Album Review – Gamma Ray / Empire Of The Undead (2014)

Gamma Ray return with their unmatched empire of Heavy Metal.

Rating4

CoverAfter a very long and exciting wait, Empire Of The Undead, the new album by German Power Metal masters Gamma Ray is finally among us, and once again the one and only Kai Hansen and his crew deliver us excellent music full of great riffs, nice lyrics, and above all that, lots of passion for what binds us all together. Yes, I’m talking about pure HEAVY METAL. And yes, Germany keeps on rockin’ nonstop in 2014.

As a long-time fan of the band, from the times when Dirk Schlächter was still the guitarist and Ralf Scheepers was still on vocals, I, for one, am a huge advocate of Gamma Ray’s music and style. In my humble opinion, they have reached that same stage bands such as Motörhead, AC/DC and The Ramones have, a stage where changing their music direction would be the major mistake of their lives. Who wants to see to Kai Hansen singing Rap or the band adding any electronic elements to their music? Other less important bands can try that, but Gamma Ray exist to provide us the most traditional heavy music we so much love.

BandTo kick off things in an exceptional way, how about the 9-minute epic tune Avalon, with its excellent solos and harmony, which reminds me of one of their biggest classics, “Rebellion In Dreamland”? Then comes the best, fastest and most awesome song of the album,  the pure fuckin’ metal song Hellbent, with its lyrics and especially chorus being  a tribute to Heavy Metal fans all around the world (“Hellbent for Metal / That’s what we are / Hellbent for Metal / Straight from the heart”). Kai Hansen is not only always amazing on vocals and on the guitar, but he’s also one of the best Heavy Metal poets of all time.

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Empire of the Undead CD Jewelcase

And Empire of the Undead continues in a very enjoyable way, with the excellent Pale Rider with its totally Judas Priest-ish riffs and another awesome performance from the whole band; and Born to Fly,  a very traditional Gamma Ray tune with a great chorus. The following two tracks are not exactly new, as they featured in the Master of Confusion EP, released in the beginning of 2013, but who cares? Both Master of Confusion and Empire of the Undead are powerful songs, with the latest having those classic riffs and guitar solos that explain why Gamma Ray are so fuckin’ awesome. Moreover, I had the pleasure to see them playing both live already last year, and those songs kick some serious ass.

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Empire of the Undead LP

In order to give us some air, Kai & Co. come with the smooth ballad Time for Deliverence, with its beautiful lyrics, and Demonseed, which despite its weird intro and headbanging riffs, is not a very entertaining track; however, the band gets back to their roots with Seven, another classic tune that will surely please all of their fans. And to end this pretty cool album, we have the song I Will Return, which starts with Arnold Schwarzenegger’s famous “I’ll Be Back!” quote, but doesn’t keep up with the same energy level as the previous tracks. And if I were you, I would buy any of the special editions of the album (each with a different front cover color), because all bonus tracks and other stuff are worth the extra money.

In terms of the musicians, kudos to drummer Michael Ehré, as although he had some big shoes to fill he nailed it, and of course to Mr. Kai Hansen, the creator of Power Metal, Helloween and Gamma Ray. Kai is the “Midas” of heavy music: everything he touches becomes GOLD, and that’s valid for Empire of the Undead, another very good release from one of the most influential German bands of all time. May the amazing empire of Heavy Metal built by this great guy “hellbent for Metal” live forever more.

Best moments of the album: Avalon, Hellbent, Pale Rider and Empire of the Undead.

Worst moments of the album: Demonseed and I Will Return.

Released in 2014 earMUSIC

Track listing
1. Avalon 9:21
2. Hellbent 5:23
3. Pale Rider 4:24
4. Born to Fly 4:32
5. Master of Confusion 4:55
6. Empire of the Undead 4:26
7. Time for Deliverence 5:11
8. Demonseed 6:39
9. Seven 5:07
10. I Will Return 6:56

European bonus track
11. Built a World 4:23

Limited Edition Digipack bonus tracks
12. Avalon (Live from Studio) 9:52
13. The Spirit (Live from Studio) 4:19
14. Empire of the Undead (Live from Studio) 4:27

Band members
Kai Hansen – lead vocals, rhythm & lead guitar
Henjo Richter – lead & rhythm guitar, keyboards
Dirk Schlächter – bass
Michael Ehré – drums

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Album Review – Helloween / Walls of Jericho (1985)

Happy, Happy Helloween” revolutionize music with the first Power Metal album of all time.

