Concert ReviewsHelloween / HammerFall - May 16, 2023 - Jannus Live, St. Petersburg,...

Helloween / HammerFall – May 16, 2023 – Jannus Live, St. Petersburg, FL

It’s been awhile since Helloween has played on Florida soil (1989 to be exact), but not nearly as long for HammerFall, who graced us with their presence most recently in 2019. So when the Spring 2023 “United Forces” tour was announced, there was no question that we had to go. Getting to the venue, the line was already around the block; a great sign that this show was easily close to, if not already sold out. This was actually our first time at the legendary Jannus Live – after living in Florida for over 7 years – and it was immediately clear this is a great place to see a show. Overall, there are great sight lines (as long as you don’t get stuck behind the tree that is a landmark for the venue), plenty of bar areas and even fresh pizza! Mentioning the tree, if it’s not obvious, this is an outdoor venue; as we get into Florida summers, it can be very hot, but there was plenty of shade and fans blowing, making it much more comfortable than the usual soup-like air we are accustomed to (for all of Florida’s faults, being able to have year-round open air shows is pretty nice).

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These legends really need no introduction, but it is sometimes easy to forget that this pioneering power metal band was formed as a side project by members of legendary melodic death metal bands. While it’d be interesting to hear HammerFall with Mikael Stanne on vocals, most would probably agree that Joacim Cans vocals have become a signature sound for the Swedes and one of the most recognizable voices in the genre. On that same note, Oscar Dronjak’s guitar melodies have become a fundamental element of HammerFall’s music.

By the time the first notes of “Brotherhood” started it was evident the crowd was fired up and ready for the templars of steel to take us to the promised land. Followed up with “Any Means Necessary” (a personal favorite of this scribe) to really get the crowd pumped up. Interesting to note that Hammer of Dawn was released last year, but just over a fortnight before this show, the 20 Year Anniversary Edition of Crimson Thunder was released. As many were hoping, the “Crimson Thunder Medley” was on the setlist; flawlessly combining “Riders of the Storm,” “Hero’s Return,” “On the Edge of Honour,” and “Crimson Thunder” into a roughly five-and-a-half minute masterpiece.

Coming towards the end of the set, Cans had a fun crowd interaction when asking the crowd “what do you say, if I say ‘let the hammer…’” to which there were a couple shouts of “fall” but not nearly as many as you’d hope. Cans replied with “the confusion is total” getting a chuckle out of the crowd and then reminding the audience “my friends, the band on stage that you’re currently watching and listening to, is right up there” pointing to the projection of their latest album and causing an eruption of laughter from the concert goers. This time when he said “so if I say ‘so if I say ‘hammer’ you say…” the whole crowd did not hesitate to shout “FALL!” After a couple more practice chants, I think it’s obvious which song this was leading into.

Before long though, HammerFall closed out with another Crimson Thunder classic, “Hearts on Fire,” leaving the crowd burning for more.

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Most folks got into metal through bands like Metallica, Iron Maiden, Black Sabbath and many other classics, but this writer was first introduced to metal when given 3 CDs: Savatage’s Streets, Gamma Ray’s Heading for Tomorrow, and Helloween’s Keeper of the Seven Keys – The Legacy. The first one selected for a spin was Helloween and the rest is history. I also proudly say that my first tattoo was of the pumpkin from Helloween’s The Dark Ride. To say I love this band would be a massive understatement. This is only the 3rd time I’ve had the pleasure of seeing them (2008 at Rams Head Live! in Baltimore and 2018 at The Palladium in Worcester), but they continue to impress more and more.

Starting out with some of the instrumental parts of “Halloween” (which unfortunately was not played this evening), mixing into “Orbit” to lead into “Skyfall” is how the German power metal gods kicked things off. Fitting given this is the first album that included both Kai Hansen and Michael Kiske since Keeper of the Seven Keys Part II, something that most probably never thought would happen. Granted, back in 2007 I posted on a forum that my dream tour would be Helloween and Gamma Ray, but noted that would never happen and about a week later the “Hellish Rock” tour was announced; never say never (or maybe do and jinx your favorite bands into touring together).

The setlist was full of classics like “Eagle Fly Free,” “Future World,” “How Many Tears,” and “Dr. Stein,” along with a “Walls of Jericho Medley” featuring a mix of “Metal Invaders,” “Victim of Fate,” “Gorgar,” “Ride the Sky,” and “Heavy Metal (Is the Law).” With such an extensive catalog many albums aren’t even touched, but having this group so close to the original line-up called for a feature of more classics than not.

A Helloween show wouldn’t be complete without encores that included both “Perfect Gentleman” and “I Want Out.” As with many other of their shows, there were huge pumpkin balloons (a nightmare hippie Woodstock scenario for Impaled Nazarene) being bounced around the crowd at the end. Folks were so excited about this that I even witnessed a guy grab one and bite it until it popped – enjoy your trophy, sir!

The only thing I would have changed was for the crowd to have a bit more energy. Many folks said this was their first time seeing them, and while folks sang along and threw up horns, there wasn’t a lot of movement from the crowd. We’ll have to assume this was due to being so awestruck that they forgot how to move their legs, which is totally understandable; it’s not every day you get to witness one of the greatest metal bands of all time.

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