1995’s “Land Of The Free” was definitely a landmark album for Kai Hansen and the rest of the folks from Germany’s GAMMA RAY. Vocalist Ralf Scheepers left the band and eventually became PRIMAL FEAR’s singer; in his absence, Hansen assumed vocal duties, singing for the first time since his short-lived tenure as the singer of HELLOWEEN. Hansen was dissatisfied with his voice ten years prior, and as such, relinquished the microphone to a spunky teenager by the name of Michael Kiske. However, after ten years of practice, Hansen was ready to try again in ’95, and the result is nothing short of brilliant.
“Land Of The Free” is the album that, in my humble opinion, really rocketed GAMMA RAY above mere HELLOWEEN spin-off status. One can see how Hansen has matured as a songwriter (and a singer!) simply by listening to tracks such as the mammoth of an album opener “Rebellion In Dreamland” or the classic title track. Also included on this album is my favorite GAMMA RAY song of all time, “Man On A Mission”. Boasting lightning-quick verses and a frantic yet cheerful chorus as well as an amazing guitar solo, “Man On A Mission” is a true gem in the world of Power Metal. Hansen’s voice, in my opinion, gave GAMMA RAY a more original sound, thanks to his unique snarl. Despite the somewhat nasal quality of his voice, he can still nail extremely high notes, as evidenced on practically every track.
Aside from the epics, there are some shorter, minute-length tracks on the album as well, such as “Fairytale” (a finale of sorts to “Man On A Mission”) and “The Saviour”. Hansen puts just as much energy into these songs as he does the longer tracks, however. Yes, these aren’t merely intros with a minute of boring choirs; these are fully developed songs, just at a quarter of the length. “Fairytale” in particular is amazing, and it’s only forty-nine seconds long!
The album’s ballad comes in the form of “Farewell”, a solemn elegy dedicated to Hansen’s former HELLOWEEN bandmate, drummer Ingo Schwichtenberg. Hansen wears his emotions on his sleeve for this song, and the result is beautiful. On a lighter note, hearing Hansi Kürsch’s characteristic growl halfway through the song made me smile faintly.
Speaking of guest singers, the album also features the aforementioned Michael Kiske, who performs lead vocals on the feel-good rocker “Time To Break Free”. The song basically sounds like good ol’ HELLOWEEN; hell, it even sounds similar to the classic “I Want Out”. Anyway, it was nice to hear Kiske and Hansen perform together again with satisfying results.
If you’re a fan of Power Metal, “Land Of The Free” is an absolutely essential album. Plus, it is now offered as a remastered version complete with a brand-new cover and three bonus tracks: a cover of HOLOCAUST’s “Heavy Metal Mania”, a pre-production version of “As Time Goes By”, and the 1995 version of “Silence”. Not bad at all; it just makes a classic album even better. Ladies and gentlemen, this is what’s known as a genre-definer.
(Online December 30, 2006)