Happy Helloween: The Kai Hansen Chronicles

author: woodenbandman date: 10/29/2009 category: artists' discussions
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Today's article takes a look at possibly the most famous name in power metal (no, you twit, I'm not counting Dragonforce): Kai Hansen. If you've never heard the name, then you have been living under a rock for the past 25 years listening to your extensive vinyl collection, shaking your head at the "young rascals" of the day, and turning into a bitter, scarred, hardened old crone, very much like your extensive vinyl collection. If you have heard of Kai Hansen, then good for you, you probably got your start in power metal listening to one of Kai Hansen's many excellent bands. How many, you ask? Kai Hansen is credited with forming 3 bands of his own. He got his start in a band called Gentry in 1978, which he co-founded with his friend Piet Sielck. In 1983, he formed Helloween, with whom he sang lead vocals, played lead guitar, and made gratuitous amounts of money until 1988. It can probably be safely said that Helloween, and thusly Kai Hansen, were one of, if not the first pioneers of what today is known as power metal. And even if there were bands before, they pale in comparison, for better or worse, to the impact that Helloween has had on modern power metal. The band, which persists to this day, is akin to the Rolling Stones of power metal. Love 'em or hate 'em (and most people choose the former), they are a cornerstone of the genre, an essential band without which the entire scene would have probably collapsed. In 1990, he formed Gamma Ray, a band that only appeals to diehard Kai Hansen fans and nobody else. Their musical styling is definitely in the vein of power metal, but they don't sound as sweet as Kai Hansen's other offerings. The classic Hansen elements are present, but everything always has an 'off' quality to it, similar to how some bands have one album where all the songs are good, but the album itself just sounds slightly wrong(See: Hate Crew Deathroll, Hellfire Club), except that Kai Hansen has done this with an entire band spanning 11 plus albums. Listen to Send Me A Sign and judge for yourself. In 1997, he joined Iron Savior with his friend, good old Piet Sielck. They released 4 albums before Hansen decided to leave the band, proving once again that anything Kai Hansen touches is made of pure gold, provided that he doesn't stick with it for long enough to enjoy the praise and fortune it generates. Iron Savior went on to produce several more albums and be tragically underappreciated while Gamma Ray's fanbase swelled to the size of Delaware. Iron Savior's albums deal with the unending quest of their eponymous fictional starship, the Iron Savior. Stylistically, in Iron Savior, a great many of the things that made Helloween great can be found, but they differ from the norm of power metal in several key ways. The lead singer prefers to use his natural, midrange voice, rather than sing false the entire time, and the guitar and drums branch out into a more NWOBHM inspired style, still keeping that distinctive power metal sound, but incorporating techniques often ignored in the style, such as pinch harmonics and use of the whammy bar (remember, for this article, Dragonforce doesn't count), and they sometimes evoke thoughts of Iron Maiden's album Seventh Son of a Seventh Son. Plus, they're singing about robot space pirates, which is cool as hell. For more on Iron Savior, click here. Kai Hansen's numerous guest credits include Stormwarrior, Blind Guardian, and Avantasia. The mere fact that he was involved with these bands must mean that they're pretty damn awesome. Stormwarrior, for example, produced by none other than (surprise) Kai Hansen, the chronic miss spellers and Viking metal warriors, debuted in 2002 and have been kicking ass ever since. Stormwarrior's tenuous claim to fame is the inability to not spell everything with an extra 'e' (Thy Laste Fyre, for example.) Still, they sound pretty much the same when you're singing along, so I like to just think that the extra 'q' is supposed to be silent. Their sound is on the heavier side of power metal. Compare Stormwarrior to Edguy and you'll understand. Some might classify them as prog, but that's a shaky claim at best considering that the first rule of prog is to make your own definition and not accept any bands outside of said definition. Quick trivia: their 3rd studio album, Heading Northe, was mastered by none other than Piet Sielck. Blind Guardian were a moderately successful band for years, however, their first studio album, Follow the Blind, was heavily influenced by Helloween, and as a sort of thanks, Hansen joined on a few of their projects from 1989-1992. During that time, they rose to prominence and, in 1991, signed on with major label Virgin Records. Coincidence? Now they are a hugely successful band, drawing heavy inspiration from equal parts Hansen and Tolkien, leading to such oddities as The Bard's Song mixed in with straight-up power metal tracks like Valhalla. And Avantasia, the brainchild of Edguy frontman Tobias Sammet, did in fact feature Kai Hansen, but then again it also featured everyone and their mother. In fact the band has only 4 core members, while the guest appearances number in the double digits, so perhaps this one can't all be attributed to Hansen... Oh, wait. Piet Sielck made an appearance. Michael Kiske of Helloween laid vocals on 7 tracks total. Henjo Richter of Gamma Ray performed all guitars on the first 2 albums. Markus Goskopf, of Helloween, performed all the bass tracks on the first 2 albums. It is clearly evident how much of a hand in power metal Kai Hansen has had. Where is Kai now? He's in Gamma Ray, of all places. Honestly, Kai, we're wondering what you're thinking. Why does Hansen pull phenomenal bands out of his ass, and throw them aside, while he stays with Gamma Ray? Perhaps the world will never know. And as long as he keeps dropping great bands out of the back of his pants, perhaps the world will never care. Jacobb Byers
More woodenbandman columns:
+ The Non-Musician's Guide To Last-Minute Musical Gifts General Music 12/25/2009
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