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Metal/Prog Metal CD Reviews

Gamma Ray

Majestic

Review by Mike Korn

You can feel confidence and poise radiating from this latest effort from long-running German power metal band Gamma Ray. They have been a constant and steady presence on the European metal scene since their mastermind Kai Hansen split from the legendary Helloween back in 1987. Some might have questioned the wisdom of Hansen leaving a band that was at the absolute height of its power, but as the years have trudged on, Gamma Ray has proven it doesn't have to take a back seat to anybody.

Often drowning in a sea of keyboard-injected cheesiness, power metal needs a record like "Majestic", which brims with raw power and energy as well as the epic and melodic touch which separates it from mere speed metal. On this record, all the past positive qualities of the band have been sharpened into focus, while the negative ones have been mostly left behind. Granted, Kai Hansen's high-pitched, somewhat squeaky vocals may be a stumbling block for some, but nobody can say that "Majestic" lacks cojones.

So good is this album that I will forgive the dreadful "dropping in and out" volume that I assume the record company added to my promo to prevent CD burning. Believe me, I absolutely detest that practice and only the strongest of albums would withstand my criticism of a disc that has been thus tampered with. "Majestic" is such an album. Gamma Ray have far surpassed Helloween in heaviness and quality and I'd love to see them play the States opening for somebody like Judas Priest or Iron Maiden. They have paid their dues and now it is time to reap the rewards.

This review is available in book format (hardcover and paperback) in Music Street Journal: 2005 Year Book Volume 3 at lulu.com/strangesound.

Track by Track Review
My Temple
The adrenaline hits the red mark right away with this thrashing and lead-heavy shot to the temples. Dan Zimmerman's double bass drumming provides a throbbing pulse to a crunching but catchy tune. Despite it's hard driving nature, there's still some moody melodies and the ghosts of keyboards peeking through.
Fight
A more symphonic and semi-classical type of metal is on display here, fitting the typical power metal pattern a bit more. It's still fast and energetic, with guitar solos twirling and dancing around a strong anthemic chorus. There's some of that choir like singing unique to Germanic metal.
Strange World
Usually the third song is where most albums toss in a slower cut and indeed, the pace is more mid-tempo here, but no less heavy. The choir-like chorus is even huger and more pronounced than it was on "Fight", making you feel like lifting your flagon of mead and swinging your sword through the air. Check out the excellent speed up that comes in the middle of the song before it wraps up with a return to the original slower pace. It's a fantastic and varied power metal track!
Hell Is Thy Home
A lightning fast guitar run kicks off this speed metal cut, which features a generous helping of twin lead attack. This kind of scorching fast but melodic metal used to be Helloween's trademark, but Gamma Ray has pretty much swiped that honor. You can almost smell the smoke rising from the strings on this one!
Blood Religion
Along with the title track, this is the album's epic. It starts in low key and ominous fashion before breaking in with a huge riff and multi-tracked chorus that can only be described as epic. The main verse guitar hook sounds like an evil version of Queen's "Tie Your Mother Down" and is actually pretty killer! There's also a kind of Celtic touch to the twin guitar melodies that pop up now and then. This has got just about anything you could want in a true metal song and I'd venture to say this is one of Gamma Ray's best ever tracks.
Condemned to Hell
The record stumbles here with this atypical tune. The simple-minded bouncing riff that starts this would be a lot more at home on a nu-metal album than Gamma Ray. The song recovers somewhat from this awkward beginning with a more traditional chorus and very nice drumming from Zimmerman but it's clearly the least attractive tune on offer.
Spiritual Dictator
Things are back on track with this neo-classical power metal cut that has a cool pseudo-Arabian feeling to some of the guitar work. Kai's vocals show some good range here and there's a cool bit where the keys sound like imperial trumpets. A strong solo adds even more fuel to this fire.
Majestic
A slinky, crawling bluesy motif gives way a barrage of Middle Eastern riffing that can only be described as...what else, majestic! The keyboards are more prominent here but instead of sapping power from the metal, they bolster it. This is a thunderous ode that really kicks into high gear around the three-minute mark with a fast paced chug that builds magnificently into a showcase for some great guitar work. Like "Blood Religion", this is a song that the band can really be proud of.
How Long
After the heavy-duty orchestration of the title track, the more basic and hooky nature of this cut is welcome. The chorus is one of the strongest on the whole disc and the song manages to be commercial and still powerful. This is where Gamma Ray excels, injecting accessibility into metal without losing the essential thrust and vigor of the genre.
Revelation
Gamma Ray have now established themselves as the 3455th band to use "Revelation" as a song title. This soaring neo-classical piece comes across as rather clichéd but still fairly enjoyable. The choir vocals are a bit overbearing this time. The track still motors along in energetic fashion with lots of sweeping guitar arpeggios to keep Yngwie and Stratovarius fans on their toes. It's not a bad song, but I think the title track would have been more appropriate to end the album with.
 
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