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Gamma Ray

Hell Yeah!!! The Awesome Foursome: Live In Montreal

Review by Gary Hill
While Gamma Ray has built their own reputation, you really can’t mention them without bringing up the roots. Their guitarist and vocalist, Kai Hansen is best known for his work in Helloween. This group shares that band’s penchant for creating technical epic metal. There’s no denying the talent here. I would say that the group’s music (while entertaining and potent) is often times too derivative of Judas Priest and Iron Maiden, though. That said, those are great groups to emulate as they are among the best in their given genre. Whatever you say about the music of Gamma Ray, though, these guys definitely deliver in a live setting and this is one scorching album. It’s technical and powerful – all rolled into one. There’s no weak material, although some of the songs are stronger than others. It’s sure to please their fans, as well as anyone else who is into the epic metal genre.

This review is available in book format (hardcover and paperback) in Music Street Journal: 2009  Volume 1 at lulu.com/strangesound.
Track by Track Review
Disc 1
Welcome
This powerhouse epic metal introduction has the crowd singing. It’s a short instrumental.
Gardens Of The Sinner
A killer riff opens this and they climb upwards from there. They work this through for a few minutes in a hard-edged epic motif and then drop it way down around the three minute mark for a dramatic verse. Then it fires back out into a killer instrumental section.
New World Order
The riff that starts this off – in a cool start and stop mode that really gets the crowd going – reminds me somehow of Judas Priest. They move into a more straightforward metal grind for the vocal section. Actually, while the lyrics don’t sound like Rob Halford, this cut feels like it could have been a Judas Priest song from Stained Class. The mellower segment later, though, is quite different than Priest (perhaps Iron Maiden would not be far off) and includes some bass that seems like something Geddy Lee might play. When they fire back out into the Priest-like music the vocals actually do become very much like Rob Halford, completing the picture.
Man On A Mission
Frantically fast, this is super technical epic metal. There’s a weird little world music exploration in the middle of this cut. Then they fire out into some scorching metal for a killer guitar solo. It’s another killer epic cut. 
Fight
This has a furious pace and reminds me quite a bit of Manowar. It’s another screamer and there’s also some Iron Maiden influence in this musical stew. 
Blood Religion
They begin here with a balladic approach and power it up after the first set of vocals. From there we’re into another shredding epic metal journey. There’s a mellower section later with some dramatic backing vocals. 
Heavy Metal Universe
The riff that begins things here is another that reminds me of Judas Priest. I’d say that a lot of this song is in a motif that’s Priest-like. It’s as much so as “New World Order,” but there’s a lot of Priest in mix. Of course, when they get into the chorus that is intensified. As you might guess from the title, this is a bit trite in terms of lyrical structure. The music on the other hand is not. This monster is about ten and a half minutes in length and includes a lot of different modes and styles. It’s a very dynamic and diverse cut. We even get a cool bass solo. That takes us to one of those old-school call and response bits where a voice does a riff and then the guitar places the same riff and they build. Now, we need to talk about the singalong on this. I’ve seen Judas Priest live enough times to know that this thing is a carbon copy of the one Rob Halford does. I don’t know this band well enough to know who was doing it first, though. 
Dreamhealer
The motif that starts this is dramatic, mysterious and extremely cool. They power it out into a more standard metal jam from there, though. It’s got a lot of that epic neo-classical element in it, though. They drop it down to a more stripped down and rather balladic format for the vocals. There are a number of changes and alterations in this and a lot of it calls to mind Judas Priest. They also throw some dramatic Middle Eastern tones into the mix here and there. The slow moving, mellower motif later is quite a cool thing. We get some Hawkwind-like keyboards over the top of this at times. When they bring it back up it’s incredibly dramatic and dripping with those Eastern modes. 
The Heart Of The Unicorn
The frantic screaming segment that starts this is incredibly like Judas Priest. There is also an Iron Maiden-like instrumental section later before they fire out into seriously neo-classical metal. Then we get more Priest.
Fairytale
A mellow balladic motif starts this off. Comparisons to Iron Maiden would be warranted, but when the vocals enter those demons are pretty well exorcised. This is basically an introduction to the next number. It stays completely balladic. 
The Silence
 This comes up out of the last piece. It has less echoes of other bands than just about anything else. I suppose with its alternating mellow and powered up arrangement you could think of Iron Maiden, but that’s more about song construction than sound. This gets more into a classic rock motif than metal at times – particularly with the piano and voice elements. 
Disc 2
Beyond The Blackhole
They start this off in a very thrashy manner. It gets more epic metal classical elements as the melodic guitar soars over the top. This isn’t a lot different from the other music on the set, but it is perhaps less derivative than some of the other material. It’s a killer musical journey. That much is for sure.
Valley Of The Kings
Frantic epic metal makes up this track. With that title I’d expect some Egyptian music, but I don’t really hear it. Instead we get more smoking technically proficient epic metal. 
Somewhere Out In Space
This scorcher is another that has a lot in common with Judas Priest. It feels like something that could have come from Painkiller. There are some more purely epic metal bits here and there, but fans of Judas Priest should find plenty to like on this cut. We do get some more melodic sections which are definitely away from the Priest format, though. Although, perhaps you could hear it as being similar to some of the very early sounds of that band. The crowd sings along with parts of this. 
Land Of The Free
They fire out here in frantic neo-classical epic metal style. It drops down to more dramatic and mysterious mellow motifs for the verses, but screams out into anthemic epic metal for the choruses. There’s a Painkiller Priest like frantic segment in the middle of this cut – complete with Halford-style vocals. 
Rebellion In Dreamland
Here’s another powerhouse, although this one has both mellower and harder rocking motifs. For sake of comparison it’s probably more along the lines of Iron Maiden music than just about anything else. A frantic jam later has more of a Judas Priest sound to me. 
I Want Out
This classic Helloween song is more original than a lot of the other music here. It’s also a scorching hot metal tune. There’s a killer bass dominated section later in this track. 
Send Me A Sign
Sound effects start this and as the melodic movement takes it from there I’m reminded of modern Iron Maiden. They fire out to a more metallic and frantic jam, but then drop it down for the vocals – with just the rhythm section serving as accompaniment at first. This become more typical epic metal from there. It’s quite a potent track and there’s a great classically oriented metal jam that serves as the climax. 
Into The Storm (Bonus Track)
There’s a good amount of Iron Maiden in this metal stomper. It’s not a bad track at all, but perhaps a bit average for this set. 
Empress (Bonus Track)
I wouldn’t consider this to be one of my favorites. I would, however, think of it as one of the more original pieces on show here. It’s got some unusual melodic music that’s almost progressive rock in nature, but also plenty of pure metal to please the headbanger in us all. There’s a balladic interlude on this cut. They also include some neo-classical instrumental work. 
From The Ashes (Bonus Track)
I’d say probably half of this song is about as Iron Maiden as you can get without being Maiden. The rest of the track is in a more typical Helloween style. This is a strong track, but doesn’t really stand out. 
Real World (Bonus Track)
With its “Welcome to the show” chorus this seems like it would make a great opening number. This is fairly straightforward metal, but it’s also very strong and one of the more purely original cuts on show. All of those factors make this a highlight of the disc.
 
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