Gamma Ray – Empire of the Undead
Release Date: March 28, 2014
Kai Hansen— That one name alone triggers so much joy and admiration in the hearts of power/speed metal fans worldwide. Leaving Helloween in 1989 to form the equally as successful German metal giant, Gamma Ray, it’s challenging to try and think of someone more recognized for their talents and genre defining music. The respect and admiration for Hansen is more than deserved, being at the forefront of 10 amazing full length albums and countless other features and guest appearances elsewhere. Over the years, Gamma Ray has defined what it means to be heavy metal, and even still in 2014, 25 years into their hopefully endless career, they continue to do so with the release of Empire of the Undead.
Kicking it all off is the over nine minute long track, “Avalon”. Although the concept of Avalon is quite possibly the most overdone subject matter in power metal, this track has some of the most powerful moments on the release. While the tempo is slow, the groove and drive in the music itself is perfect for the soaring vocal lines. To no surprise, “Avalon” is rich with classic riffs and speed metal lead guitar lines, as every great Gamma Ray tune must be. Abruptly following this epic tune, is “Hellbent”, that turns the album from the airy, power metal vibe to a pure, thrashy heavy metal anthem. The drum and bass lines kick up the tempo and the guitars hit with a hard and heavy vengeance. If it wasn’t everything you ever wanted in a metal tune, the chorus comes in screaming, “Hellbent for metal, that’s what we are!” because clearly, leather isn’t metal enough.
The album is a great blend of the great speed metal vibe the band is known for but isn’t short of a nice heavy metal, Black Sabbath-on-speed kind of sound. “Born to Fly” is a great example of a nice classic sounding tune with a modern, triplet rich tempo twist. Staying on the lower end of his vocal range, Hansen has a hauntingly relaxed sound throughout his catchy, inspirational lines which provides for quite the nice, unexpected change of pace. For those that bought the 2013 EP, Master of Confusion, the next tracks “Master of Confusion” and “Empire of the Undead” will be conveniently familiar to you, as they were the only true new, original material released on it, unbearably teasing fans everywhere with just a touch of this great album. The title cut finding its roots back in Hansen’s earliest days with former bandmate, Piet Sielck (Iron Savior).
“Time for Deliverance” is the token ballad, though it stays away from the more traditional “love” component. The song is similar to a prayer, asking to be saved from the cold and the dark, and features great layered vocal harmonies and mellow music. It’s a truly beautiful and chilling song, showing off amazing range for the entire band. The album comes to a close with “I Will Return” which is a strong promise of the future of the band (and as I am sure we are all thinking this, the album wouldn’t be complete without an Arnold Schwarzenegger audio clip). An ode to raw, straightforward heavy metal, the song kicks into gear and doesn’t let up, which is a perfect representation of Gamma Ray‘s career.
All in all, this album was another great addition to the stunning library of music that is Gamma Ray‘s discography. Empire of the Undead is the perfect blend of classic moments and modern twists, all while holding that signature Gamma Ray style. The band is moving at a stronger than ever pace, and if you haven’t gotten your hands on it by now you are doing yourself a serious injustice.