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Kai Hansen is a living metal legend. His part in pioneering what became the melodic speed/power metal genre, a scene in which he remains a hegemonist, should never be underestimated. The prolific German musician switched focus to what was billed as a solo outing last year, for the release of 'XXX - Three Decades in Metal' under the Hansen & Friends moniker. As indicated by the album's title, it felt like something of a celebration, and he continued his party at the world's biggest metal gathering in early August of the same year, for a one-off Hansen & Friends show (or, it could be said the album continued the party, as it was released after this show). Aptly performing on the festival's 'Party Stage', here we have a release of the gig in all its aural/visual, CD/DVD glory, so it can now be enjoyed by those who missed the exclusivity of the performance.

With a live lineup featuring Heaven Shall Burn bassist Alex Dietz and Dark Age guitarist Eike Freese, both of whom featured on 'XXX - Three Decades in Metal', Hansen was also joined by two of his Gamma Ray brethren - sticksman Michael Ehré and vocalist Frank Beck - as well as Vision of Atlantis' singer, Clémentine Delauney. And then there's the surprise appearance towards the end of the set of none other than ex-Helloween frontman, Michael Kiske! How did it all translate on stage? Incredibly well, I must say.

With a setlist that drew heavily from 'XXX - Three Decades in Metal', these tracks were interspersed with Hansen-era Helloween classics ('Ride the Sky' sounds particularly amazing) that seemed to send the Wacken crowd into a state of good old fashioned moshing ecstasy. Hansen and his musical comrades were evidently revelling in every moment of the occasion, with the mainman looking ecstatic throughout. And his monstrous riffing, breathtaking solos, and melodically succulent leads evidently filled the dusking Wacken arena with a sense of metal grandeur and gusto. Obviously, nothing can affectively substitute the lived experience of being there, in the moment (and the mud), but this DVD presentation of the show is a sheer joy to experience.

The entire band were on fire, and it's nice to see the drafted-in backing vocal talent got their moments in the spotlight. Hansen states, at one point, "Frank, you're gonna sing the next song... you always wanted to sing an old Helloween classic.", which triggers the Gamma Ray singer to come forth and lend his lead voice to 'Victim of Fate'. And Delauney has her moments, stage-front, with 'Fire and Ice' and Helloween number 'Save Us', for which Hansen tells the crowd of the latter: "This is a song that is completely underrated." He's right! It stands up strong against any of the perennial favourites from 'Keeper of the Seven Keys: Part II', and I guess Hansen's underrated comment derives from the fact it was relegated to "bonus track" status on most editions of the album across certain territories (and didn't even feature in the tracklist on some releases).

The incredibly tasty icing on the cake is indubitably the moment when Michael Kiske takes to the stage, for renditions of a couple of Hansen/Kiske-era Helloween numbers - 'I Want Out' and 'Future World'. Now completely bald and a little chunkier, he's virtually unidentifiable as his former self (he looks more like Angry Anderson these days)... but THAT voice! The man's still got it. And the evidence is here on these two songs. The signs are good for the upcoming Helloween reunion shows, where both Kiske and Hansen are set to rejoin some of their former bandmates for a series of 'Pumpkins United' dates. Bring it on!

In terms of sound and the visuals - everything's great. I understand this is also getting a BD release, so those wanting to experience Hansen & Friends in HD will be satisfied there... however, the SD presentation on the DVD looks good enough for the format. And the camera work in capturing this unique show is impressive. The audio on the CD also sounds sparkling enough, if a little too bass-biased. All in all, a great little release of this important show. Even the logo's great - a cunning interpretation of the Helloween emblem... but I guess it helps when your surname starts with "H" and ends with "EN"!
Review by Mark Holmes
79:29 (DVD)
23rd June 2017
1) Born Free
2) Ride the Sky
3) Contract Song
4) Victim of Fate
5) Enemies of Fun
6) Fire and Ice
7) Burning Bridges
8) Follow the Sun
9) I Want Out
10) Future World
11) All or Nothing; 12) Save Us
"...his monstrous riffing, breathtaking solos, and melodically succulent leads evidently filled the dusking Wacken arena with a sense of metal grandeur and gusto."