, was released in early September and only available via download (save for Japan, where it was released on CD). The video for the song is available at their official site.
Helloween teamed up with Kai Hansen‘s current band Gamma Ray for their 2007–2008 “Hellish Rock” world tour, which started in early November 2007. Helloween were headlining and Gamma Ray were labeled as the “very special guest” with most shows also having fellow German “guest” Axxis. The tour went through Europe, Asia, and South America, as well as a few dates in the US. The tour is notable for Kai Hansen stepping on stage with his former band fellows Weikath and Grosskopf to perform hits “I Want Out” and “Future World” in the last encore segment of Helloween.
On 26 December 2009, Helloween released the Unarmed – Best of 25th Anniversary album in Japan. The album was released on 1 February 2010 in Europe. The album is a compilation of ten of the band’s best known songs, re-recorded in different musical styles than the original recordings and by the current lineup. It features a seventeen-minute “Keepers Medley”, recorded by a seventy-piece orchestra from Prague, mixing together “Halloween”, “The Keeper of the Seven Keys”, and “The King for a 1000 Years”. There is a limited edition digipak, including a thirty-minute “making of”-DVD with interviews and studio footage. The band’s website states that the album was released on 13 April 2010 in North America via Sony & THE END RECORDS labels. On 14 May 2010, it was announced on their site that they were working on a new studio album, which was the fastest and heaviest effort in years.
Helloween released their thirteenth studio album, 7 Sinners, on 31 October in Europe and 3 November in the US. Before its physical release, the band made it available worldwide for streaming via their Myspace page. The name of the album alludes to the seven deadly sins. According to Andi Deris, the album goes straight to the point: “After an acoustic album, we needed definitely something that shows the people without any question that this is a metal album.” The band toured to promote the new album with Stratovarius and Pink Cream 69 as their guests. On 5 April 2011, via the band’s website, it was announced that 7 Sinners was awarded ‘Gold status’ in the Czech Republic.
In June 2012, Helloween entered the studio to begin recording their fourteenth album, Straight Out of Hell, which was released on 18 January 2013. They then went on tour around the world with Gamma Ray again.
In September, Helloween played at Rock in Rio 2013 with former member Kai Hansen as a special guest. In October 2014, the band announced a new album for a May 2015 release. It was produced by Charlie Bauerfeind at Mi Sueño Studio on Tenerife and marked their return to the Nuclear Blast label with which they released The Dark Ride and Rabbit Don’t Come Easy.
On 26 February 2015, the band revealed the name and the cover artwork of the album, My God-Given Right, released on 29 May 2015. The artwork was created by Martin Häusler. In June 2015, it was discovered that the band members were working on a book, released as “Hellbook”. Grosskopf stated that it is “a kind of history book with lots of pictures”.
Pumpkins United (2016–present)
In November 2016, it was announced that former members Kai Hansen and Michael Kiske were re-joining the band for a world tour titled the Pumpkins United World Tour, that would start on 19 October 2017 in Monterrey, Mexico, and conclude the following year.“Kai said something like, ‘Michael, if we don’t ever do anything again under the name of Helloween, we’re just idiots.’ […] and I just said, ‘You know what, Kai? I’m open.'”
Although Hansen had been occasionally appearing as a guest on Helloween shows for a few years, Kiske had been particularly reluctant in interviews to the idea of performing with Helloween again due to bad blood with Markus Grosskopf and especially Michael Weikath, dating from when he was fired from the band in 1993; this started to change in 2013, when he ran into Weikath at the Sweden Rock Festival. He stated in 2017: “The first thing [Weikath] said was, ‘What have I done that you can’t forgive me?’ That was the first line he said to me. And I realized that I had forgiven somehow a long time ago without noticing. That’s how it all started”. It was Hansen, who had been his bandmate as a part of Unisonic since 2011, who ultimately convinced him in 2014. Other popular former members Roland Grapow and Uli Kusch were not asked to re-join, with Grosskopf stating “it would be too many people”.
This new line-up released an original song, “Pumpkins United”, on 13 October 2017, as a free download (with a vinyl release on 8 December), on which Deris, Hansen, and Kiske all share lead vocals. The Pumpkins United World Tour started in Monterrey, Mexico on 19 October 2017. The first show saw both Deris and Kiske performing songs from their respective Helloween albums and sing duets together, while Hansen performed lead vocals for a medley of songs from Walls of Jericho. The show also included a tribute to the late original Helloween drummer Ingo Schwichtenberg.Helloween performing at Wacken Open Air in 2018. From left to right: Markus Grosskopf, Sascha Gerstner, Kai Hansen, Michael Weikath, and Daniel Löble.