Rating3

walls-of-jerichoMany Heavy Metal bands such as Iron Maiden and Judas Priest already had pretty solid careers when Helloween started back in the 80’s, yet they became heavy music pioneers too when they released Walls of Jericho, the first Power/Melodic Metal album in the history of music. By the way, they have also made a lot of people confused ever since about the spelling of “Halloween” (with “A”) vs. the name of the band (with “E”).

Although Walls of Jericho was originally launched in 1985, this review also includes the extra songs added to the 1988 CD Edition from the 1985 EP/mini-LP Helloween and from the 1986 EP Judas for a very simple reason: they’re too good to be left out. Those extra songs are Starlight, Murderer, Warrior, Victim of Fate, Cry for Freedom and Judas, all very fast and heavy songs that at the time they were launched were a synonym for innovation in music. My favorite ones are Starlight and Victim of Fate, especially the first one with its unique intro and amazing riffs.

The intro to Starlight was taken from the movie Halloween III, and because it was so cool it became some kind of anthem sung by the Helloween fans before, during or after their live performances.

“Happy, Happy Helloween, Helloween, Helloween!
Happy, Happy Helloween, Silver Shamrocks!
Happy, Happy Helloween, Helloween, Helloween!
Happy, Happy Helloween, Silver Shamrocks!” 

Of course, the “Silver Shamrocks” part is usually substituted by some generic “oh oh oh oh” by the crowd, but that doesn’t make the song less cool. Due to its great success, the same rhythm was used to generate the intro Walls of Jericho (with no lyrics, though), which opens all Helloween concerts until today.

Then comes one of the top moments of the entire album: Ride the Sky is powerful, it has some crazy riffs and solos, and the lyrics are excellent to sing especially live. The following tracks are not marvelous, but are very consistent and add a lot of value to the album, like Metal Invaders (despite its stupid name). And finally we have what I consider the best songs from the album: Heavy Metal (Is the Law) has those Manowar-ish lyrics, chorus and attitude, while How Many Tears is the most perfect Power Metal song I’ve ever heard in my whole life.

helloween01All band members were amazing in Walls of Jericho, mainly the amazing guitar, singer and composer Kai Hansen and the drummer Ingo Schwichtenberg (R.I.P.). Unfortunately they’re no longer with the band, but at least Helloween still has Michael Weikath and Markus Grosskopf to keep alive the flame of the most influential Power Metal band in the world. And let’s not forget that we also have another great band now, Gamma Ray, which is pretty much Kai Hansen playing the same type of music from Walls of Jericho since his departure from Helloween.

In summary, Walls of Jericho is a revolutionary album that has never been mainstream, nor will ever be, but that is mandatory for all music fans that enjoy fast riffs and solos, superb guitar duos, and songs with a lot of energy. Moreover, if you’re a metalhead and you don’t know if the correct spelling is “Halloween” or “Helloween”, follow my advice and always write it with “E” even when you’re talking about the celebration. It’s a lot more badass this way.

Best moments of the album: Starlight, Ride the Sky, Heavy Metal (Is the Law) and How Many Tears.

Worst moments of the album: Reptile and Gorgar.

Released in 1985 Noise Records

Track listing
1. Starlight* 5:17
2. Murderer* 4:26
3. Warrior* 4:00
4. Victim of Fate* 6:37
5. Cry for Freedom* 6:02
6. Walls of Jericho / Ride the Sky 6:45
7. Reptile 3:45
8. Guardians 4:19
9. Phantoms of Death 6:33
10. Metal Invaders 4:10
11. Gorgar 3:57
12. Heavy Metal (Is the Law) 4:00
13. How Many Tears 7:15
14. Judas** 4:43

* Originally released in the 1985 EP/mini-LP Helloween
** Originally released in the 1986 EP Judas

Band members
Kai Hansen – vocals, guitar
Michael Weikath – guitar
Markus Grosskopf – bass
Ingo Schwichtenberg – drums