Friday, January 18, 2013

Gamma Ray - Heading for Tomorrow (1990)

When Kai Hansen parted ways with Helloween in 1988, he went on to form the band Gamma Ray with his friend Ralf Scheepers (ex-Tyran Pace). This is their first studio album.

Hansen is a fine guitarist, and his majesty is writ all over this album, with its soaring guitar solos and twiddly chords. Scheepers has a decent voice, high, but with a rough edge. I have heard Tyran Pace, and their music was unextraordianry, but they were hilarious - since Scheeepers was parading around in a leopard-print leotard at the time. You've got to remember, that was 1985. Not a good year for fashion. Needless to say, Ralf Scheeper's is now burned in my brain looking like that!

We begin with a intro/instro called "Welcome", I'm not sure why most power metal bands of the late 80s/90s chose to make the first track only a minute or so long and not a real song - is it just to boost the track listing? I always feel a little cheated when of the 10 tracks on the regular release (mine has 3 bonuses), one is short - why can't they just connect it onto the first song? The two are joined anyway, one flowing into another.

"Lust for Life" carries the melody and power, along with the relatively positive message that I've come to connect with power metal. Catchy choruses, intricate guitar solos, a strong message -
"Loud and proud, we're going to say it now - live -life - easy, live - life - easy..."
 Enjoy your life, it's all you've got, after all.

This is followed up by the catchy beginning of "Heaven Can Wait" (not to be confused with the Iron Maiden song by the same name*), it has a slightly more negative bend to the lyrics and a somewhat sinister edge. The morals are good, however, and the message strong -
"The load upon my shoulder, makes me stronger, even bolder..."
This song has elements of true Metal Anthem - play it loud and proud! (As I shall when my husband leaves for work).

One cannot help but feel that the song "Space Eater" is about drugs. The semi-surreal and rather creepy video seems to match this theory too. It's a pretty cool song, regardless, with slammin' guitars (and the occasional twiddly bits) and the occasional low, slightly menacing vocals.

"Money" is a funny song, quite heavy, and exceedingly catchy. It also allows Scheepers to explore more scope with his vocals. Overall, Gamma Ray have used him with more versatility than Tyran Pace ever did. He has Kai Hansen for back-up, of course, and I'm not sure who exactly is singing which bit, as their styles are relatively similar.

Then we mellow up a bit with the stirring song, "The Silence". This is the most epic, the most powerful track on the album and less rock n' roll than the other pieces. The vocals are rousing, the music running perfect counterpoint to it.

"Hold Your Ground" gets back into the good solid rock song with pounding bassline, as does "Free Time" which is something of an anthem on its own. And one most of us cannot help but identify with:
"Free time is one of the things that I love... free time is one of the things I enjoy... "
'Tis a song about letting your hair down (easy for these guys, who all have curly 80s mops) and letting loose for the weekend. Yeah, "Free Time" is one of the things that I enjoy too.

And then we conclude with the epic title track "Heading for Tomorrow". With complex twiddly guitar bits, rousing choruses, mellower moments and a decent message.

"Look at Yourself" invites the listening to have some faith in themselves. It's a pretty basic song, basic message. Not a stand out piece by any means.

But this isn't the end, is it? No, despite the complete lack of any mention of it on the track listing, my CD has three extra songs:

"Mr Outlaw" is a rockin' number. The following "Lonesome Stranger" is most entertaining, as two men (who make me think of cowboys) argue over which metal bands they support. It has a somewhat Western vibe going for it, making me think of gun stand-offs and deserts, and an instrumental.

The final song, "Sail On" has a gentler, harmonic vibe, with repeated choruses and strongly evocative of a ship disappearing over the waves.

Gamma Ray are an awesome blend of the powerful and the fun - they hark from an era where music was about having a jolly good time (or at least, appearing to) and making the occasional point but in a manner that is neither preachy nor persistent, but more like saying "life can be great, just step out and grab it, go for it with all you've got." The vocals may not be quite as operatic and rich as some of the other bands, but the raw edge leads them a unique sound of their own, and the bridges and choruses are catchy enough to have them running through your head for hours, or for the listener to pick up on the second or third listen.

Play it loud!

A fine debut = 8/10

* or the Michael Jackson, Meat Loaf or Charlotte Gainsbury songs, a popular name, it seems.

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