“Gambling With The Devil” is a little bit of everything for everyone. By that I mean it sounds a bit like Freedom Call, a bit like Andi Deris’ solo material and Pink Cream 69-era material, a bit like classic Keepers’ Helloween, and a bit like the current era Helloween. That being said, the album has some excellent tracks like Kill It, The Saints, Heaven Tells No Lies, Fallen To Pieces, and Can Do It (a quirky little tune that is one of my personal favorites), but as one reviewer pointed out, there’s something missing from the album to label it a 5-star effort. I feel that part of the issue might be the production of the album. A lot of fans love the job that Charlie Bauerfeind has done on the last few albums, but at times it feels almost *too* polished and as a result I think the sound suffers overall. Despite their public comments to the contrary, I think Helloween was at its peak when Tommy Hansen produced their albums. There may have been an old-school sound and feel to their albums, but for some reason, it just sounded right.
I also think that part of the issue is Dani Löble’s drumming on the album. Again, as much as the band toes the company line with the usual “this is the best lineup Helloween has ever had” business, I believe Uli Kusch was the perfect drummer for Helloween. There was something about his drumming that meshed perfectly with Weikath, Grapow and especially Grosskopf. Löble, on the other hand, feels too much like a drum machine, too stiff, too unimaginative. As a result the songs sound and feel stiff. No surprise that since Kusch left, they have used a number of drummers to fill in (Mark Cross, Mikkey Dee, Stefan Schwartzmann) and I still don’t think they have the guy that sounds right for them. Additionally, I think Kusch helped to break the monotony of Weikath and Deris’ songwriting styles; Helloween fans consider “Better Than Raw” and “The Dark Ride” to be some of the Deris-era Helloween’s best material, and no surprise that Kusch had a big hand in the songwriting on those albums. Ironically enough, prior to hiring Loble Helloween was looking at hiring Freedom Call-er and Gamma Ray drummer Daniel Zimmermann; one can only imagine what Zimmermann, an accomplished songwriter himself, would have brought to Helloween.
In any case, Helloween has still managed, for their thirteenth release, to put out an effort that proves they have not lost any steam, and are still one of the better bands out there when it comes to keeping their material fresh and exciting. Highly recommended.