Tales from a Metalhead: Chapter 21: Ride The Sky

Tales from a Metalhead logo

This chapter is part of a book called Tales from a Metalhead written by Metal Express Radio’s President Stig G. Nordahl. The chapters will be posted one at the time and you can find them all here.

Backstage With Helloween
Helloween and Stig

The first Helloween track I ever heard was “Ride the Sky” which I had recorded from an FM radio show. It is a bit embarrassing to say now, but I told a friend it was King Diamond because I thought it sounded like him. Kai Hansen sings high notes, but still… that powerful Speed Metal track was an eye opener for me and I followed the band and its spin-off bands for many years later. I did several interviews with members and ex-members after bad break ups. When I listen through these interviews from yesteryear it’s interesting to hear the different views on what happened and how they explain it.

After purchasing Helloween’s first album, Walls of Jericho, which had already been out for a while, I was eagerly awaiting the next album Keeper of the Seven Keys Part 1. Now, with Michael Kiske aboard as the new vocalist it took a different turn musically. Hansen was still in the band but now only doing guitar duties instead of both vocals and guitar. This was the start of the German Power Metal sing-along genre. I loved it! Well, for a couple of albums at least. You can’t go wrong with songs like “A Little Time,” “Halloween,” “Eagle Fly Free” and “I Want Out.”

HELLOWEEN - Keeper Of The Seven Keys Part IIWhen Keeper of the Seven Keys Part II was released I had a huge party at my house the day before. In the morning I collected all the empty beer bottles and went to the grocery store to recycle them. Since you got money back for the recycled bottles I was actually able to buy the album solely with the money I made from this. Go environmentally friendly incentives! Once again it was an excellent album from first to last note. We even played the track “Dr. Stein” in my band at the time. The vocal part was a challenge of course… I don’t remember if the quality of the album helped my hangover though.

After the Keeper of the Seven Keys albums Hansen left the band, and founded his new band Gamma Ray. It was obvious that Hansen had been a key member in Helloween, and in his absence Helloween was not the same anymore. The first detour for Helloween was the album Pink Bubbles Go Ape. It had a stupid cover with stupid song titles; “Heavy Metal Hamster”??!!! Hello? The next release was the very low key Chameleon. It has some good tracks, but it was not the Helloween I knew and loved. I believe the tour following this album was the first time I saw the band live. They played well, but it was very obvious that the chemistry within the band was really bad. Guitarist Michael Weikath was mostly leaning towards the monitors with a cigarette in his mouth while playing. Kiske did his vocal duties without even looking at Weikath during the show. The band told me in interviews later that they had totally grown apart, both musically and personally, and that they almost ended up fist fighting backstage. It was inevitable that a change would come, and Kiske was out of the band soon after.

Press ticket for the PC69/White Lion show

In 1994, less than a year after, the band announced that their new vocalist was Andi Deris. Deris was recruited from Pink Cream 69, another favorite band of mine. They supported White Lion on tour in Oslo in 1989 while promoting their debut album, and it was a very good performance by both bands.

With Deris on vocals Helloween got back on track with the 1994 album Master of the Rings. The track “Mr. Ego” was dedicated to the band’s former singer Kiske. It says a lot about why they split.

Picture of Primal Fear
Ralf Scheepers backstage at a festival. Obviously before he started working out.

At this time Hansen had already released three albums with his new band Gamma Ray. Ralf Scheepers (of Tyran’ Pace and later Primal Fear) did the vocals on those, but left before the album Land of the Free. This led to Hansen taking over the mic himself again, like on the first Helloween album. In 1995, I interviewed Hansen before the album was released. In addition to the new album he also talks about standing in the middle of the fights in Helloween, and why Scheepers was out of Gamma Ray (hint: Judas Priest).

Later the very same year Gamma Ray would release a live album simply called Alive ’95 so I set up another interview. At the same time as Hansen called me the fire alarm started whining so I had to evacuate the studio. It was a false alarm as usual, but time was almost running out while waiting for the “all clear” to enter the studio again. I called him back as soon as I could, but we had to keep it short. It was especially interesting to hear him talk about new projects with former band mates.

One of the projects Hansen mentions in the interview was a contribution to Kiske’s first solo album called Distant Clarity. After Kiske was done in Helloween he wanted to go in a different direction musically. This album was obvious proof of that as it only contains two heavy tracks, co-written by Hansen and Adrian Smith (Iron Maiden). It was an interesting collaboration indeed, so I arranged for a phone interview with Kiske. I especially enjoyed hearing his thoughts about being creative vs playing live. He was now obviously very far from where he was while being a member of Helloween. The album track “Always” was dedicated to Ingo Schwichtenberg, the former Helloween drummer who committed suicide in 1995.

