Helloween - Better Than Raw
Victor Entertainment
Euro Power Metal
12 songs (59:16)
Release year: 1998
Reviewed by Ben
Archive review

In a decade that was not kind to metal, 1998 was perhaps one of the darkest years. The self titled Slipknot hadn't even been released yet so when you asked people about metal what came to mind was XXXXXXXL size Jncos with infinity pockets and zippers to nowhere, short frosted spiky hair, and Coal Chamber. However! In the midst of all this ass, Helloween quietly released one hell of an album with Better Than Raw. This would end up being their best nineties album (in my opinion) and this was an important album for me personally as well. This was my first ever Japanese release album with a-a-a bonus track, and a spiffy cool extra booklet that was all in Japanese except for band names. More importantly, this was the album that basically converted me to Euro Power Metal, FOR LIFE. Because no one gave a shit about melodic metal in the nineties, Helloween pretty much had free reign to do whatever they wanted. Even their comeback album Master Of The Rings has some "experimental" songs like the ode to the Game Boy The Game Is On, the acoustically driven super ballad In The Middle Of A Heartbeat, and the old timey bouncy swing feel of Take Me Home. The followup album The Time Of The Oath had a gritty and dry as hell production and one seriously evil song in the title track. Better Than Raw is both more melodic and dirtier in tone than the previous albums and creates a really unique vibe.

Lo and behold, the intro track is one of the less than a dozen "obligatory intro tracks" that DOESN'T get skipped. Deliberately Limited Preliminary Prelude In Z is a sweeping, grand orchestral track that is combined with rousing crunchy power chords. There's a brief bit where things get a bit too happy, but all that is blown away when Push kicks in with Helloween's most aggressive song yet. The level of ferocity on display here would not be matched until 2007 with Kill It. THICK, heavy guitars, speeeeeed, and an insanely high pitched Andi Deris actually took me, a fan, by surprise. It was a good surprise. While being heavier than anything they've done before, this still was melodic, this was still rooted in old school metal. While some bands like Overkill and Testament were able to adapt to the nineties, many North American bands didn't so to hear this type of metal in 1998, oh man it truly excited me. Falling Higher continues the onslaught and if I ran the world, this would have been the first single. Fast, catchy, dripping with melody and positive aggression, this is everything great about the band. What stands out on this track is the guitar tone. Again, this album has such a terrific tone that gives an edge to material that might come off as too cheesey if it used cleaner production. That grit that comes through shows that this "happiness" was hard fought for, and not dumb ass blind optimism.

Hey Lord! was chosen as the second single to be released and is a pseudo ballad and brings the pace to a mid tempo. Lyric wise this is a very reflective song where Andi Deris is asking Lord Keanu questions about life. "What is it all about?.... Time is running time is short...why you want us so wayward?" A live video was shot for this one. Don't Spit On My Mind is probably the only real dud on the whole LP. It just kind of rambles on slowly and gets the chorus shouted at you. Revelation though kicks all kinds of ass. This one is the epic of the album at around nine minutes long. Beginning with backwards phasing sounds that make you feel like you're being abducted by aliens, this blazes through multiple fast sections throughout the duration. Backing vocals are plentiful and harsh, and to be frank, this blows away the other "alien" song they've done, Mission Motherland. Time is a pure ballad and is similar to Hey Lord! with its lyrics centering on a sense of yearning and trying to find one's place in the world. While I normally dislike ballads with a passion, Time has enough conviction due to the introspective lyrics and has just enough of an uptick in tempo at the right times to elevate this far above album filler. First single and concert staple I Can continues this streak of righteousness. While I stated earlier that I would have chosen Falling Higher as single numero uno, you can see why I Can got picked. It's a solid, driving, straight forward, no frills mid tempo song that in a better world, might have been considered for radio airplay somewhere. Anyways, it's a good un but I wish the band would start to play the next one more often. A Handful Of Pain is precursor to the material that would rear its head on The Dark Ride. That's because this is definitely the most "evil" sounding song the band has done. Beginning with a dry and throaty spoken passage, the verses wind up being driven by two things, Markus Grosskopf's angry bass guitar and Andi Deris employing a rarely heard baritone aspect of his voice. There's tremendous conviction in this song that make it a stand out. As far as I know the band has never played this one live. Lavdate Domnvm is a literal Latin prayer to Morpheus up high, and brings back the "Happy Helloween" factor. It's probably the weakest track next to Don't Spit On My Mind, however it has enough interesting elements in it to make it listenable. Back On The Ground is the Japanese bonus track and is immediately different by starting off with some dramatic keyboards. This is an odd song in the sense that the verses are very Euro metal, then the chorus sounds like more of a traditional bar band. It's very difficult to explain but the basic gist is that this was probably a bonus track because it has good ideas and came out recorded well, but the chorus and the verses just don't gel together like they should. Finally, we get to the finale, Midnight Sun and this is like a six minute mini epic. Think of it as Revelation's little broseph, in terms of structure and feel to end this album on a rousing heavy number.

Well damn, that wasn't supposed to end up being a track by track review but seeing as how Better Than Raw rules so hard it's only fitting. I mentioned earlier that this album converted me fully to Euro Power Metal and looking back it's easy to see why. It was just unfathomable to me that bands were out there and in the then current time, were making this type of aggressive, fast, yet melodic metal still. While the Keepers albums and to a lesser extent Walls Of Jericho are the ones that everyone cites as influences, this one right here is just as essential.

FUN FACT: Based on the strength of this album, Helloween came over to the US for the first time since like 87 / 88 to play at Coney Island in New York to roughly a hundred people. A single solitary show, one whole US show, where they were probably paid in chili dogs and Ferris wheel rides. There's evidence of this gig out there floating about in the interwebs. The setlist looked cool and so did the intimacy of the gig. There was even a two page spread with pics in an issue of Metal Edge commemorating the event.

Killing Songs :
Push, Falling Higher, Revelation, A Handful Of Pain
Ben quoted 94 / 100
Other albums by Helloween that we have reviewed:
Helloween - Helloween reviewed by Ben and quoted 84 / 100
Helloween - Master Of The Rings reviewed by Ben and quoted 73 / 100
Helloween - United Alive In Madrid reviewed by Ben and quoted no quote
Helloween - Straight out of Hell reviewed by Chris and quoted 92 / 100
Helloween - Walls of Jericho reviewed by Olivier and quoted CLASSIC
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