Home Gigs Gig Review : Helloween with HammerFall: Manchester Academy, Manchester. 4 May 2022

Gig Review : Helloween with HammerFall: Manchester Academy, Manchester. 4 May 2022

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Review by Pete Finn for MPM

It’s ‘Star Wars Day’, so what could be more appropriate, Han Solo and his companion the Wookiee Chewbacca climb aboard the Millennium Falcon and head out to a hive of activity in the north quadrant of a galaxy far, far away…. OK, myself and MPM Tog Chewie Manson, are in the BMW heading to Manchester.

Maybe, not as glamourous, but it’s going to be as equally epic. We’re off to see German power rockers Helloween on their ‘United Forces Tour 2022’ with Sweden’s HammerFall as their special guests.

On this 28-date rescheduled European leg of the tour, they are only playing two in the UK, tonight at The Manchester Academy and tomorrow in London at The Brixton Academy. In fact, after the re-jig tonight is the first date of the tour.

The venue is located on the University of Manchester Campus, just south east of central Manchester. It has four halls, with the main one we’re in tonight having a capacity of 2600. A few of the bands that have played here in the past include AC/DC, Cream, Hawkwind, Pink Floyd, Nirvana and The Who, so this venue has some pedigree.

After doing battle with Manchester’s inner-city traffic system, we eventually arrive and park up. It’s a short 5-minute walk to the venue, we’re efficiently ‘ticked off’ the list and go in. The hall is a large square with long bars down either side, the Merch has a big queue at it, I take up a position next to the soundboard as Manny heads off to the pit. There’s a great buzz of excitement around the place.

HammerFall were formed in Gothenburg, Sweden during 1993 by guitarist Oscar Dronjak. He called on friends in bands such as Ceremonial Oath, In Flames, Crystal Age and Dispatched to join him in this project. Their first album ‘Glory to the Brave’ was released in 1997 and February this year saw the release of their twelfth studio album ‘Hammer of Dawn’. The current HammerFall line-up has been the same since 2014 and consists of Oscar Dronjak (guitar), Joacim Cans (vocals), Fredrik Larsson (bass), Pontus Norgen (guitar), and David Wallin (drums).

The hall lights go out, the sound of a bell toll is ringing around the hall assembling the masses, the band appear on stage Dronjak and Norgen are on the stack, Larsson centre stage, all wearing leather battle jackets, the shields either side of the drum kit are lit up, vocalist Joacim Cans runs out and Wallin’s double tap drum signals the start of ‘Brotherhood’ taken from the new release ‘Hammer of Dawn’. The riffs are quick, Cans’ vocals clear and cutting through the immense wall of sound, the guitars line up and are headbanging, Norgen and Dronjak exchange squealing lead breaks, the track closes with a crashing finish. A huge cheer comes from the crowd.

The crowd chant in time with the drums and, ‘Any Means Necessary’ from 2009’s ‘No Sacrifice, No Victory’ starts. Cans lyrics are spoken and the riffs are marching through the hall, the guitarists line up for a Quo-esque rock line, it looks great. Norgen is playing his solo with the guitar pointing at the lights above as Cans and Larsson are stood high on the speaker stack. This is high energy stuff.

We jump back in time to the 1997 debut album ‘Glory to the Brave’ for ‘The Metal Age’. More fast riffs from the guitars as Wallin is double tapping the bass drum. Cans is up on the monitors encouraging the crowd to sing along, as Dronjak powers out the chords, the band call for the crowd to clap along. We chant ‘Hey, Hey’ in time with the beats, Norgen’s chugging riff brings the end of the track, to be greeted by a huge cheers from the crowd, the chant “HammerFall, HammerFall” booms out.

“Good evening, Manchester, it’s been a long time since we did this, 27-months.” Cans continues, ” There’s one rule, have some fun. We’re going to play new shit, old shit and some shit in-between”, laughing he carries on, “You may know this one”.

The crowd did, as the title track to 2022’s ‘Hammer of Dawn’ begins, the marching beats get us moving, Cans is conducting the crowd, Norgen arches his back as he rips through the solo. Larsson is up on the stack; his bass beats are almost suffocating as they move the air in the hall. The track finishes with the band holding their fists high, the appreciative crowd copy.

Next, it’s ‘Blood Bound’ from ‘Chapter V: Unbent, Unbowed, Unbroken’ released in 2005. The HF logo and shield are glowing red. The guitars are in a line as the crowd are singing the words, a popular track. You can just see the top of Wallin’s head and stick tips above his kit. Cans is knelt down singing to the front row. As the track finishes the crowd throw their arms and any remaining beer into the air.

