Friday, September 05, 2014

Review: Gamma Ray - Empire of the Undead

Gamma Ray are another notable band that need little to no introduction. Guitarist/vocalist Kai Hanson formed the group after leaving Helloween, way back in the land of 1989. The German group have gone through many evolutionary stages through the years, and each time they seem to come back stronger than before. From 2001 and onward their releases have been sporadic, this time fans have had to wait four years for the newest incarnation of Gamma Ray; Empire of the Undead.

Genre: Power Metal, Speed Metal
Label: earMUSIC
Release Date: March 28th, 2014
  1. Avalon
  2. Hellbent for Metal
  3. Pale Rider
  4. Born to Fly
  5. Master of Confusion
  6. Empire of the Undead
  7. Time for Deliverance
  8. Demonseed
  9. Seven
  10. I Will Return
Total Playtime: 56 minutes, 46 seconds




Rating: 9.0/10





Gamma Ray are another notable band that need little to no introduction. Guitarist/vocalist Kai Hanson formed the group after leaving Helloween, way back in the land of 1989. The German group have gone through many evolutionary stages through the years, and each time they seem to come back stronger than before. From 2001 and onward their releases have been sporadic, this time fans have had to wait four years for the newest incarnation of Gamma Ray; Empire of the Undead.

With an album title like Empire of the Undead you'd be pressed to assume that the content would be almost strictly filled with zombies, horror and some type of gore; but that's not the case for Gamma Ray. The audience will be greeted with a large assortment of themes and compositions that change with each song, no idea is revisited within the ten tracks accounted for. Songs such as "Born to Fly" and "Time for Deliverance" are cheesy odes to heavy metal of the 1980's where "Pale Rider", "Hellbent" and "Avalon" are epic anthems that will take the listener on imaginative journeys of epic proportion. While kicking things off with a strong start during the fantasy tale of "Avalon", the content easily keeps the attention of the listener until withering away on and after the sappy ballad "Time for Deliverance". Unfortunately the album ends on an anti-climactic note with "I Will Return", but at least head bangers will be treated to the longest and most epic solo of the material before the disappointment kicks in.

The first half of the album is flooded with hymns that are crafted with a high momentum, which will get many fists pumping. The legendary vocals of Kai Hansen are as strong as ever, from the wondrous highs and sing-alongs in "Avalon" to the gritty chants in "Hellbent" to every technique in between. His passionate storytelling hasn't lost it's charm during all of the active years that Gamma Ray have put into the world of metal, and in fact may have grown stronger during the beginning handful of songs. Without a doubt the only instrument that comes close to being as thrilling as the vocals are the drums; the quick footwork of inductee Michael EhrĂ© is explosive in "Hellbent", "Pale Rider" and "Born to Fly". With swift hands, he makes light work of deep tom-toms and sweeps across cymbals and hi-hats with precision and ease. Though most of the background is filled with double bass kicks, his hands are constantly creating grounding beats for each track while the rhythm guitar generally sticks to riding the waves of bass kicks with palm-muted riffs that never fail to keep up with the soaring tempos.


The rhythm guitar and drums fit together perfectly, working in total unison to create impressionable compositions. Each of the previously mentioned tracks have their own unique hook to them, generally composed of a mixture derived from palm muted chords and clear strums; usually the verses are muted while the choruses are clear, however there are also some grooving one-string bridge hooks added in for zest in a few tracks, the most noteworthy being "Master of Confusion". Not all due to the guitar riffs and drumming, the choruses are made all the more memorable by the chants that will easily get stuck in the listeners' head for days to come. The lead guitar doesn't get as much love as it probably should, the content has it's fair share of solos but they're usually short and fleeting; with the exception of the intense show of skill during "I Will Return", which is a melodious solo that is complete with hammer-ons, pull-offs and tapping. "Born to Fly" should also be mentioned here, as the solo within it, along with the drumming, makes this big ball of cheesy metal endurable; really, this all American track talks about flying high like an eagle in the sky and touching rainbows... which is amusing since the band hails from Germany.

Unfortunately the bass doesn't make many appearances, with the exception of "Master of Confusion" and a couple lines here and there it stays mostly inaudible for the rest of the ride; it mostly contributes to the thumping of the bass drum. A lot of tracks on Empire of the Undead seem to be odes to bands of old, as "Master of Confusion" is reminiscent of Billy Idol and "Time for Deliverance" is almost ripped straight from the beginning parts of "Bohemian Rhapsody"; not to mention the Dick Dale surfer style riff slides in the title track. There are other little hints scattered throughout the ten songs, but nothing as significant as the three mentioned tracks. As a final wayward thought, the production quality and mixing are top notch, as would be expected from a band of such magnitude as Gamma Ray.

Great for the first half and take it or leave it for the latter, Empire of the Undead is a decent release by the almighty Gamma Ray. Many old fans may find themselves mildly enjoying the content, although they will probably dismiss it after a listen or two and go back to something older. Newer fans or those just discovering the band who enjoy power and heavy metal will probably see that this album stays on their playlist for quite a while. The material has a large quantity of fast tempo, care free anthems at it's disposal, but the inclusion of the Whitesnake-like ballad ends up ultimately ruining the mood and everything thereafter.

Digital Download Provided by: Earsplit PR

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