You'd need balls the size of Düsseldorf to tack a sequel onto two of the most beloved power metal albums of all time, arguably the blueprints for an entire mini-industry that's sprung up in their wake. But hubris has never been in short supply where HELLOWEEN mastermind Michael Weikath is concerned — this is the man who jettisoned the critically and commercially successful "Dark Ride" lineup of the band because he, personally, didn't like it or think it was "true" HELLOWEEN. Along with founding bassist Markus Grosskopf and longtime singer Andi Deris, he engineered a return to power metal form on 2003's "Rabbit Don't Come Easy", and now unleashes this ambitious double album.
HELLOWEEN is, at this point in their career, in a "damned if you do, damned if you don't" situation. They've gone through a number of stylistic shifts, some more popular than others, so any attempt to go back to the glory days will be met with skepticism by some fans. Others will insist on nothing less, and will lambaste any attempts to update the band's sound from 1988. It seems that HELLOWEEN have tried to give a little to everyone on "The Legacy", from the thirteen-minute-plus epic "King for a 1000 Years", to quirky, midtempo lead single "Mrs. God", to the near-perfect textbook galloping anthem "Silent Rain" (not too surprising that this one was written by relative new guy Sascha Gerstner, formerly of HELLOWEEN-influenced power metal clones FREEDOM CALL). Even the busy, dense, darker-edged "Born on Judgment Day" recalls the underrated "Better than Raw" era.
The second half of the album (printed on a second disc, though both would fit on one CD) has gotten a lot of the flack from "The Legacy"'s mixed reviews, but the material here is still strong. "Occasion Avenue" is a bit more disjointed and weird than its counterpart on side one, a twelve-minute epic with some of that dreaded "modern" influence that makes message board misfits cry trails of tears into their acne medication. "Light the Universe" is a ballad, a duet with Ritchie Blackmore paramour and bandmate Candice Night that may be a little schlocky, sure, but no more so than any other power metal lighter-in-the-air anthem (I can't help wondering how much more ass the song would kick with a stronger female vocal — imagine Doro Pesch tackling it!).
The best news for the old-schoolers is that a lot of this material is consciously molded to have that early-era sound — the return to "happy, happy HELLOWEEN, as Weikath once put it. Big, unstoppable hooks, speedy double-kick-fueled choruses, the goofy German humor that made songs like "Dr. Stein" such fan favorites — it's all here, occasionally polished with a little bit of modern edge, but mostly sticking with what has worked in the past. It could be that the band is, as they claim, finally happy in its present lineup, and able to write in the "classic way" without flailing for a direction. It may also be a bottom-line decision, to bring those disgruntled old fans back. Whatever the motivation, it's led to a satisfying HELLOWEEN album.
Like I said, no matter what HELLOWEEN does at this point, some will proclaim it the best thing since the invention of the electric guitar, and others will call for their immediate execution by guillotine for crimes against their metal legacy. Both positions are, frankly, stupid. "Keeper of the Seven Keys – The Legacy" has about as much chance of becoming a classic on par with its predecessors as QUEENSRŸCHE's "Operation: Mindcrime II" does — namely, none at all. But "The Legacy" is a fine album in its own right, and anyone who claims to be a HELLOWEEN fan will enjoy the hell out of it. It panders a bit to their past, but overall, the songwriting is strong, the production is impeccable, and the performances are enthusiastic. Good work!