It’s straight into ‘Renegade’ it’s the title track from the 2000 album. It’s fiercely quick, looking around the crowd it’s another favourite. The guitars pause every now and again, and the crowd cheer. Cans pointing at them in recognition of their efforts. Oscar Dronjak holds his hammer shaped guitar up high for Cans to play, as the track ends Cans shows us the strength in his voice as he holds the final note. The crowd are loving it.

“You only live once, but you die twice. This is from the new album” says Cans. It’s ‘Venerate Me’, he’s sat on the drum riser as he starts singing. Pontus Norgen is leaning over the front row as he plays the lead break, before Dronjak carries it on, we get to join in with some ‘Woah, Woah’s’, as the track finishes Wallin holds his crossed drum-sticks above his head. The crowd approve.

Next, we have ‘Last Man Standing’ from the 2000 E.P. ‘Any Means Necessary’, this is slower, the arms are swaying. Short heavy beats, it’s Viking Longboat rowing tempo shakes the hall, Dronjak eases into his solo, as Cans cups his ears to the crowd who roar back.

“It’s 20 years since the release of this next track, it’s a tribute to Oscar and you the fans”, says Cans as he leaves the stage. It’s a ‘Crimson Thunder’ Medley, the tracks from the album of the same name, released in 2002. Dronjak is centre stage as he plays a short solo, Norgen continues the duel as they exchange breaks and riffs.

Wallin’s comes in with a thunderous drum salvo which signals Cans to return. He’s punching the air “Can you hear thunder?”, the pace slows, the shield and HF logo glowing crimson. Massive bass wash fills the room as the track powers to a close. There’s the sound of thunder booming through the PA. “HammerFall, HammerFall’, is the chant again.

Cans asks “How many of you are seeing HammerFall for the first time?” a good cheer is the reply “OK, lots, so let’s pop some cherries”, he then screams “Let the hammer…”, we respond, “Fall” we’re off, it’s ‘Let the Hammer Fall’ from ‘Legacy of Kings’ released in 1998. Classic rock riffs, we’re on the money with our line as Cans points to the crowd. Norgen and Dronjak are leaning back-to-back as they swap lead breaks. We have some fist pumps and ‘Hey, Hey’s’ before Dronjak pretends to smash the hammer guitar into the stage at the end.

A quieter acoustic sound starts ‘Glory to the Brave’ the title track from the 1997 album. Cans vocal is spoken, it’s not long before these duties are passed to the crowd. Cans is clenching the mic, his voice full of emotion. He stops and asks if we want to hear the final verse, it’s an emphatic “Yes”. Huge cheers as it finishes.

We are introduced to the band, Cans declares “Together, we make Sweden Rock”. Then we’re into ‘(We Make) Sweden Rock’ released in 2019 on ‘Dominion’. Fast riffs, the band and the crowd are bouncing. The crowd are swaying their arms as the band line-up on the stack for a crescendo finish. The lights go out and the band leave the stage to another deafening “HammerFall, HammerFall” chant.

A few moments later, HammerFall return, Cans laughing “I thought I could hear some shouting, let’s see some fists up” the band start ‘Hammer High’ off of ‘Built to Last’ from 2016. The band are all singing the words. Norgen and Dronjak tag team solos. The hall is a sea of movement. The final line sees the band stop playing and chant the words.

“Thank you, Manchester, do you want one more?”, of course we do. ‘Hearts on Fire’ again from ‘Crimson Thunder’. It’s fast riffs and Wallin’s double tap beat launch the final track. We get a “Hearts on Fire” sing back, before the song closes with a classic outro. Dronjak throws his guitar into the air as HammerFall finish an amazing set. The thunderous cheers indicating that the Manchester crowd have loved their show.

Setlist: Brotherhood, Any Means Necessary, The Metal Age, Hammer of Dawn, Blood Bound, Renegade, Venerate Me, Last Man Standing, Crimson Thunder Medley, Let the Hammer Fall, Glory to the Brave, (We Make) Sweden Rock, Hammer High, Hearts on Fire.

Formed in Hamburg in 1984, Helloween started as a five-piece that included current members Michael Weikath (guitar) and Markus Grosskopf (bass). The name Helloween was chosen, according to former vocalist Kai Hansen, because “Halloween comes but once a year, but you can have Helloween everyday”.

Between 1989 and 2016, there had been numerous line-up changes, leaving Grosskopf and Weikath as the only remaining continuous members.

