Friday, February 8, 2013

Gamma Ray - Sign No More (1991)

January 17th, 1991 was a significant one for Kai Hansen. It was his birthday. It was also the day the Gulf War officially began (Codename - Operation Desert Storm). I was 13 at the time, attending a music course whilst my parents and brother were off in Nelson. Although we were far from the conflict and it never had any direct effect on us, the declaration of war - any war - is not something you wish to be apart from your nearest and dearest for.

This album, released in 1991, is clearly inspired somewhat by the Gulf War.

After the power and the might of the symphonic power metal of Fairyland, Gamma Ray are actually refreshing. There is something overly flamboyant and pompous about Symphonic Power Metal, and although Kai Hansen may be somewhat responsible for the creation of the genre itself, his own projects are traditional, honest hard rockin' heavy metal. Catchy, great guitar, Scheepers' vocals are excellent and the lyrics are intelligent and interesting.

The cover is kinda tacky though. Given it was released in the early 90s, and the 80s had still not finished their influence - we have skeletons in suit, tails and tophat, with a rather psychadelic sky. Meanwhile the band name looks like something from a video game. Ah, but we'll forgive them, cos they're awesome. No printed lyrics, sadly, just a one-fold affair with a grainy photography showing two of the band members - leather jackets, long hair, a third being neatly bissected in half so that you can only see his clothes and not his head! And the other members are entirely absent (I think  they were five, at that point?). The rest of the photograph is moody sky and what might be fields. It loks cheap and almost like a poor copy - except that I'm fairly certain I got it through a reliable source - ie: a music store.

Gamma Ray have chosen to go in a different direction from Helloween, their style is more influenced by rock and politics, less speed and more rhythm.  The album opens with "Changes" - a song that is both catchy and beautiful, with Scheepers voice smooth and haunting. Not quite a ballad, but definitely an inspirational piece.
"... Don't wanna cry no more, wanna sigh no more... Changes... all around me now..."
In contrast, "Rich and Famous" is a bit of social sattire.  Rocking rhythms; catchy, repetitive choruses, a hearty dose of irony and humour. Fun stuff.

We get back into more serious issues with "As Time Goes By" which opens with speed metal beats. More tongue-in-cheek political lyrics here. It also has the finest guitar solo on the album - with the soaring, rising, inspiration riffs not disimilar to Helloween's "Eagle Fly Free".

Slower with a steadier beat,and a slight melancholic edge, "We Won't Stop the War" is about the obvious. Puncuated with horns.

As a change "Father And Son" is a softer ballad with a harsher center, about the relationship between father and son. A relationship fractured and efforts made to mend the broken bridges.

"One with the World" is about attempts at salvaging the mess that the world is in:
"Do you think there's a chance for this world to live in unity as one?"
Like most Gamma Ray songs, it displays truly that rockstars could be both intelligent and have strong political views - in the wake of the whole glam rock explosion. The video is cheesy as hell though!

"Start Running" has a frantic, hurried pace that befits the lyrics. It sounds angry, even when it is making delcarations of a more positive nature:
"No single person can change the truth We have to move forward and do it side by side"
It is not one of my favourite songs.

Back into the beats as we "Countdown". More political lyrics, somewhat nihilistic worldviews. Good beats and great guitar rifts.

"Dream Healer" opens with chugging base and rhythmic guitar. The vocals are otherworldly, slightly new-age-esque. Brilliant.

Finally, we end with "The Spirit", a magnificant, beautiful song with rising powerful guitars and soaring vocals. It asks all sorts of important questions and comments:
"If I could ask the maker about the masterplan, would He give an answer and would I understand?"
I think you will get the opinion that I am rather fond of Gamma Ray. And you would be 100% correct. There is an honest purity to their music: it is rock, with a touch of speed and a lot of melody. The lyrics are easy to hear, even without being printed, and they are both intelligent and thought-provoking. Kai Hansen is a guitar god and Ralf Scheepers has a damned fine voice.

I shall give it 8/10.

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