A tour I’ve been waiting for since its announcement was the ‘United Forces Tour 2023’ which featured a reunited Helloween with the metal masters from Sweden HammerFall. The Fillmore in Minneapolis, Minnesota opened its doors and welcomed long-time fans of both bands for a powerful and memorable night of music.
HammerFall was given an hour to hit the crowd with everything they had and that’s exactly what they did. The attack started with the crushing “Brotherhood” and then into “Any Means Necessary.” This was my second time seeing them and once again they were impressive. They have created their own legacy over the past thirty-years with twelve studio albums, the last one coming in 2022 called ‘Hammer of Dawn.’ The first thing that immediately stood out was the energy coming from guitarist Oscar Dronjak. He looks like he lives and breathes metal as he attacked his guitar and enticed the crowd into the show. Watching the other guitar player, Pontus Norgren, was also a treat. He’s a shredder and worked the fretboard effortlessly. The rhythm section was thunderous with Fredrik Larsson on bass and David Wallin on drums. The man at the center that provided the vocals was Joacim Cans. He delivered the goods and sounded fantastic. As they ripped through a greatest hits type set-list the crowd was all in. The audience participation was non-stop and the atmosphere was electric during the set. They closed with “Hearts on Fire” with a tremendous response from the fans.
Helloween fans got energized in 2016 when it was announced that vocalist Michael Kiske and guitarist/vocalist Kai Hansen would rejoin the band. Adding back two members from the iconic ‘Keeper of the Seven Keys” era put the band back in the spotlight and fans, just like myself, waited for the tours to start. Finally, they arrived in Minnesota and from the opening note of “Skyfall,” it was a magical night. That song came off their sixteenth studio album, ‘Helloween,’ that was released in 2021 which was the first release under the “Pumpkins United” line-up. Not only did it feature Kiske and Hansen, but it also included the five current members of that band that have been active since 2005. Original members guitarist Michael Weikath and bassist Markus Grosskopf along with Sascha Gerstner also on guitar, drummer Daniel Loble and lead vocalist Andi Deris who replaced Kiske in 1993. For those people that jumped off the wagon after Kiske was replaced, you have missed some great Helloween records as Deris has done a specular job stepping into shoes that were difficult to fill. I was delighted they found a way to bring seven guys together and celebrate the entire history of the band and the tour really showcased why this band has influenced so many that came after them.
The set ran over two hours as they encapsulated the discography perfectly. After “Skyfall” where all three singers had their moments in the song, they began to alternate vocalists, sometimes solo, sometimes together. Kiske took on “Eagles Fly Free,” “Save Us” and “Future World” while Deris struck with “Mass Pollution,” “Power” and “Perfect Gentleman.” Not to be outdone, Hansen took lead vocals for a medley of songs from the album ‘Walls of Jericho’ and a full ripping version of “How Many Tears.” The songs where both singers were on stage together trading off lines was really fun. Kiske and Deris worked together on “Best Time,” “Forever and One (Neverland),” “Dr. Stein” and the epic closer of the first encore “Keeper of the Seven Keys.” Sonically the band was top notch, with the drummer, Loble, sitting behind a monstrous kit on top of a pumpkin, you couldn’t see him, but you could hear him, and he powered the sound and worked in complete unison with the bassist Grosskopf. The third guitarist, Gerstner, is a real talent, both in playing and also providing backing vocals. The three-guitar attack allowed the guitar players to harmonize with each other while also filling in the rhythm parts which really gave the songs a full sound. Vocally, all three guys were spot on, including Kiske hitting some incredible high notes.
There was nothing I didn’t like about the show. The stage with the big pumpkin in the middle holding the drums, the ramps on each side and the screen playing some really cool images behind them. The obvious closer “I Want Out” ended a perfect evening. I love that Helloween worked out a way for the entire catalog to be represented as there are so many great songs and albums and being able to see the three singers performing together was fantastic. As a Helloween fan, I couldn’t ask for anything more…well, one thing maybe, how did the song ‘Halloween’ not get played? That’s the only thing that comes to mind but besides that one omission, a perfect night.