As a seven-piece, their current line-up includes four-fifths of the ‘Keeper of the Seven Keys: Parts I’ and ‘II’-era (1987–1988) line-up with Kai Hansen (guitar/vocals) and Michael Kiske (vocals), also featuring three additional members, Andi Deris (vocals), Sascha Gerstner (guitar) and Daniel Löble (drums).

As a group Helloween have released sixteen studio albums between 1985 and 2021, with the most recent being ‘Helloween’, which was in the Top 40 Album Charts across most of Europe and in the U.S.A. including No. 1 in Spain and their homeland Germany.

The stage is prepared for Helloween, there’s a huge drum kit incorporating four bass drums sat on the speaker stack. The big stage will easily accommodate the seven members of the band. The anticipation and excitement is electric.

There are a couple of false starts as the crowd think the band are coming out. The lights drop, and a huge screen behind the drum kit bursts into life. The noise from the Manchester crowd reaches another level. ‘Orbit’ from the recent 2021 album ‘Helloween’ is playing the screen is showing space pumpkins, and a hooded figure, The Keeper, the stage is glowing red, one by one the band appear on stage, the crowd are going crazy.

Andi Deris starts the vocals to ‘Skyfall’ from ‘Helloween’, Michael Kiske stood on the stack, the studs on his bright red leather jacket sparkling in the lights, carries them on. The furious pace creates an colossal wall of sound, Grosskopf’s bass and Löble’s double tapped drums are shaking the foundations. An inflatable pumpkin is batted around the crowd.

The back drop is showing an ‘Iron Man’ like character flying around, Kai Hansen is now singing lead vocal. Sascha Gerstner is leading some ‘Hey, Hey’ chants. The senses are being pulverised. Wow, what a way to start…

The frantic pace continues for ‘Eagle Fly Free’, from the 1988 album ‘Keeper of the Seven Keys Pt. II’. We’re watching an eagle soaring on the screen, the band line up as they play, the stage is flame red and orange. Hansen starts a solo, before Gerstner who is playing a bright white cross-bow like guitar continues, who in turn passes the duties to Michael Weikath. Kiske is inciting the crowd as the volume goes up another notch. The track finishes to huge cheers.

Deris speaks, “It’s our first gig in 2-years, or as you English say 2 bloody years. Make some noise for me”. Another new track ‘Mass Pollution’ is next, a heavy bass intro, the crowd know the words already, the pace is fast, very fast. The video shows a tank blowing up a power station built into an electric guitar. Hansen and Gerstner, who now has a red version of the guitar are sharing the solo. The band are head banging in a line across the stage. It’s a great spectacle.

The crowd instantly recognise the intro riff of ‘Future World’ from the 1987 release ‘Keeper of the Seven Keys Pt. I’. Kiske is belting out the lyrics, he stands next to Hansen and the pair sing together.

The four guitarists line up swaying their guitars, the crowd are now singing the chorus, Grosskopf is pounding the bass. Kiske leans over the crowd at the front of the stage for some fist pumps, before letting out a huge scream. Hansen and Weikath playing Flying ‘V’s switch lead breaks. Blinding strobe lights finish the track.

Stopping in the 80’s we have ‘Save Us’ taken from ‘Keeper of the Seven Keys Pt. II’. It starts with fast double-tap drums, Kiske is on vocals whilst the rest of the band support with the backing vocals. There is an Icarus/Flash Gordon Hawk-man flying above the drums.

The bass sounds are stamping on your chest. The pace is relentless. There’s a girl at the front of the stage, showing incredible balance as she headbangs whilst sat on someone’s shoulders. It finishes to rapturous applause.

Andi Deris tells us this next track is from the first album he sang on in 1994 ‘Master of the Rings’. The track is ‘Where the Rain Grows’ it has a marching drum beat, the triple attack of squealing guitars are a full assault on the ears, this is in contrast to the backing harmonies also being delivered by the guitarists. A clever mix. Deris is singing the ‘Woahs’ as the crowd clap along to the end.

Deris introduces the man who “Started it all” pointing at Hansen. Hansen isn’t ready, he wants to tune his guitar. Hansen thanks us all for being here tonight, then asks if we’re ready for some old heavy metal from Germany. He starts his medley of tracks from the 1985 album ‘Walls of Jericho’ it includes ‘Metal Invaders / Victim of Fate / Gorgar / Ride the Sky’, the screen shows a falling pumpkin squashing a duck (that’s something I never expected to write), these are anthems played at brutal pace, the crowd are loving it.

