Gamma Ray

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Heading For Tomorrow

Gamma Ray - Heading For Tomorrow ©1990 Noise Int.
1. Welcome
2. Lust For Life
3. Heaven Can Wait
4. Space Eater
5. Money
6. The Silence
7. Hold Your Ground
8. Free Time
9. Heading For Tomorrow
10. Look at Yourself

In the late 80s, Helloween had gathered up a considerable amount of steam with their impressive Keeper of the Seven Keys albums. However, during the tour for the second Keeper release, founding guitarist Kai Hansen abruptly left the band and formed his own project, Gamma Ray. The new band quickly recorded a new album and got it out well before Helloween confounded the world with Pink Bubbles Go Ape. When I first heard Gamma Ray in 1990, I couldn't fathom why Hansen would leave a successful band simply to start another one that sounded pretty much the same. With Helloween's career trajectory now firmly in the rearview mirror, it makes perfect sense.

That said, Heading For Tomorrow is a pretty good album, but certainly not the follow up to Keeper that apparently neither band was able to provide. Heading For Tomorrow is tainted by a overarching feeling of unoriginality. Was Hansen ripping himself off? Or had he exhausted his absolute best material with Helloween? Even the song titles seemed like Hansen had spent hours looking through his album collection for ideas. "Money" is not a Pink Floyd cover, "Heaven Can Wait" has nothing to do with Iron Maiden and "Lust For Life" does not feature an influence by Iggy Pop.

The album, song titles aside, sticks to the established formula of Helloween: speedy chops, high pitched vocals courtesy of Ralf Scheepers (who was considered for Helloween's lead vocal spot at one point) and fluid guitar playing. A few of these songs are quite good: "Lust for Life" and "Hold Your Ground" set a high standard. However, "Free Time" features braindead lyrics about partying during the weekend and probably would have been best left off the album. The title track is an epic number (sticking to the general album formula of the Keeper releases) that has a good quiet, brooding middle section. Meanwhile, "The Silence" has a strange resemblance to Bette Midler's "The Rose" and seems like a heavy metal Broadway musical number. It's been nearly twenty years since I first heard this album and I still scratch my head over it.

For fans of 80s Helloween, Gamma Ray does a pretty good job of taking the baton from Hansen's former band and running off with it. Gamma Ray would have better albums in their future, but as far as debuts go, this one is pretty enjoyable despite some of odd aspects surrounding it.

Review by John Chedsey

Review date: 03/2009

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Heaven Can Wait EP

Gamma Ray - Heaven Can Wait EP ©1990 Noise Int.
1. Heaven Can Wait (re-recorded version)
2. Who Do You Think You Are?
3. Sail On
4. Mr. Outlaw
5. Lonesome Stranger

After Heading For Tomorrow was released, Gamma Ray underwent a bit of a lineup change and presumably this five song EP was to give the new troupe a little run-through before committing to their next full length effort. As with many EPs, the material is not necessarily prime examples of a band's songwriting prowess, but Heaven Can Wait features enough good spare material to make it a worthy inclusion into a Gamma Ray collection. It features a re-recorded version of the title track, although it hardly differs in meaningful ways from the Heading For Tomorrow version. The other tracks are pretty good takes on Gamma Ray's mixture of power and speed metal. The EP closer, "Lonesome Stranger", takes a dig at death metal musicianship before turning into a nice moody instrumental that has more in common with Pink Floyd styled moody progressive rock than the thrash/speed metal scene that Kai Hansen came from. "Sail On" is more of a standard hard rock/classic metal piece that surprisingly works.

The odd thing about this EP is that it predates the sound Helloween would take on around Master of the Rings and its original bonus CD from the Castle record label. No matter how much you dice and chop, you can never separate these two acts.