Picture of Helloween
Weiki and Stig

Luckily Helloween kept it hard and heavy and in 1996 they released Time of the Oath; an album they dedicated to Schwichtenberg. The album was a concept album about Nostradamus’ prophecies made for the years 1994 to 2000. Some of his prophecies might have come true but I think that according to Nostradamus WWIII should have started by now. We have a fitting saying in Norwegian: even a blind hen sometimes finds a grain of corn. As the album was released I made a phone interview with Michael Weikath. Now after Helloween having released one bad album, one alternative album and one decent album, Michael Weikath had answer if the band is back on their feet with the new album Time of the Oath and if the band had to regain confidence from the fans. He also gave insights on how the album was recorded and wether the new release is a concept album or not. It was expecially interesting to hear Michael letting out steam when it comes to the suicide of former drummer Ingo Schwitenberg and people accusing the band for acting irresponsible. Why is Helloween so big in Japan and why they don’t play the classics that Kai Hansen wrote? Michael shares it all in this interview.

Helloween visited Oslo again on the tour supporting Time of the Oath. I was granted backstage access for an interview with Weikath and Deris and we had a great time. I even have a picture of Deris teaching me how to iron stage shirts. I need to find that some day. I ended up interviewing Weikath one 2nd time about the latest album.


Piet Sielck was a long time friend of Hansen and he produced the first Gamma Ray album. In 1997 he stepped out of the shadows and formed his own band; Iron Savior. He showed that he could sing and play guitar well. He brought aboard Hansen on guitars and Thomen Stauch from Blind Guardian on drums. The self-titled debut album tells the story of a self-aware space vessel called the Iron Savior and the mythical lost civilization of Atlantis. The musical style is typical German Power Metal of course! I mean, Hansen is playing on it so why wouldn’t it be? It’s a strong, powerful album that I played a lot. The following year I attended Wacken Open Air in Hamburg, Germany. Iron Savior was on the bill so I asked for an interview with Sielck. When the interview was done Hansen came by for a little chat. I asked if he could take a photo of Sielck and myself which he did. Then this guy passed by and asked if we wanted him to take a picture of the three of us as well. Obviously I said yes. It was the right thing to do.

Picture of Iron Savior
Yours truly with Piet Sielck
Photo: Kai Hansen
Photographer Kai Hansen in the pic as well
Picture of Iron Savior & Metal Express
Iron Savior & Metal Express Radio at W:O:A

I met Sielck a few years later during a backstage party at some festival. We had a short conversation and he asked what I thought about the latest Iron Savior album. I honestly don’t remember if I hadn’t heard the album or if I confused it with another of the huge amount  of German Power Metal releases coming out at the time. I said I liked it and also that it has a very modern sounding touch to it. Wrong answer… Sielck just rolled his eyes and went back to the bar, ha ha. We took a new picture before I screwed up, ha ha.

After Time of the Oath album and your Helloween took a break. All of a sudden I received solo albums from both Andi Deris and Roland Grapow. Hmmm, had the band split? That was a natural question to ask when I interviewed Andi Deris about his first solo album Come In From the Rain. I believe this is the only interview I have done where you can hear seagulls in the background. The album was obviously quite different from what he did with Helloween apart from one track in particular that we talk about in the interview. Oh, the guys from Helloween plays in that one….

Roland Grapow replaced Hansen on guitar in Helloween in 1989 and stayed with the band for many years and albums. Grapow is a great guitarist and songwriter, and he also made a couple of solo albums. In 1999 he released Kaleidoscope where current and former members of Yngwie Malmsteen’s band appeared. It sounded like an interesting album so we set up a phone interview.

In the year 2000 Helloween released The Dark Ride. The band headed in a darker direction with downtuned guitars and raspy vocals. It’s still a solid album and was the last one to feature Grapow and drummer Uli Kusch. The two of them formed a new band called Masterplan right before they got sacked. I learned later that it was a bad breakup, pretty much like what happened with Kiske. I got Deris on the phone from his house on the Spanish island Tenerife for a chat while the album was on its way to the record stores.

I had totally forgotten about how many Gamma Ray interviews I did in the 90’s and early 2000’s. I know I had spoken with Hansen a few times, but when going through my old tapes I found an interview from 2000 that I did with bassist Dirk Schlächter when the band released Blast from the Past. This is a two CD compilation album that contains re-recordings of older Gamma Ray material from the Scheepers era, with Hansen handling the vocals this time around. Schlächter explains why the band re-recorded the songs and how the fans picked which songs to include on the album.

In 2001 Gamma Ray released No World Order. Guess what? I did another interview with Hansen. The band had finally a stable lineup in place and Hansen explains that importance of that. He also explains how the album is based on a book released by a fan! Another revelation was that he had just quit Iron Savior.

