HELLOWEEN "30 Years of God-Given Metal"

By Dr. Abner Mality

30 years is a long time to do anything, much less be a successful rock band. If most bands can make it past the 5 year mark, it's a cause for celebration. That's chicken feed for Germany's masters of positive power metal, Helloween. Believe me, they are enjoying the ride and their new album "My God-Given Right"...their first for metal mega-label Nuclear an example of how to stick to your guns and conquer the world.

From "Walls Of Jericho" in 1985 to "My God Given Right" in 2015, they have really created their own genre of and heavy but with tremendous melody and soaring choruses that stick in your brain. And they've done it despite numerous line-up shifts, changes in taste and even the tragic suicide of former guitarist Ingo Schwichtenberg. No adversity seems able to conquer the spirit of Helloween.

It was a huge honor for me to sit down and have a chat with guitarist Michael Weikath, who has been along for the ride for all 30 years. In the following interview, Michael pulls no punches in giving his opinion. Listen to the voice of experience and you'll hear from one of Europe's metal giants. THE PUMPKIN SPEAKS!

WORMWOOD CHRONICLES:  In 2015, it has been 30 years the first Helloween record came out. Did you think back then that you'd still be doing this in 2015?

MICHAEL WEIKATH: Well, we hoped we would be millionaires but we wound up doing things a little differently. I think we were absolutely willing to do what it takes to be around this long. Back then, we spent a lot of time in the rehearsal room to make this happen, but naturally you can't tell for certain how long something will last, right? We still are alive and kicking!

WC: Do you think you guys have anything left to prove at this point?

MW: You know, if there was a higher level of touring or occasion to do larger headlining tours, we'd like to prove that we can keep at that level.  We never had the opportunity of proving that. Basically after the "Keeper" records it was "Zap! Band out!" in a way. Then we were touring in a smaller way, on a "regular" level. We would like to prove that we can be at that larger level consistently. That's something we have yet to prove. Apart from that,  I think we've proven pretty much everything there was.

WC: Is there any place in the world you'd like to visit that you haven't played yet?

MW: Yeah, there's many places but I don't actually want to mention them because then other places would feel put off. It would be like "Ah, you forgot to mention us in that damn interview!" (chuckles) There's a few places where I don't want to go and I don't want to mention these places, either. Yeah, there's always places to go. The last time we toured, we played in Borneo and we talked to the Sultan there.  That was really fun because he has his own little country and everything looks the way he wants it to look. The politicians there have countries that they run the way they want to run it, with different colors, different architecture, different styles, whatever. That was really fun to see.

WC: Were you the only metal band to ever visit Borneo?

MW:  Yeah, it seems so, except for when Deep Purple played there in 1990 or something. That was something really big there. They probably were thinking, let's bring some interesting bands over here, otherwise it's too boring. So they did and we were honored to do it.

WC: Was there anything different about how you recorded "My God Given Right" or did you do it the same style as always?

MW: We did it pretty much the same way except we used a few more gadgets and devices from the 80's, like  tube amps and analog gadgets. It's a very analog and 80's sounding record that has been made the digital way. Everything was inside the digital domain. We recorded a few songs with real tube compressors and stuff like that, yes. But we went to lengths to get even more stuff like that, like converters that would go from analog to digital and digital to analog. That's what you hear on the record, that's been the main difference from the last few productions we've done. You're left with something that sounds like it's from the 80's, an analog recording.

WC: You have to be pretty happy with how it turned out.

MW: Yeah, I think it's an amazing sound and it comes very close to what we did on the "Keeper" album.

WC: On the cover of the new album, you've got a frozen Statue of Liberty. Is there any meaning to that or is it just a cool image?

MW:  It was just an image that our cover artist came up with along with our manager . They presented it to us and we said yes, it's obvious we should go with it. It's inspired by movies like "The Day After Tomorrow"  and "Planet of the Apes". We've seen it all before, but it looks good. We'll keep it, go for it! It's something that people can pick at it if they want to...."it's that damned Helloween with the freakin' Statue of Liberty on the freakin' cover!" ...or they can just look at it as a cool cover, you know.

WC: How about the meaning to that title, "My God Given Right"? Does that have a personal meaning to you or is it more about society at large?

MW:  First of all, it's not so bad to say it in times like this. Second, we don't mean for it to have anything to do with the Second Amendment. We just mean it as what you can do or say in a democracy, it's free speech. That's what we've always stood for, so there's no change in that, either. It's a very nice thing to say. We have a very similar saying in Germany, but it means something a bit different, it's more religious. Any thing you can do as long as it is in your responsibility of doing good is your God given right.  It goes back to something our singer Andi's father said. Back when Andi was in school, he wanted to be a rock musician and he told that to his parents. His mom wanted him to study and have a proper job, but his father said "whatever makes you happy, makes me happy, too. You're my only son. I wanted to become a saxophone player in a swing band but I couldn't because we all had to build up Germany after the war. You're my only son and you want to become a rock musicians. I second that. At least, try...I give you absolution." That was an episode in his life that he remembered, that made him write that song.

WC: Helloween has always been known for doing positive music. How important is that to you?

MW: I think there's already enough negative and hateful stuff around in this world. People need hope, people always need hope and revitilization of their values. If no one ever says this is good and clever and to the benefit of everyone, then that thinking may die out. The world needs people who mention this and that's just what we do. We haven't been born to tell people bad things!