Review by John Chedsey

Review date: 03/2009

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Sigh No More

Gamma Ray - Sigh No More ©1991 Noise Int.
1. Changes
2. Rich & Famous
3. As Time Goes By
4. (We Won't) Stop The War
5. Father And Son
6. One With The World
7. Start Running
8. Countdown
9. Dream Healer
10. The Spirit

The second full length album by Kai Hansen's Gamma Ray found the band maturing somewhat both in terms of playing and songwriting from the debut Heading for Tomorrow. Naturally there is a strong Helloweenie sound, but considering Hansen was in that band it's easy to overlook. Singer Ralf Scheepers is a bit of a wildcard here, hitting some uncomfortably high notes in a lot of songs, such as "Start Running", but he also can deliver well as the exceptional "Dream Healer" demonstrates. There is also an abundance of smart and catchy playing, as "As Time Goes By" or "Changes" are quite memorable. I wouldn't say Sigh No More is a classic along the lines of some of Hansen's work with Helloween, but overall it's a solid album with only a few minor troubles.

Review by John Chedsey

Review date: 12/1998

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Land Of The Free

Gamma Ray - Land Of The Free ©1996 F.A.D.
1. Rebellion In Dreamland
2. Men On A Mission
3. Fairytale
4. All Of The Damned
5. Rising Of The Damned
6. Gods Of Deliverence
7. Farewell
8. Salvation's Calling
9. Land Of The Free
10. The Saviour
11. Abyss Of The Void
12. Time To Break Free
13. Afterlife

Gamma Ray has become a very revered but highly flawed band over the years. Though comprised of excellent musicians (we need not list all that Kai Hansen has done over the years), Gamma Ray is guilty of making albums that let all the horses out of the barn within the first few tracks and make a full listen difficult without succumbing to boredom. On Land of the Free, the boys charge out with all sorts of power metal fury and firepower, with a couple excellent tracks: the anthemic "Rebellion in Dreamland" and the thunderous "Men on a Mission". But by the time you reach the piano balladry of "Farewell" you've heard all that Gamma Ray will offer. And if you're at all familiar with power metal, you know what that refers to: twin guitar melodic leads and speedy licks with a nod to classic Maiden, double bass drums gone amuck, high pitched vocals (though I must say Kai's return to the lead vocalist role is welcome as he has really improved since his Helloween singing days). What it does lack is the edge and special touch that keeps it from being commonplace and making it truly stand out.

Review by John Chedsey

Review date: 12/1998

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Alive '95

Gamma Ray - Alive '95 ©1996 Noise Int.
CD one:
1. Land Of The Free
2. Man On A Mission
3. Rebellion In Dreamland
4. Space Eater
5. Fairytale
6. Tribute To The Past
7. Heal Me
8. The Saviour
9. Abyss Of The Void
10. Ride The Sky
11. Future World
12. Heavy Metal Mania
13. Lust For Life
CD two:
14. No Return
15. Changes
16. Insanity & Genius
17. Last Before The Storm
18. Future Madhouse
19. Heading For Tomorrow

Power metal fans have it rough here in the United States. Over in Europe the scene thriving with classic bands such as Rage, Gamma Ray, Helloween, and Skyclad releasing great album after great album while we get treated to "new metal" such as Korn, Coal Chamber, and all those other interchangeable bands that mimic the current trends. Thank goodness for imports.

As we all know (or maybe not, if you didn't bother paying attention), Gamma Ray was formed by original Helloweenie Kai Hansen in 1989. Thus, the distinction is made that these bands are quite similar in approach. This 2 CD live set just goes to demostrate that fact. In my opinion, Gamma Ray has taken the better approach in recent years, taking a more of a Walls of Jericho style mixed with great dynamics and moods. The first CD has Kai back on the mic again and while he's still not technically the best singer, he's improved greatly from the early Helloween days. On many of these songs, I can't compare them to the studio version since I can't find Gamma Ray imports readily, but needless to say they rock here. Gamma Ray has always had a great guitar interplay with those classic lead interchanges and so forth.

On the two obligatory songs from the past, "Ride the Sky" somehow sounds exactly like 1986 all over again while "Future World" falls into the crowd-singalong schtick exactly like Helloween in 1989. Probably should have avoided the mimicry.

The second CD features a few tracks with Ralf Scheepers on vocals. The comparison between him and Kai is evident, as I almost prefer the generally lower register vocals of Kai over Ralf's warbling. But that's my problem...

Great collection to catch up on Gamma Ray. Maybe in 1997 the US will wake up to what good metal is all about.

