What do you get when you bring together the long-beloved combination of pumpkins and hammers? You get The Smashing…. Wait, no, it’s the Helloween and Hammerfall United Forces 2023 North American tour!
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Helloween and Hammerfall joined forces in 2022 for a bombastic joint tour across Europe, and in September, the dynamic duo announced that they would bring this tremendously well-received show across the pond and over to the United States. With thirteen dates scheduled on the tour, and locations spanning from New York, to Los Angeles, to everywhere in between, it was an instant must-see for power metal fans of all ages. We attended several of these shows, and here’s a recap of the tour run. Whether you were there, or are sobbing at home because you missed it, keep reading!
Helloween is widely regarded as the birthplace of power metal as we know it, while Hammerfall has carried the power metal hammer high since the nineties. Both bring with them extensive legacies, joy-filled music meant to inspire, and the gravitas of seasoned performers. To put them on stage together is nothing short of a match made in Valhalla for lovers of the genre.
Four decades of history stood behind Helloween as they embarked on this journey in Dallas, Texas. The band has an expansive catalog of songs to choose from, a robust history in power metal and beyond, and a stage presence that has been categorized as close to unparalleled. But United Forces 2023 also had something special up its sleeve: it featured all three of the band’s historic singers, encompassing Kai Hansen (the band’s first vocalist, who later dedicated himself solely to playing guitars), Michael Kiske (the vocalist from the band’s ‘golden era’), and Andi Deris (the subsequent and longest-tenured vocal talent). Together with the renowned instrumentalists of the band, there were seven individuals on stage for this tour, all united beneath the Helloween banner. Such seasoned performers were more than up for the challenge, no matter how many roles and souls would need to be juggled, and these genre mainstays were hungry to prove their place at the top of the power metal pecking order.
Hammerfall are almost as notorious as their pumpkin-icon brothers, this Nordic act having gained an impressive following in their three decades of life. They can claim twelve albums to their name, including 2022’s recent “Hammer of Dawn,” as part of a comprehensive legacy. Long known for their theatrics and dramatics, there is always the promise of exciting spectacle at a Hammerfall show, with details from costuming to lighting planned with absolute precision. Led by longtime vocalist Joacim Cans, these Swedish metallers show no signs of slowing down now that they’re three decades into the game. If anything, they’re more voracious than ever.
Hammerfall opened each night as North America fell beneath their hammer. Reaping the success brought by Hammer of Dawn, the quintet brought both the hammers and the heat as they put on a killer show time and time again. Cans has mastered the craft of thrilling the audience, and he does so with an unwavering smile. This is a no-frills, unadulterated, and anthemic heavy metal act. When they hit the stage, one can feel the energy in the venue ignite, and every fan’s eyes are glued to the stage. Sheer anticipation crackles through the air like static before a lightning strike.
With a 14-song set to feast upon, the crowd was quickly warmed up and eager to sing along as they were overtaken by Hammerfall’s metal-infused spell-work. And although this set spanned more than an hour, it might as well have passed in the blink of an eye, little more than a fury of splendid guitars and soaring vocal work. The musicianship was firing on all cylinders, and the enthusiasm all members of the Hammerfall crew exuded is beyond remarkable. Their on-stage dynamics led to an irresistible synergy that elevated them to unbelievably lofty heights.
Critics enjoy harping on the so-called “cheese” that backs these power metal mainstays, but such critics must have never been enamored by such enjoyable and infectious music. Already strong standing on its own, Hammerfall truly comes to life in a live setting. Guitarists Pontus Norgren and Oscar Dronjak burst forth with a tandem assault of addictive guitar riffs. Headbanging is a necessity as Fredrik Larsson delivers walloping bass lines, and drummer David Wallin provides the backbone rhythmic work. And of course, with the enigmatic Cans leading the charge, there was no option but surrendering to the splendor of anthemic power metal. A strong traditional touch in the set-list called on the much-beloved images of medieval warriors, glory, and the honor of knighthood.
Although the band was slated to serve as an opening act, they still delivered a performance that ended with an impressive encore. They began their outro with the fan-favorite “Hammer High” before diving into an incendiary rendition of “Hearts on Fire.” A new choir was born each night as the crowd screamed alongside Cans in perfect time. There was no shortage of fire to be found each evening as Hammerfall graced the masses with their presence, and both hearts and hammers were on display as this mesmerizing quintet commanded attention from all persons in attendance.
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Helloween has laid claim to many titles and many accolades. They have been heralded as the forefathers of power metal, as the most accomplished power metal band across history, and much more. But as they conquered stages during United Forces 2023, they proved one thing above all else: these guys know how to have fun on stage. Their chemistry and dynamism are not something that can be manufactured or replicated. So as they played songs from across their extensive career, it was plain to see that these artists and masters of their craft were still elated to be on stage, putting their souls on display for the thousands that had gathered to see them.
Songs from the band’s most recent (and self-titled) album Helloween featured both Deris and Kiske on vocals, as it did on the studio album. This is also the only album that features the current lineup of the band. Of the three vocalists gracing the Americas this year, each took the roles that they had on their respective albums. This included Hansen soaring to astounding heights as the band played a medley of songs from Helloween’s debut EP and first album, sounding much as though the eighties were still well within reach. However many years may have passed since their relative debuts, both Hansen and Kiske retained almost all of their vocal strength, just as powerful as they were on the first days of recording.
As different as each man’s vocal approaches may have been, both on stage and in their careers, they coalesced in a beautiful work of fluid art. The set-list spanned Helloween’s entire career, which provided a rich bounty of fan-favorites and new skills to put on display. This was much more than the cash-grab that some had accused in the tour announcement’s early days. No, Kiske couldn’t fake a smile like that, and there is no amount of acting that could generate the same electric ardor that followed Helloween on its cross-country trek. Tangible affection sparked between each vocalist and founding members Michael Weikath and Marcus Grosskopf. It was a show that truly traversed every one of the band’s notable eras, and included the relative talents of each vocalist and musician in turn.
It wouldn’t be a Helloween show without the two closing tracks, an impressive display from the seven-man ensemble that included both “Keeper of the Seven Keys” and “I Want Out.” Both are enough to drive any crowd into a frenzy, but for a crowd that was already riding high on elation from Hammerfall, these closing notes were nothing short of pure ecstasy. Such a combination of iconic bands and mixed-era band-mates might have led to disaster on any other tour, but for United Forces 2023, it led to a transformative experience that melded decades together, undeniably proving that they were each essential components in the historic power metal story. These seasoned and skilled musicians have never been counterparts, but partners, each stoking the fire that fuels the fervor of power metal fans well into the twenty-first century.
While the United Forces 2023 tour may have come to its natural end, it succeeded in reaffirming the genre is very much alive, and that Helloween have its name cemented in the hallowed halls of metal history.
Special thanks to Samantha Buckman for her writing contributions to this article.