2003 was a busy year for Helloween, its ex-members and myself. Kiske was back on track with a new group he named Supared. It was more Rock than his solo stuff and it had a more modern approach musically. I hated the album like most others, and it failed miserably. Still, I took the time to talk to him when it was released. He was more on the ball this time and ready to Rock again. He also touches upon the subject about when he left Helloween. Michael seemed like being in a better place this time so to interview turned out to be quite good.

Masterplan was only meant to be a side project, but when Grapow and Kusch were fired from Helloween it suddenly became their main band. Russell Allen from Symphony X and Kiske were both asked to join as vocalists but turned down the offer. Kiske ended up guesting on one track on their debut though. The guys had heard the band Ark from Norway and the lead singer’s solo album, Worldcharger, and subsequently offered their vocalist Jørn Lande (known internationally under the moniker JORN) the lead singer spot. I had talked to Lande a couple of times before in connection with his solo career.

Masterplan’s debut album turned out to be really strong! I was asked to do a Masterplan interview and got a German phone number to call. The band was gathered somewhere in Germany. I don’t remember if it was Grapow or Kusch who picked up the phone, ready to do the interview, but I asked if I could talk to Lande instead. I thought it would be interesting to hear how he ended up in a German band.

Rabbit Don’t Come Easy, what kind of an album title is that? Sounds like another Pink Bubbles Go Ape. Anyway, that was the name of the next Helloween album. When a member or an ex-member of Helloween released an album, I did an interview. It seemed like that was the drill for some years. I had forgotten about several of these interviews until I ran through my old tapes. I made another call to the island to get the real explanation from Deris about what the album title means. You will never guess…

That very same summer, in 2003, Masterplan was on the bill at Sweden Rock Festival. I ran into Grapow and Lande backstage after their show and I ended up doing another impromptu festival interview. We talked about how the band’s debut concert at Sweden Rock Festival was received, but even more interesting the reasons for getting fired from Helloween. Why is my voice somehow slurry and down pitched? It is called Jack & bacon breakfast. Check the first chapter for a thorough explanation.

The last time I talked to the guys in Helloween I asked for time to make a Rockumentary. This was during the Keeper of the Seven Keys – The Legacy World Tour in 2005. I don’t remember how much time we got, but it was far too little. That is typical for bands that have been around for a long time. There is always so much to talk about and that takes time. Especially if the band likes to talk about the old times. Just like when Udo Dirkschneider almost starved to death because he missed dinner during the Accept rockumentary, or when Marc Storace almost missed the show because he forgot about the time while recording the Krokus rockumentary.

I sat down with bassist Markus Grosskopf and Weikath for the recording. We got all the stories from the old times on tape, but we had to rush through their latest album because it was show time all of a sudden. But hey, it’s the old times and albums that count, right? I got what I wanted and also another version of why ex-members became ex-members.

I went early to catch the sound check before meeting Grosskopf and Weikath. While the guys were playing, a local roadie next to me put his hand in a flight case with some equipment connected to the electrical system. He got a severe electroshock. He was standing upright while his whole body was shaking. I have never seen anything like it and it took a little while before I understood what was going on. He eventually got his hand out and fell on the floor. He didn’t pass out, but he was very confused. The band obviously noticed what had happened so they stopped playing. Guitarist Sacha Gerstner (who joined Helloween in 2002 after quitting Freedom Call) screamed from stage “why are you idiots not calling an ambulance?!” The poor dude didn’t want an ambulance, but I guess maybe he was in… shock! He was taken to a nearby hospital for a check. Believe it or not, I actually think he was back for the show. Maybe he was a huge Helloween fan. It was a scary experience, but I think it ended well after all.

I don’t follow the German Power Metal scene closely anymore, but it was fantastic to see Pumpkins United (Helloween reunited with Kai Hansen AND Michael Kiske) performing together on tour in 2019. It was a journey back to the good old times. If the band made up with Grapow and Kusch? I have no idea. I will have to check if I ever do an interview with any of the bands again.

It costs a lot to keep Metal Express Radio running. Let’s face it, we’re a grassroots web radio and we do this because we love Metal. Any contributions that helps keeping us afloat are highly welcomed. We gladly accept donations on our donate page.


  • Stig G. Nordahl

    Stig is the founder and the president of Metal Express Radio, based out of Oslo, Norway. He has been around doing Metal radio since the mid-eighties. In fact, running Metal Express Radio takes almost all of his time. Is it worth it...? "Most times, yes," Stig says. "My philosophy is to try to give all Metal releases a fair chance to get promoted in one way or another. As you can imagine, it can be an arduous task to listen through about 20 albums every week! Still, I know we have the best METAL dedicated radio on this planet, and that is a reward in and of itself. I hope one day the whole Metal community can and will make listening to Metal Express Radio part of their daily rituals! Yeah, right..."

    View all posts

Be the first to comment

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.


This site is protected by reCAPTCHA and the Google Privacy Policy and Terms of Service apply.

The reCAPTCHA verification period has expired. Please reload the page.