The 013 in Tilburg, Netherlands, is somewhat of a legendary venue when it comes to metal concerts. Where many have done gigs and kept raising notoriety for the locale in terms of good sound quality and overall atmosphere, it is definitely a fitting place for two giants of the industry to perform their joint tour, aptly named United Forces 2022-2023. Hammerfall, with an almost 30-year career and have consolidated themselves as a go-to band for true, 80’s style heavy/power metal were given the task of supporting the mighty Helloween, one of the most iconic and influential bands to come out of Germany and arguably the creators of power metal, so 013 was once again set for an important night for the metal in The Netherlands on September 13th.
Hammerfall took the stage and immediately captivated the few fans that were oblivious of their might with the epic and true-to-its-roots sound of templar heavy metal. Started out with some newer tunes in “Brotherhood” and “Any Means Necessary” but quickly shifted to the Swedes’ heydays with “The Metal Age”, a very welcomed song by all in attendance. The mix of new tracks to spread the word of their new album ‘Hammer of Dawn’ with classic songs that cannot leave their setlist was well balanced and provided some good breathing room for old fans who were there to reminisce Hammerfall’s golden days and newcomers to the Swedish templars alike, who could enjoy the band’s more recent moments.
There was actually a sense of “play it one for them, one for us” as this balance between young and old was nearly divided in half. For instance, “Hammer of Dawn” was accompanied by “Blood Bound”, “Regenade” was followed by “Venerate Me” and even the encore was comprised of a newer classic “Hammer High” and the ultimate old-school Hammerfall chant “Hearts on Fire”.
The fans could also celebrate 20 years of the ‘Crimson Thunder’ album with a killer instrumental medley from the record’s greatest passages in “Hero’s Return” and “On the Edge of Honour” and then with the choruses for “Riders of the Storm” and “Crimson Thunder”, all sang in unison by the crazed audience. While this scenario was set in a very simplistic and laid-back scenario and it didn’t last for long, it was nevertheless a very passionate way to honor one of Hammerfall’s most beloved albums.
Hammerfall did their job perfectly by slaying their classics such as “Let the Hammer Fall” and “Glory to the Brave” while adding energy and singalong moments such as “(We Make) Sweden Rock” and turned the first half of the night into an ode to themselves and a beautiful display of respect to their fans. Oscar Dronjak and Joacim Cans once again proved to be two of the ramparts of 1990s Swedish metal, Pontus Norgren and Fredrik Larsson are amazing at their instruments and David Wallin feels like a Kraken on the drumkit. A great display of power and a perfect setup for the other headliners of the night.
That Helloween was always a force to be reckoned with live, everyone already knows. What is surprising is how the German power metal stalwarts managed to add their legendary frontman and a third guitarist – which is actually the god of power metal – seamlessly and without sounding or looking overpompous. Legendary duo Michael Kiske and Kai Hansen returned to Helloween’s ranks for a reunion in 2017 and never left, and this was absolutely the best thing for the band and fans alike. I had seen their show back when they reunited so I knew what to expect, but 5 years later they still sound amazing and with no signs of slowing down.
As it was the case with Hammerfall, Helloween also mixed old with new songs and promoted their homonym album very well with pieces like the epic opener “Skyfall”, “Mass Pollution” and “Best Time”. Commonly in their gigs, the big screen behind the band would tell the stories along with the music, and while there was no real light show, pyrotechnic extravaganza or anything of the sort, it was a nice addition to the spectacle and set a good atmosphere.
Dividing the vocals amongst themselves for the most part and having a few solo moments of their own, Andi Deris and Michael Kiske sound amazing and can still hit higher notes when required, especially when we’re talking about Kiske who is still a freaking force of nature at 54 years old. Deris has largely improved from the time he was fronting the band alone and also had great moments of his own, especially in tracks like “Power” and “Perfect Gentleman”; the contrast of Deris being more playful and energetic while Kiske a more centered and introspective performer works wonders and keep the show fresh at all times.
The true highlight of the performance, however, was when Kai Hansen took over the mic and graced us with an old-school set that absolutely destroyed. The intro to “Walls of Jericho” paved the way to a thunderous medley “Metal Invaders / Victim of Fate / Gorgar / Ride the Sky” and ended in a bang with “Heavy Metal (Is the Law)”, bringing the whole venue down with incredible guitar work and lightning-fast speed. The 15-minute or so mini show was a statement of why Kai is considered to be one of the greatest geniuses in the history of power metal and further consolidation of his throne as king of the genre.
Amongst all the happy-happy Helloween moments and power metal, mayhem were classics such as “Eagle Fly Free”, “Future World”, “Dr. Stein” and “How Many Tears”, all executed to perfection. Legends Michael Weikath and Markus Grosskopf, although a bit stranded to a more supporting role (by choice, of course, as they are still the band’s leaders), provided amazing instrumentalism, while Sasha Gerstner and Dani Löble were the young links of energy and explosion that fit everything in place. As the amazing night needed an amazing end, the Germans did not disappoint with the epic “Keeper of the Seven Keys” and mandatory “I Want Out”.
The United Forces 2022-2023 tour is everything fans of Hammerfall and Helloween can and should expect from such prominent and important bands of the heavy/power metal world and an absolutely mandatory stop if there is a date happening near you. Young fans will see their thirst for energy quenched while old school followers like myself will surely leave satisfied with so many classics performed and nostalgic moments presented by both acts, mainly with the absolutely necessary ‘Walls of Jericho’-era moments in Helloween’s show and the good ‘Crimson Thunder’ anniversary surprise by Hammerfall. Extremely recommended.