Review by John Chedsey

Review date: 07/1997

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Somewhere Out In Space

Gamma Ray - Somewhere Out In Space ©1997 Noise
1. Beyond The Blackhole
2. Men, Martians And Machines
3. No Stranger (another Day In Life)
4. Somewhere Out In Space
5. The Guardians Of Mankind
6. The Landing
7. Valley Of The Kings
8. Pray
9. The Winged Horse
10. Cosmic Chaos
11. Lost In The Future
12. Watcher In The Sky
13. Rising Star
14. Shine On

All right, I admit I haven't been entirely crazy about Gamma Ray's output as of late. The first two albums for this band (Heading for Tomorrow and Sigh No More) were both huge favorites of mine when I was a teenager, but I also can attribute that to my enthusiasm for all things metal and particularly that style when I was younger. Today sitting through an entire Gamma Ray album taxes my patience at times. I blame it on rather tepid ballads like "Pray". For some reason, Gamma Ray is at its best when the music is a full on speed and melody assault.

Probably the best news for Gamma Ray fans is that leader Kai Hansen's vocals are much improved not only from his early Helloween days but even his more recent Gamma Ray albums. It still has the edge that identifies him from the rest of the power metal singers, but he holds the key and has a stronger tone now. The bad news is that this album is fairly average and it makes my job more difficult because it's not a bad album nor is it something I can hop onto rooftops and crow about. It seems as though the songwriting is lacking the punch or ability to suck the listener in like with the first couple albums. On each listen, I found myself yearning to find another CD to play due to lack of interest in what was playing. Perhaps if you really liked Land of the Free Gamma Ray, Somewhere Out in Space won't leave you weightless.

Review by John Chedsey

Review date: 12/1998

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Powerplant

Gamma Ray - Powerplant ©1999 Noise
1. Anywhere In The Galaxy
2. Razorblade Sigh
3. Send Me A Sign
4. Strangers In The Night
5. Gardens Of The Sinner
6. Short As Hell
7. It's A Sin
8. Heavy Metal Universe
9. Wings Of Destiny
10. Hand Of Fate
11. Armageddon

While Powerplant is one of the best Gamma Ray albums to surface in quite some time, I can't help but think I basically heard it all in the power metal genre by now. I remember back in 1988, I picked up Helloween's Keeper of the Seven Keys Part II as well as Walls of Jericho and it seems those two albums essentially covered it all. While the ability has improved of the musicians in the past decade plus, they all seem to be trapped in a certain songwriting mindset. Powerplant's only real surprise is the cover of the Pet Shop Boys' "It's a Sin", which also happens to be one of the Pet Shop Boys best songs. Unfortunately it's followed up by a real dopey metal anthem, "Heavy Metal Universe". Whatever the case, grown men who must write songs about metal are somewhat irritating. But then again, Manowar makes me break out in hives. Back to the point. Gamma Ray has been doing the same thing for a decade now and occasionally I wish they'd try experimenting just a little bit. I hate writing review after review that states, "Gamma Ray fans will love this but boy is it just common power metal." And yet, I still always buy Gamma Ray CDs when they come out. Old habits die hard.

Review by John Chedsey

Review date: 09/1999

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Blast From The Past

Gamma Ray - Blast From The Past ©2000 Noise
CD one:
1. Welcome
2. Lust For Life
3. Heaven Can Wait
4. Heading For Tomorrow
5. Changes
6. One With The World
7. Dream Healer
8. Tribute To The Past
9. Last Before The Storm
10. Heal Me
CD two:
11. Rebellion In Dreamland
12. Man On A Mission
13. Land Of The Free
14. The Silence
15. Beyond The Black Hole
16. Somewhere Out In Space
17. Valley Of The Kings
18. Anywhere In The Galaxy
19. Send Me A Sign
20. Armageddon

Ultimately, I'm very suspicious of this elaborate two CD "best of" set from Germany's Gamma Ray. The unusual thing about this collection is not that the band has released a most popular collection of songs after a ten year existence - that sort of thing happens all the time - but that the band chose to rerecord thirteen tracks for this collection. The band already has released a live set from a few years ago (Alive '95)) so it's not as though the fans haven't been already treated to versions of older favorites with the newer lineup. The effort and time undertaken here is remarkable, but I do have to wonder if this band finds revisiting old material much easier than challenging themselves to come up with something new. As has been noted, my discontent with the past few Gamma Ray albums is a little evident. However, while my eyebrow will remain consistently upraised at this package, Blast From the Past is by no means a shady scam to lighten the load of Gamma Ray fans' wallets. Between the obvious care of rerecording the song, the very extravagent double digipack and the extensive liner notes with a ton of photos and notes from band leader Kai Hansen, you can tell that this was meant as a loving bonus for the longtime fans.