WC: A few years ago, I spoke to Ian Hill, the bass player for Judas Priest. I asked him what he missed in the modern heavy metal scene. He said a lot of bands have forgotten the happy side of heavy metal. Helloween seems to be one of the bands that haven't forgotten that side of heavy metal.

MW: It's like everyone prefers to be "cool" and can't expose themselves to the public. You're afraid of coming across as so cheesy or so soft or whatever. Then people can pick at you and go, ah, you're just a bunch of pussies! I don't know? What's cooler? Just to play the tough guy and go "I'm Mr. Perfect, I never do wrong and I'll hit your face if you say otherwise" or to expose yourself? We tell you positive things and if you don't like it, then don't like it and go somewhere else. We don't freakin' care, this is just what we do! That's what Judas Priest did with their new album, because it's back to the roots and kind of like "hippie metal". They've always done what they started out doing. They can afford it and that's what I've been hoping they'd do. I've said it in other interviews, I'd like an album in their old vein and that's exactly what they've done.

WC: What's the meaning behind the song "Creatures of Heaven" on your new album? That's one you wrote yourself...

MW: I've seen these videos on Youtube from an amateur astronomer who has been aiming his telescope at orbit and there are huge machines there! They are lit up and there seem to be beings on them. What is this stuff? He put the videos online and you have to ask, what is this stuff? Who put it there? Seemingly huge structures and spaceships that look kind of technical. So I thought I'd make a song about it.  The lyrics ask, if creatures from heaven are in a different dimension or in the sky, you'll never know what heaven is or where it is. What are they...angels, beasts or supermen?

WC: Who knows? It depends on how you interpret things yourself.

MW: Yeah. And I wouldn't know! I can't tell, I have no knowledge about it, I just thought it was an interesting question to make a song about. Whoever put that stuff up there had a great deal of money and material. Do these things watch us or do they go about their own business? Could they be helpful to anyone down here? Are they trying to help you or just watching?

WC: How about the song "Battle's Won"? Is that a comment on current events?

MW: I think it's been overtaken by reality. Basically, I once saw a comedy movie with John Cusack. It was about making profit from warfare. I think it took place in Iraq. There were a lot of funny episodes in that movie, I can't recall the name. I hadn't looked at things in the same way as that movie until it came out and then I thought I'd do my own track about it. That's all I did. I don't think I put it in real clever words but it came across like what I wanted to say. They are creating genocide by selling arms...that's been going on since 1910 or so.

WC: What would you say the high points and low points of your career in Helloween are?

MW: The high point was "Keeper of the Seven Keys Part I" and our show at Castle Donnington. Also, the recent Woodstock Festival in Poland was great...believe it or not, there was 750,000 people that attended it, a lot more than had been accounted for. That must have been the hugest festival I ever attended. That was a definite high point. And to us, it came as a surprise because we had no idea it was so huge. Then we went to Rock in Rio and we were told we had the most people of any stage there. Cool! The lowest point, obviously, was when Ingo took his life, jumping in front of the train. We don't want to talk too much about that. There was also a period when we had to deal with a lot of contractual stuff and had to go to court and deal with all that crap. We were put on ice for 3 or 4 years where we couldn't do anything.

WC: The non-musical part of being a band...

MW: That's right. Another high point is Noise Records made 43 million deutschmarks from Helloween, which comes out to about half that in dollars...about 21 or 22 millions dollars. That's what our music was good for in the beginning, right? Of course, that music went to the record company...

WC: Well, they're no longer around in any form, correct?

MW: I don't really know, but I take that as a high point because I can always say to myself, no matter what others're dumb, you're German, you're cheesy...that record company made 22 million dollars with my ideas. That gives me a good feeling, you know?

WC: Very few bands of any genre can make that claim. Have you got any US touring plans?

MW: I hope next year from February on there's going to be headlining touring...sometime around February, March, April or so. I don't know for sure, but that's what I've heard. I said, OK, it's gonna be cold then!

WC: What was the last CD or release you got just because you wanted to hear the band?

MW: I have to open my iTunes now. I bought the last Europe because I liked the "Secret Society" that they've done before. I've actually been waiting to get some early Queen so I can see the stuff they did in 74 and 75 at the Rainbow Theater. I have to get it on iTunes because I have no space left for CDs at home. I have around 7000 CDs so there's no space where I can possibly put anything. I've been waiting to get high definition files with good quality I can listen to, not the real compressed stuff. I'm still waiting for somebody to do audio files that will sound like good vinyl. I'd have to rent another apartment just to store my media!

WC: Me, too! I don't have anywhere near 7000 CD's but I have a ton of movies and books as well!

MW: I have 551 movies that I've bought as well.

WC: In your career, you must have had a lot of Spinal Tap moments. Is the song "Lost In America" from the new album one of those?

MW: Yeah, it's a little bit like that.  That sort of situation happens to other people, too. It's pretty regular that a flight gets canceled or grounded or whatever. You have to sit there for hours and wait or get an apartment somewhere. You can take a chance and leave the airport to get some coffee or stay there for hours just to get your next flight. That's becoming more and more a regular thing. I just wonder how much exhaust and dirt and shit goes into the atmosphere and stays there because of all the plane flights. I don't know how long it will be possible to fly if nothing is done about that. People complain about cars and car exhaust...I think the plane exhaust and chemicals are just as bad if not worse!

WC: Any last words for all the fans?

MW: Thanks for all the support. That sounds corny but that's actually what it's all about. That's the only way we can do what we do.