Next, the screen is showing an ‘Eddie’ character as Hansen rips into a solo before slowing things down, narrating the lyrics, he’s giving the crowd the ‘Horns’, the circular riff gets the crowd clapping, Sascha fist pumps the air in time with the crowd. Hansen gets the crowd singing ‘Hey, Hey’. We continue in to ‘Heavy Metal (Is the Law)’ again from ‘Walls of Jericho’ we have a sing back with “Heavy Metal”, Grosskopf is on top of the stack leaning back smashing out the notes. There’s massive cheers as the track finishes and Hansen leaves the stage.

Next, it’s the slower ‘Forever and One (Neverland)’ from ‘The Time of the Oath’, Deris vocals slow and powerful, the lighters are out matching the imagery on the screen, Kiske joins in filling the hall with rich vocals. It’s a massive sound.

Deris screams “Are you ready for some Rock ‘n’ Roll?” we have the title track from the 2013 album ‘Straight Out of Hell’. His vocal is emotional as the screen behind shows the pumpkin in various war gear against a back drop of flames. Gerstner and Grosskopf combine to give strong melodies and crushing beats. This one went down very well.

We return to the new album for ‘Best Time’, this was written by Sascha Gerstner, he’s on the stage by himself, he starts off with a solo, it has an almost electronic undercurrent running through it. His guitar is making some incredible sounds. The band join him on stage, Kiske is on vocals, there is a DeLorean car and a dancing pumpkin on the back drop. Deris takes over the vocals aided by some throbbing bass beats. The crowd were impressed.

The intro to the next song signifies it’s a favourite amongst the faithful, it’s ‘Dr. Stein’ from ‘Keeper of the Seven Keys Pt. II’. Kiske and Deris are alternating the singing. The driving beats and dirty solos are classic metal. The crowd is going mental. The video shows a Frankenstein pumpkin, the cadavers have toe-tags with the band members names on. This track has just taken the roof off of the Academy.

Once we’ve calmed down, (only very slightly), we’re told that Michael Weikath wrote the songs on ‘Walls of Jericho’ and this is one from it ‘How Many Tears’, this is speed metal, frantic, all the guitarists are up on the speaker stack, Kiske and Deris trading vocal blows.

There’s a slower melodic section, as it slows to and almost delicate finish, it then explodes as we start a ‘Skyfall’ reprise. The crowd, fists raised are punching the air. The screen shows a Flying V shaped space ship, like the Imperial Cruisers from Star Wars (very apt for today). Kai Hansen thanks the crowd, says “Goodnight” and the band leave the stage to huge cheers and clapping.

“Helloween, Helloween” is the cry. The encore sees the band return and Kiske says the next is a ballad written by Weikath, they start ‘A Tale That Wasn’t Right’ from ‘Keeper of the Seven Keys Pt. I’ The crowd clap slowly along, as Kiske full of passion screams the words, Deris re-appears and takes over, The arms are swaying.

Kiske points the mic at the crowd who take their turn on lead vocals. It’s straight into ‘Power’ from ‘The Time of the Oath’, as Deris asks “Say Yeah, if you have the Power” the pumpkin on the screen is running, it has Hulk arms. Grosskopf is singing along encouraging the crowd to join in.

The first notes of ‘Keeper of the Seven Keys’ are almost drowned out by the crowds reaction. They are bouncing, Kiske is up next to the drums foot on one of the bass drums. The stage is red and gold, Deris and Kiske leave the stage, the musicians are ripping it up. Each lead guitarist has a short solo, as they rock out. Kai Hansen calls for a cheer for the singers Kiske and Deris, then one by one the band leave the stage after being introduced to the crowd, until only Gerstner is left. He leaves, the crowd are cheering for more again.

The second encore is ‘I Want Out’ from ‘Keeper of the Seven Keys Pt. II’, this has the crowd bouncing again, it’s a party tune. The crowd is split down the middle for a sing-off, Kiske and Deris conducting their respective halves with ‘Woahs’. I don’t really know who won, it didn’t matter everyone was enjoying it. The band line up across the stage for the final crescendo finish. The Manchester crowd show their appreciation, as they walk off, smiling and waving.

Setlist: Skyfall, Eagle Fly Free, Mass Pollution, Future World, Save Us, Where the Rain Grows, Kai Hansen Medley – Metal Invaders / Victim of Fate / Gorgar / Ride the Sky, Heavy Metal (Is the Law), Forever and One (Neverland), Straight Out of Hell, Best Time, Dr. Stein, How Many Tears, (Skyfall reprise), A Tale That Wasn’t Right, Power, Keeper of the Seven Keys, I Want Out.

It’s been a great evening at the Manchester Academy, the hall has been full of genuine fans who have been like coiled springs for over two years. I’ve just witnessed 2600 Jack-in-the-Box’s being released at the same time. Brilliant.

Photography by Manny Manson for MPM

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