The first disc tends to cover more material that interests me, since the first two albums were favorites of mine back when they were released in the very early 90s. I was particularly pleased to find "Dream Healer" and "One With the World" were chosen from Sigh No More, as they represent some of the band's finest work. Hansen mentioned in the liner notes that the band only chose three songs from each album and he knew it was nearly impossible to make every fan happy so in the end the band did play their own hand. The track listing may read like a dream Gamma Ray concert, fortunately devoid of Helloween's "Future World", and full of obvious favorites from all eras of the band. The rerecorded tracks mesh well with the newer, remastered songs that finish out the second disc. There is better consistency throughout the collection with the one lineup being responsible throughout. Kai Hansen has very obviously improved his vocal abilities over the years and his versions of original Ralf Scheepers tracks actually sound superior.

I'll admit the second disc does lose my attention as it contains newer material which has never quite caught on with me. Gamma Ray has been somewhat guilty of repeating their formula a bit too much, perhaps with minor refinement from album to album. It's quite evident they love what they do but it should be forgivable that some of us might drop off after hearing essentially the same concept over and over. Blast From the Past does revisit nostalgic territory and very well could act as a great collection for the casual Gamma Ray fan who might not care to purchase their extensive back catalogue. And for the fanatic types, there is enough goodies and care from the band that it is far from being another way to snag their hard earned money.

Review by John Chedsey

Review date: 06/2001

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No World Order!

Gamma Ray - No World Order! ©2001 Metal Is Records
1. Induction
2. Dethrone Tyranny
3. The Heart Of The Unicorn
4. Heaven Or Hell
5. New World Order
6. Damn The Machine
7. Solid
8. Fire Below
9. Follow Me
10. Eagle
11. Lake Of Tears

Gamma Ray has gone techno!

Here are some words you will never read in a review of Gamma Ray. For better or for worse, Gamma Ray has stuck to their guns for over a decade now and their latest release, No World Order!, only continues down the path they established in 1990 with Heading For Tomorrow (or, if you want to reach further into band leader Kai Hansen's past, Helloween's 1986 classic, Walls of Jericho). Everything you would expect and predict is in full force on this 2001 effort: driving double bass drums, high pitched caterwauling from Hansen, gang vocal choruses, speedy riffing and the template-for-power-metal complete sound. Since Gamma Ray has been at this for so long, it is quite apparent they really enjoy the dickens out of this style and even forays into side projects (Iron Savior, for one) prove that this particular style is all they truly know how to play.

The positive for fans of the power metal idiom is that Gamma Ray frankly does it better and with more finesse and class than anyone else. Regardless of who was in the lineup at what time, Gamma Ray has always delivered solid results, albeit expected and predictable ones. No World Order! only continues that tradition. The production, songwriting and execution are all prime Gamma Ray, showing that they've lost not even an iota of skill in the past decade. Hansen's vocals are generally quite strong, although he does stretch his voice to its high limits on "The Heart of the Unicorn". Anyone who has a strong affinity for Gamma Ray's sound will immediately enjoy this album, as it is a bit more traditional and catchier than 1999's Powerplant and entirely what you'd expect from Gamma Ray.

The downside to No World Order! is that anyone who has had their fill of power metal in general and does not wish to hear another reprisal of a saturated format will avoid No World Order! like intellectuals avoiding NASCAR races. The paradox of Gamma Ray is that they give the listener exactly what they want, except that not all listeners want this. Rest assured, if you've enjoyed the output of Gamma Ray since Hansen took over vocals duties, you owe yourself a copy. If another release of their style sounds like far too much of a good thing, might I recommend Maudlin of the Well?

Review by John Chedsey

Review date: 09/2001

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