GAMMA RAY_Empire of the DeadWow, these guys have been around forever! Empire of the Undead is Gamma Ray‘s eleventh freaking album, and we get it despite the fact their recording studio burned down and everything was lost, except the masters for this baby. So what do you get from a band so beloved and long in the tooth? A lot more of the same stuff they always deliver. Big power metal anthems, wild guitar harmonies and that classic Germanic power style. Though the band promised a more thrashy album, this is pretty much just another Gamma Ray outing with a few stellar cuts, some oddballs and a few undercooked biscuits too. It has more good than bad though, and even the lackluster ditties are fairly innocuous. What matters most is Kai Hansen’s crew continues to soldier on, delivering the power metal goods he helped invent way back in Helloween‘s embryonic days.

Following in the footsteps of such classic albums as Land of the Free, things open with “Avalon,” a nine minute plus chunk of bombastic majesty as only such seasoned vets could deliver. While It’s always risky to lead with your biggest song, “Avalon” is an instant classic and one of their best songs ever. It sounds like a mix of vintage Gamma Ray and the more recent overblown anthems of Avantasia as it successfully blends traditional, power and even gothic metal into a big, fist pumping titan, reeking of epic deeds. Kai’s voice sounds quite good and at times he even channels Saxon‘s Biff Byford. There are also a lot of Maiden-isms evident in the guitar-work, and I always say, everything sounds better with some Maiden in it!

The rest of Empire can’t live up to the bar set by the opener, but that doesn’t mean all is lost. “Hellbent” is a speedy, urgent ditty with riffs harkening back to Kai’s Walls of Jericho days.  The title track is a barn burning, thrash spectacle that reminds me of Di’anno era Maiden sped way up and borrowing attitude from Nasty Savage. The riffing and guitar harmonies are addicting and it’s mindless fun in the way metal is supposed to be. “Seven” is a rousing anthem with a chorus Bruce Dickinson would steal at rapier point for his solo albums, and I defy you to listen to it without imagining him singing the fuck out of it with one foot up on an stage monitor. Things wind out nicely with the very Accept-like and ballsy “I Will Return.”

Gamma Ray_2014Not bad, but a bit less stirring is “Pale Rider,” which mixes Accept with Edguy and Sisters of Mercy for what can only be called a weird time. The power ballad “Time for Deliverance” is the same smaltzy kind of tune Gamma Ray (and for that matter, all power metal bands) feels compelled to do, and it’s pretty rough. The only redeeming feature is the chorus, which for some reason reminds of something a young Tom Waits would come up with. Hell, Kai even sounds a bit like His Gruffness as he warbles and rasps away. Worst of the bunch by far is “Demonseed” and it’s third-rate, Jorn style blues rock (or tenth rate Dio if you like completeness). It’s just a bad song, and could have been an outtake from Headless Cross. Other tracks like “Master of Confusion” and bonus track “Born to Fly” are typical, generic Gamma tunes, not terrible, but not overly memorable either.

For an old timer, Kai still sounds pretty good on most of the songs, though his upper ranges get ragged and rough. On songs like “Avalon” though he still shows his mettle and why he influenced generations of power metal divas to attach the scrotal vice and sing to the heavens. Not sounded ragged at all are the guitar pyrotechnics from Kai and Henjo Richter. The songs are all full of wild, frenzies solos and melodic harmonies, some flat out amazing. The band sounds tight and whether the songs are good or bad, there’s always something going on to catch the ear.

Sounding a bit schizophrenic at times, Empire is fun, flawed and metal as fuck. Don’t look for innovation, don’t expect a return to their glory days, just enjoy it for what it is and raise the rusted fist of metal into the red skies of doom (or you know, play it loud and piss off your neighbors). Kai for President!


Rating: 3.0/5.0
Label: EarMusic Records
Websites: gammaray.org  |  facebook.com/gammarayofficial
Release Dates: EU: 2014.28.03  |  04.15.2014

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  • Realkman666

    I might give this a chance after all.

  • Feeblejocks

    Ah, the Gamma Ray album. As consistent as the Twinkie, and just as fun to consume — as long as you only consume one once in a while. One to mark on Spotify for that once-every-couple-of-months listen. Thanks for the tip, Steel “Old Timer” Druhm.

    • That’s age discrimination. Hostile workplace! Hostile working environment! Oh, my back hurts now.

