Better Than Raw

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Never quite in the spotlight yet never quite forgotten, Helloween continued to record over a decade and a half after their debut album. And to some success, actually. Granted, that success was largely limited to Europe and Japan, but it was enough to sustain the group. And, weirdly enough, through sheer existence -- continual touring and recording -- Helloween accomplished something very rare indeed for metal bands in their second decade: they actually began to improve. They never quite managed to hit the peaks of Keeper of the Seven Keys, and the youthful energy of their first albums had long disappeared, but the band continued to refine its sound and push itself into new progressive territory. Better Than Raw is proof of that and arguably their best album of the '90s. There still are silly moments -- if you're not a hardcore fan, the "metal will never die" platitudes of "Falling Higher" will rub you the wrong way -- but the music is layered and unpredictable, ranging from metal anthems to metal ballads to neo-classical metal to neo-black metal. It's an ambitious set, and it's all the more impressive coming from veterans, not a bunch of newcomers. [Better Than Raw was reissued in 2006 in an expanded edition that included four bonus tracks.]

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