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Album Reviews : Gamma Ray – Land of the Free II

By on October 29, 2008

Gamma Ray have been around for a long time, some might call them kings of their domain, especially considering Kai Hansen is their front man, the man who inspired and practically pioneered power metal with the Clasic Helloween Albums “keeper of the Seven Keys” Parts I and II. And with a title like “land of the free II” they’re giving themselves big shoes to fill, to come up with a follow up capable of being in leauge with 1995’s incredible Land of the Free. But this itself poses a risk – are we going to get a Keeper of the Keys Part II – an album on par if not superior to its predecessor, or are we getting an old worn-out band trying to cash in on the name of a past success, like Operation mindcrime part II ? It is with a lot of sadness as a huge Gamma Ray fan I say that it’s much a case of the latter.

Let’s set the background here first – I am a avid Gamma Ray fan. For a band that isn’t half as credited as I think they should be, Kai Hansen is one of the greatest songwriters around, the music of Gamma Ray is the musical equivalent of a brilliant colourful vibrant burst of energy in life, (for science nerds, I guess Gamma Ray is a fitting band name if you look at an EMR spectrum) and Kai indeed lives up to his title as the father and pioneer of Power Metal; Land of the Free was one of the most phenomonal power Metal albums to be released, and even though just prior to the first LotF we saw the parting of the incredible vocalist Ralph Scheepers (now in Primal Fear), it exceeded many expectations and the album flows brilliantly from start to finish without a dull second, including guest performances from incredible singers Michael Kiske and Hansi Kursch, and still to this day has some of the greatest songwriting I’ve heard. I think anyone can appreciate the incredible climaxes and contrast in songs such as Rebellion in Dreamland.

Land of the Free II, however, is little more than a great disappointment. First off the production – For a band that’s had a pretty strong sound for a good 5 or so albums now, the drums and the guitars are, to put it briefly, very thin sounding; It’s like somebody’s gone and EQ’d all the mids out the night before it got sent to mastering.

Second – the songwriting and performances. Kai was never the greatest singer around, or the greatest guitarist, but he was pretty good at both; But they could both be subordinated to his greatest feat – his incredible songwriting. However, even his voice is sounding thin to my ears on this album… and the songs are simply a bunch of mid-paced (mid paced for Gamma Ray anyway) uninspired cliche riffs and recycled sections that bring nothing creative or awe-inspiring to the table. But even trying to disect this from the perspective of someone without high expectations, the writing is quite tame and predictable. “When the World” is nearly a direct copy of Iron Maiden’s “Flash of the blade”, riff for riff, section for section(one of the lines in the song is even “the number of the beast”). Play the two back to back you’ll see what I mean. For one of the most creative songwriters around, something this blatantly copied is very disappointing.

Maybe I’m being a bit harsh – there are a couple of alright songs here in the characteristic Gamma Ray sound – The opener of this album warms you up and leaves you excited for what is to come (…which is, on the contrary to what seems to be in store, a series of subsequent disappointments), and some songs like From the Ashes and To Mother Earth have some catchy chorus melodies… the album encompasses a range of moods in the music, the songwriting, albeit rarely, has SOME diversity; You can still hear everything ok in the production and theres a strong layer of backing vocals, another classic trait of Gamma Ray’s sound, and the production probably ranks up better if I was to compare it to the production of SOME releases I’ve heard around.

But to compare Gamma Ray to the rest of the league that they are a part of, and the standards they’ve set for themselves – they’ve really dropped the ball on this release, in all aspects. I certainly hope future releases don’t let me draw the conclusion that Gamma Ray are been and done and have no more steam left in them… for a band that has constantly released back to back albums with great songwriting, this is quite a poor effort. If I want to reccomend Gamma Ray to a friend, this definitely wouldn’t be the album i’d lend them to have a listen to. 4.8/10

For fans of:
Helloween, Edguy, Iron Maiden

Band: Gamma Ray
Album: Land of the Free II
Year: 2007
Genre: Power Metal/Melodic Metal
Label: SPV
Origin: Germany
www.gammaray.org

Track Listing:

1. Into the storm
2. From the Ashes
3. Rising Again
4. To Mother Earth
5. Rain
6. Leaving Hell
7. Empress
8. When the World
9. Opportunity
10. Real World
11. Hear me Calling
12. Insurrection

Reviewed by Luke Besley

About

Outside of occasionally contributing to Metal Obsession, Luke is the guitarist and brain behind Knightmare and Seventh Sage, and also plays in Septerrus. Luke studies Engineering full time at Monash, likes Mexican food, and also does other things besides metal.