  • euthanatos

    I feel the band has been on a recent upwards trend in their last few albums, after a lackluster period. Will definiely check this out.

  • Good review! I’ll be picking this one up for sure. There’s something very comforting about a new Gamma Ray album. It’s like catching up with an old friend at the bar every 3ish years.

    • brutal_sushi

      I love this comment!

  • doom-erik

    “Seven is a rousing anthem with a chorus Bruce Dickinson would steal at rapier point for his solo albums”
    Actually I think it is Kai that’s been stealing (again) – the chorus sounds almost exactly like Rainmaker from Dance of Death (Maiden)

    • Realkman666

      First Nightwish, now Gamma Ray. Stay tuned for “Who will next take from DoD?”

  • Realkman666

    DR?

    • I haven’t made the DR leap yet. I’ll get there eventually.

    • Kalsten

      The DR thing makes sense when people is using proper quality sound systems. But more than once in AMG they complain that they received promos in 160 kbps, which is horrible (unless you are listening to kvlt black metal, which may improve the overall performance xD).

      Also, I think that Steel Druhm listens to the music through his computer speakers, which may mask the sound quality.

      • Realkman666

        Just like me. I’m not an audiophile and elitist assholes can fuck off, but the new Sonata Arctica is proof that when you can only hear one instrument + the vocals, there’s a fucking problem somewhere.

        • Kalsten

          Well, I also thought that elitist assholes praising expensive audio equipment were…well, assholes, but then I decided to get a nice par of headphones (Ultrasone HFI 780 and Grado SR225i), connected to my external audio card (Line 6 UX1, used to record and play guitar in the computer) and well, it is day and night. There are albums than have good production and sound amazing, and others that before were all right, but when listen through a good setup they really sound like shit.

          Considering that, for most of the people who follows/writes in this webpage, music is very important, I think it is a good investment. It gives a new dimension to many good records!

          • Realkman666

            Someone can be able to appreciate better sound and purchase expensive equipment without being an elitist asshole. ;)

            I’ll have to consider getting into turntables soon if things don’t pick up. Then you get into the limited pressings and shit. What a terrible industry.

            I just listened to Wintersun after Pariah’s Child… By Odin, what a change.

      • I generally listen to promos on my iPod, though I do use my computer speakers at times as well.

        • Realkman666

          Casual peasant.

  • Kryopsis

    I was hoping Steel Druhm would get to review this because no one can match his combination of enthusiasm for Powermetal, discriminating ear and level-headed critical approach. Needless to say, this is an excellent review! Empire of the Undead is a quintessential Gamma Ray album for all that entails. Some parts exemplify the bombastic appeal of Powermetal while some parts would make you regret getting a Gamma Ray tattoo back in high school and force you to sheepishly hide it in public places. I mean, some of this stuff is cheesy even by Powermetal standards. Who thought that adding movie quotes to some of the songs would enhance the overall experience? Basically the score is spot-on. An album containing ‘Avalon’ does not deserve any less but an album containing ‘Master of Confusion’, ‘Demonseed’ and ‘Time for Deliverance’ does not deserve any more.

    I always felt that Gamma Ray’s success lies mainly in Kai Hansen’s distinctive vocals. They add the necessary minimum of grit to an otherwise straightforward Powermetal performance. I mean, Gamma Ray works for essentially the same reason Accept worked or, to give a more recent example, the reason Sabaton gets away with occasional awkward writing.

    Anyway, Gamma Ray really should’ve just named this album ‘Avalon’ and stopped using Eddie the Head’s maternal cousin as a band mascot.

    • I covered my Gamma Ray tattoo with a Sonata Arctica tattoo. Who looks foolish now?

  • harley_d68

    Not to nit-pick – ok, I’m going to nit-pick – the title is Empire of the UNdead.

    Anyway, this is a weird Gamma Ray album. I’m having trouble getting into it. Avalon is tremendous & I Will Return is an awesome track, but the rest I will need to give some time and several more listens.

    • Keep nit-picking! It’s the only way we learn.

  • Steve

    The title track’s main riff was such an obvious hit the lights ripoff it put me right off. They’ve done that more and more lately and “To the metal” was basically a spot which 80s band they’re ripping off here exercise

  • Jose Luiz Paiz Junior

    Kai for president indeed.