HELLOWEEN, GRAVE DIGGER, and RUNNING WILD
By Rich Catino
When talking about the importance of the Germans to the history of Heavy Metal, from the 80s Scorpions and Accept were the biggest household names. Even to this day. Well, there are several other bands that should be in the conversation for the Metal Hall of Fame. Helloween achieving success overseas and in America, and 2nd tier level to their peers at the time, Grave Digger and Running Wild also have carved a lengthy, and valued catalogue of music. Yes, I know…Warlock, Gamma Ray, Blind Guardian, and the Teutonic Thrash Big 3: Kreator, Destruction, and Sodom to be discussed in future articles.
I mean the band name is synonymous with the genre power metal, and rightfully so. Along with Yngwie Malmsteen’s first four albums, Manowar, and Virgin Steele in the 80s, obviously Helloween are the most influential for this style of Heavy Metal. Singlehandedly creating the genre by using more speed and aggression with traditional Maiden/Priest twin guitars, sing-along hooks, a fun pumpkin mascot adding to their charm. Now while the first self titled e.p. and “Walls of Jericho” from 1985 are heavier, rougher around the edges, straight ahead speed metal, still important songs to the history of heavy metal, and to Helloween’s evolution. Establishing their formula on the albums “Keeper Of The Seven Keys Part 1 & 2” (1987/88), songs like ‘Eagle Fly Free’, ‘I’m Alive’, ‘March of Time’, the catchy melodic hits ‘Future World’ and “I Want Out’, to epics ‘Halloween’ and ‘Keeper of the Seven Keys’, it defined the genre for all that followed.
4/5s of the original band: Michael Weikath and Kai Hansen (guitars), Markus Grosskopf (bass), and Michael Kiske have been back together, releasing new music for their 16th self titled studio album in 2021. Now while power metal has a few stereotypes it’s known for: double bass driving tempos, high falsetto vocals, and fantasy lyrics, don’t be misled that Helloween are a one trick pony. They are the originators. Listen to “Pink Bubbles Go Ape” and “Chameleon” and opinions will change. Sure, those songs are more pop metal, rock, radio friendly, incorporating different instruments (horns, organ, violin, etc) and influences, but in the long run shows their range and versatility. Just like the album “Unarmed” where they again used a wide array of instruments, and influences, for reinterpretations of Helloween songs.
Other albums to check out from their varied history: Master of the Rings (1994), Better Than Raw (1998), Rabbit Don’t Come Easy (2003), Gambling With The Devil” (2007).
‘Keeper of the Seven Keys’: https://youtu.be/iDpAahKUNB4
From their beginnings in 1984-86 with the debut “Heavy Metal Breakdown”, “Witch Hunter”, and “War Games”, the reaper played things straight forward, fast and aggressive speed metal. After a brief hiatus, founding member/lead singer Chris Boltendahl with his unique gravelly voice, dug up the robed bones for another try with a new lineup. 1993’s “The Reaper” and “Heart of Darkness” from 1995 a great return for the name. Grave Digger retained those heavy, sometimes fast, elements from the 80s, but added melody in the music and chorus. Now more refined, polished, not so one dimensional adding keyboards, intro/outros, to expand their dark soundscape.
By the 1996 concept album “Tunes of War” about Scottish struggles for independence from England, and William Wallace (Braveheart), is where the change was made into the European Power Metal sound and style. Followed by “Knights of the Cross” and “Excalibur”, a trilogy of medieval inspired albums. It was the niche they needed. Adding layered vocals to the chorus’, orchestrated parts, different instruments (bagpipes), put Digger in the game with Blind Guardian, Iced Earth, and Gamma Ray. 24 years and eleven more albums later, the reaper continues to compose , sometimes dark (see the albums “The Grave Digger”, “Return of the Reaper”), guitar heavy without losing melody in the chorus’.
If you question their importance, level of success, whether or not they deserve to be in the Metal Hall of Fame? Welp, watch this clip of the anthem ‘Rebellion’ (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PbzSWcRM9u0 ) played at the Wacken festival in Germany, and it will surely change your mind.
‘Twilight of the Gods’: https://youtu.be/PbJQE3EQ-v4
Running Wild also started out writing primitive, unpolished, gritty heavy metal with dark satanic lyrics on the first two albums from 1984/85, “Gates to Purgatory” and “Branded and Exiled”. It was the 1987 album “Under Jolly Roger” where they embraced the pirate theme and never looked back. The two guitar team laid down the melody, song lyrics, and artwork all told tales of pirate adventures. Singer/songwriter Rolf Kasparek has been the captain of the ship since, and fourteen albums have followed.
“Death or Glory” is a classic with ‘Riding the Storm’ and ‘Bad to the Bone’ live staples to this day. What I consider their golden era, two more solid albums followed in 1991/92 “Blazon Stone” and “Pile of Skulls” and anthems to swashbuckler to like ‘Fistful of Dynamite’, ‘Lead or Gold’, and ‘Treasure Island’. By “Black Hand Inn”, “Masquerade”, and “The Rivalry” in 1998, it’s a trilogy of pirate treasures.
Big riffs, melodies, singalong hymns, crisp punchy production, and consistency. Sure, a band like this may seem to be a niche thing for listeners. But, take away the lyrics if it’s not your thing, and it is still great spirited power metal.
Forever a ‘Rebel at Heart’ (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IjvCo8r-OOo), and a ‘Metalhead’ https://youtu.be/SJgBqVUP_r4, still active to this day, headlining all the big outdoor summer European festivals. Are you ready for boarding Metal Hall of Fame? We are approaching port royal, under jolly roger!
(Don’t misread this as an official MHoF inductee announcement. Rich Catino knows his stuff; this is just a discussion of the Hall-worthiness of these bands. -Ed.)