It seems as if Metal right now is trying to follow in the footsteps of the movie industry, which seems to be producing more sequels than anything else. The likes of SIX FEET UNDER had started this trend, taken to new heights by HELLOWEEN with the third part of their “Keeper Of The Seven Keys” story, with less than flattering results, and now GAMMA RAY release “Land Of The Free II”, giving reason for hope due to the quality of the “original”, yet with the latest experience with their colleagues also giving reason for doubt.
Contrary to the Hamburg-based pumpkins (I won’t even start with SIX FEET UNDER), though, Kai Hansen and entourage have yet to disappoint me, so I was more hopeful than doubtful. Many people were wary, when GAMMA RAY announced their new album as “Land Of The Free II”, for one knowing the quality of the predecessor and secondly due to the rather dubious track record of sequels in this genre and after listening to the second part several times now, I feel that it would be unfair to compare it to “Land Of The Free” one to one, as I personally fail to see a big connection, which the exception of both parts having an epic overlength track (if there’s anything in the lyrics, I can’t say anything about it, as I did not get any booklet with it, as usual…).
After having gone more old school for “No World Order!” and a little heavier and darker for “Majestic”, GAMMA RAY have returned to the more positive outlook on Power Metal, offering a little lighter (in spirit, not necessarily musically) buffet for us to partake in and even though the immediate catchiness might take a little longer to take effect, several spins of the albums have assured me that Kai & Co. continue to belt out high-class material that is unmistakably GAMMA RAY, not least thanks to Kai’s truly unique voice and phrasing.
“Into The Storm” is a furious opener in typical GAMMA RAY manner, fast, dynamic, with this underlying aggressive note, before “From The Ashes” shows the more bombastic and super-catchy side (especially in the chorus) of the Germans’ sound, while keeping the quality level up high up there. But not all is just the typical stuff, even though we, of course, are also treated to that. The more typical songs include “Leaving Hell” and my personal favourite “When The World”, which show great melodies and choruses, heavy riffing, variety and dynamics, so basically everything that we have come to know and love from the Hamburgers (no, no pun intended here!).
But there are three songs that break out of this mould. First off “Empress”, which musically is a little lighter and more melodic, but with an irresistible chorus that suffers a bit from the flaw of the choir being too low, towards the end it gets a little more power and boy, does it show, other than that another killer. And then there are the two epics “Opportunity” and “Insurrection”, which are epic, dynamic and just damn good with just too much going on to really go in depth, just trust me on this one.
So even though it might take a little longer to fully embrace the newest spawn of GAMMA RAY’s creativity, “Land Of The Free II” stands up there with the best of them and maybe if they had not gone for the sequel effect a wider audience might have readily embraced it as the killer it is, but don’t let the title fool you, this is quality, no question about it!
(Online December 25, 2007)