Gamma Ray - Land of the free II 3/5

Reviewed: 1-11-08


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

There is no good reason that the title a band chooses to give a CD should affect a listener's opinion of a CD. But, music enjoyment isn't a cold, logical process. It's entirely subjective. So, when a band decides to put out a "sequel" to what is almost universally regarded as their best CD many years after the fact, people's expectations for the new CD are higher. This basically means it's a bad idea for bands to do this, since it's unlikely the sequel will live up to fans' expectations. You would think Gamma Ray would have learned this so soon after Helloween embarrassed themselves with their 'Keeper of the seven keys/The legacy' debacle. But, they soldiered on and did a sequel anyway. And, as a sequel to a classic power metal opus, it's a disappointment. Would I like this CD more if it had been called "...another Gamma Ray album..."? Almost certainly. Sorry, but don't try to argue logic with me when it comes to how much I like a CD.

As a Gamma Ray CD, this, their 9th studio album is pretty much what you would expect from the band ever since they settled into this line-up after 'Somewhere out in space'. For the most part, their CDs have been pretty consistent in style and generally pretty high in quality. To my ears, this CD is probably their weakest in this style, or maybe around the quality of 'No world order' (my previous least favorite CD). The songs are pretty much what you would expect. Classic melodic power metal with the typical Helloween/Gamma Ray flourishes all over it. But, this just seems to be a little uninspired to my ears, or maybe it's just the Gamma Ray sound is getting a bit tired. In any case, this CD just doesn't seem to reach the high peaks that the others do.

One big sore point for me (and it really pains me to write this) is Kai Hansen's vocals. Kai has been a musical hero of mine since seemingly forever. I've always enjoyed his vocals much like you enjoy hearing the voice of a good friend. I always thought Hansen made up for the deficiencies in his voice with his enthusiasm and superb vocal melodies. But, with this CD I am finding him more and more painful to listen to. Did he always seem to warble out of key this much? Did he always sound so strained? Maybe he did, but this is the CD where I find myself reaching the breaking point with his vocals. If Gamma Ray is going to continue for a few more CDs, they may want to think about adding a new singer - which would probably add some much needed freshness to their sound anyway.

The other main issue with this CD is that all of the songs seem to be made up of segments of songs you've already heard before - from Gamma Ray and from other bands (in particular Iron Maiden). "Opportunity" has a quiet bass section that almost blatantly steals from "Rime of the ancient mariner". In "When the world" (which is otherwise pretty great), there is a section that sounds uncomfortably like "To tame a land". I defy any Gamma Ray fan to tell me that they haven't heard most of the melodies in "Rain" repeatedly over the last 4 or 5 Gamma Ray CDs. I know that lots of bands repeat themselves, but the feeling of deja-vu just overwhelms me when I play 'Land of the free II'.

Having said all that, the CD is still pretty good. Look, Gamma Ray have this down to a science by now and the songs (while familiar) are all pretty good. The musicianship and song structures are top notch. The band is as tight as ever. So, if I had never heard any other Gamma Ray CDs I am sure I would find this to be excellent. But, I have, and I have certainly heard the original 'Land of the free', which is just a much stronger CD than this one. It sounded so fresh and exciting back in 1995. In 2008, I have heard so many power metal CDs since then, that a standard Gamma Ray CD just can't move me nearly as much as it used to, unless it contains truly extraordinary songs and performances. Sadly, this CD doesn't. A sequel to 'Land of the free' needed to be spectacular, or it should have been called something else. This CD is for the hardest of the die-hard Gamma Ray fans, and probably not for many others. But, let's not write them off yet! Helloween followed their mediocre 'Keeper...' sequel with 'Gambling with the devil' which may be their best CD in a decade. Let's hope Gamma Ray follows suit.




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