This had been a long time coming, having never seen either band, the fact they were playing a co-headline tour was enough for the one night (which actually became three) night layover in London. With one of my oldest mates in tow, it was into the Big Smoke, check in to the hotel and down to the lovely area of Brixton for a bit of Bowie spotting before a few (possibly one too many) adult beverages. As we head into the Brixton Academy, one of my favourite venues due to excellent vantage points the sloped floor provides, within 20 minutes of the doors opening it was time for the Swedish kings of heavy metal Hammerfall (8) to open the evening.
Staged as you'd expect with Norse Hammers, lights and an overall slickness. Hammerfall are somewhat regimented in their delivery however they pump out anthemic power metal for a solid hour. Using three from their most recent effort, Hammer Of Dawn along with classics such as Glory To The Brave, Blood Bound, Let The Hammer Fall and The Metal Age, it was a packed with their best tracks and got the crowd going with every riff from Oscar Dronjak (and his guitar shape like a hammer) and Pontus Norgren inviting as cheer while David Wallin (drums) and Fredrik Larsson (bass) drove a heroic groove. Hammerfall are so polished that if you closed your eyes, it felt like the record Joacim Cans' vocals especially are crystal clear. As Hearts On Fire brought the set to a close, Hammerfall laid down a hefty gauntlet for the German Pumpkins to follow.
Happily for me anyway his was a long time coming, the idea of seeing Helloween (10) has always been a little too far fetched as they rarely tour the UK outside one show, but seeing as this was while they are still in their Pumpkins United format and also touring a new album, attendance was mandatory. So with the unveiling of drummer Daniel Löble's Pumpkin drum riser, it was time for the Pumpkins United to bring the heavy metal party. What a party it was as with limited staging, the drum riser and some screens this now 7 piece line up all seemed to be having an absolute blast, interplay between them was almost as brilliant as hearing newbies Skyfall and Mass Pollution from their self titled record sandwiched I Want Out, like all of these classic songs took on a different sound due to the vocal interplay between Michael Kiske, Kai Hansen and Andi Deris.
If you've heard Helloween the album you'll know that an integral part of why it's so good is that the vocal trio work so well together and that was shown here too. The set comprised mostly of each singers defining moments with Keeper Of The Seven Keys Part II having the lion's share we also got songs from KOTSK Part I from the Kiske years, Hansen took the lead role for tracks from Walls Of Jericho while Andy Deris' long standing reign was celebrated with tracks from Master Of The Rings and The Sign Of The Oath.
As Future World shifted into Save Us the Kiske blasts were augmented by Deris' rougher style, he then showed his expertise on Where The Rain Grows, backed by Hansen who then took us through a medley of tracks from the debut album Walls Of Jericho his biting guitar tone evident as watching him once again in unison with co-founding members, guitarist Michael Weikath and bassist Markus Grosskopf was a bit emotional I must say. For me though it's Sascha Gerstner who is the keystone of Helloween live, his weird looking guitar at the heart of nearly every song as he strides the stage, looking serene with the chaos unfolding around him. He even has an animated pumpkin avatar for the video to Best Time.
As encores go A Tale That Wasn't Right, Power and Keeper Of The Seven Keys is as about as good as you can get, the latter being breathtaking live, with that vocal interplay at its heart, but with the crowd still singing it again the lights hit for the second and final encore, as I Want Out was met with rapture and the crowd in full voice. An incredible gig and real bucket list stuff, a smile etched on my face and a year in my eye it was back to the hotel ready for the weekend of more music to come. Still even as the dust settled, as I write this Sunday morning, the memories of this show are very much at the forefront of my mind.
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