However, Kiske started suffering health issues related to his voice shortly before starting the tour, to the point where after the first two shows in Mexico, his involvement for the next dates was unsure. He was cleared to perform by doctors in time for the next show in San José, Costa Rica on 23 October, although his illness forced the band to temporally remove a few songs from their setlist, and to have Deris, Hansen, and Gerstner support him more vocally. After accusations from fans of Kiske using lip sync on the more vocally demanding parts of some songs, Kai Hansen confirmed that Kiske had indeed partially used taped vocals, but only for the tour’s opening show in Monterrey, and because the band feared they would have to cancel the show, as Kiske felt unsure he would be able to perform at all due to his illness. On 28–29 October 2017, the band recorded their concerts in São Paulo, Brazil for a future live album and DVD.
About a potential studio album under the Pumpkins United line-up, Deris stated in March 2018: “We certainly have lots and lots of talks [about it]. This summer, if the chemistry goes on like this, then everything is possible. After recording that particular “Pumpkins United” song, we realized that it’s easy working together. […] Yeah, it was no problem at all, as if we would have worked together for decades already. So, I could see an upcoming album for the future. If the chemistry stays the way it is now, I definitely would say 99 percent yes, we’re going for it.” When they were interviewed together in June, Weikath stated: “We don’t really feel like starting with it because it’s going to be a lot of work and it’s going to take a lot of time and right now, we are kind of comfy with what we are doing, so to say. So, we are not lying. It’s very easy to say; we are just too lazy to get started with that”, while Hansen stated “There’s a lot of ideas in the room for what we do next and so on. But, nothing is kind of decided. Nothing is ripe for the decision. We leave that open, kind of.”
On 21 August 2018, the band announced that, at the request of their label Nuclear Blast, the Pumpkins United line-up would perdure after 2018, and that a live CD and DVD for the Pumpkins United World Tour would be released in early 2019, followed by a new studio album to be recorded later that year for a planned 2020 release, with Weikath, Hansen and Deris acting as a “songwriting trio”; this will be their first studio album to feature Hansen since Keeper of the Seven Keys: Part II in 1988, and the first with Kiske since Chameleon in 1993. The Pumpkins United World Tour concluded on 22 December 2018 in Hamburg. In March 2019, Deris stated that he had written two duets between him and Kiske for the upcoming album.
On 4 October 2019, Helloween performed at the 2019 edition of Rock in Rio and on the same day the live DVD/Blu-ray United Alive and the live album United Alive in Madrid, both recorded during the Pumpkins United World Tour, were released. The first comprises recordings of the band’s performances in Madrid WiZink Centre (2017), at Wacken Open Air 2018 and in São Paulo (2017) and the second is a recording of the full performance in Madrid, with songs recorded in shows in Prague, São Paulo, Wacken, and Santiago de Chile acting as bonus tracks.
On 26 November 2019, the band published a video in which they shared that they had begun recording their next album in Hamburg (where they had previously recorded four successive albums in the 1990s, from 1993’s Chameleon to 1998’s Better Than Raw), and that they were planning to resume touring in late 2020. On 1 June 2020, Helloween confirmed that they had postponed their fall European tour to the spring of 2021, due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The band also announced that they had “decided to shift the release” of their new album to early next year, with Ronald Prent mixing it; with six years between My God-Given Right and the new album, this will mark the longest time between Helloween two studio albums, as the band had never previously spent more than three years without releasing a new studio album. On 25th March 2021, Helloween releases in Japan their new book, an encyclopedia called Seven Keys United Memorial: Complete Collection of Helloween.
|Ingo Schwichtenberg||Drums (1983-1993)|
|(R.I.P. 1995) See also: ex-Gentry|
|Roland Grapow||Guitars (1989-2001)|
|See also: Kreyson, Level 10, Masterplan, ex-Roland Grapow, ex-Serious Black, ex-Rampage, ex-Citron (live)|
|Uli Kusch||Drums (1994-2001)|
|See also: ex-Axe la Chapelle, ex-Beautiful Sin, ex-Ride the Sky, ex-Shock Machine, ex-Gamma Ray, ex-Holy Moses, ex-Masterplan, ex-Mekong Delta, ex-Roland Grapow, ex-Symfonia, ex-Issa, ex-Last Union|
|Mark Cross||Drums (2001-2003)|
|See also: God’s Army, Metal Machine, Rezident Ex, ex-The Supremacy, Tainted Nation, ex-At Vance, ex-Exorcism, ex-Firewind, ex-Nightfall, ex-Outloud, ex-Spitfire, ex-Tank, ex-Tower of Babel, ex-Winters Bane, ex-Frank Blackfire (live), ex-Scorpions (live), ex-Metalium, ex-Electric Eye, ex-Magna Carta|
|Stefan Schwarzmann||Drums (2003-2004)|
|See also: Pänzer, ex-Accept, ex-Herman Frank, ex-Krokus, ex-Paradox, ex-Running Wild, ex-U.D.O., ex-Voice, ex-Cronos Titan, ex-X-Wild, ex-Godiva (live), ex-Born Loosers, ex-Canberra, ex-Die Suicides|