Anyhow, back to Gamma Ray - this is another rockin' album, harking more to the fun of "Heading for Tomorrow", rather than the more serious "Sigh No More". The music displays a fair amount of playfulness and creativity.
Originally published in 1993, this is the 2005 re-release - which comes with bonus tracks.
The cover is a ying and yang atom, with water and fire, electrons zapping around them. On the back of the booklet, the band are all pulling funny faces, although Dirk Schlater looks more like a zombie than a goofball. The only two I can immediately recognise are Ralf and Kai. Kai actually bears a resemblance to Fangface - maybe it's the grin. Inside they look far more mature and serious - and so young.
Ralf Scheepers also has nearly a four octave range* - varying from high-pitched tenor, to shrieks and a deeper baritone.
The album starts hard and fast with the kick-arse "Tribute to the Past". Gamma Ray are starting to show more Power Metal influences now, although the whole PM genre was only just gaining momentum. The vocals race forward, soaring forth into the chorus, whilst beneath them the drums pound away in speed rhythms.
The rocking "No Return" brings with it catchiness and a good, solid rhythm. Also, Ralf doing his baritone-thing.
"Last Before the Storm" is a somewhat less inspiring number. It's a solid metal song, but not nearly as catchy and more aggressive.
Then into something a little slower, "The Cave Principle" which quickly surges into a rather thrashier number. I've never been sure of the meaning of this song.
Frantic guitar and frenzied drumming leads us into "Future Madhouse" which is as compelling as it is speed metal. The verses are a bit blah, but the bridge and chorus are good and catchy.
"Our future is a madhouse and we all are moving in!"The quirkiest track on the album - "Gamma Ray" starts with an odd popping-stretching noise before going into a kinda pop rhythm and rockin' out. This is the editted version - as an added bonus we also get an extended version. It's more rock and has a rather more modern, popular twist to the melodies and rhythms. I always fancied it took a little bit - a mere fragment - of techno into its structure. There's a few explody noises too.
Just found out, this is a cover song. Originally done by a band called Birth Control, whom I've not heard of.
Another lively and inventive number, "Insanity and Genius" has rhythms you could dance to - were you so inclined; good melodies, strong vocals and bizarre lyrics:
"Sometimes my womb bears an actor."Slow, melodious and melancholic with shadows of Dire Straits, "18 Years" begins as a ballad. It comes in rather rockier, and Ralf shows that he is capable of holding a note for some time. By the end, it is frantic and urgent.
The next track, "Your Turn is Over" is fast-paced and my least favourite track on this album. Vocalist on this one is Dirk Schlachter. I wondered why the vocals were rather more gutural and aggressive. Guitars and backing instruments are also uninspiring.
In the next track, "Heal Me", Kai takes over the vocal duties. A slower, powerful number. For all his raspy-edge, Kai can do the low and melodic quite well. I wonder what his octave range is (I'm guessing he'll be another almost-four). The song twists and turns - one minute slow and mellow, the next screaming and angry. It's great. My favourite is the fairy-tale/masquerade ending, when the piano/keyboard comes in and brings with it a strangely carnival feeling slightly reminscent of Queen:
"Come on my friend and join the ball and everything is beautiful. Even the band ... is magic. Imagine you're a superstar - you're gonna fly, you're gonna go far... so far!""Brothers" is another rockin' number, with the catchy rhythms and deeper vocals courtesy of Ralf. The lyrics are fun and relatively shallow, but there's a general mood of friendship and happiness.
The extended version of "Gamma Ray" follows, bringing more technical noises and a few samples.
This is followed up by a cover of Judas Priest's "Exciter" - which proves Ralf Scheepers might have been a better choice than Ripper Owens. Fast paced and furious, pure thrash and a track that immediately evokes memories in me - as Judas Priest's "Screaming for Vengence" was one of the first cassettes I ever owned. I'm not even sure I still have it...
Finally we conclude with another cover - this time of the awesome Helloween track, being performed live (to great celebration from the fans) - "Save Us". Funnily enough, the album the original of this is from is next on my list to play. Ralf does a commendable job - he was asked to be vocalist of Helloween before they grabbed Kiske (he declined because he thought Tyran Pace were gonna be big. They weren't).
This is an album of highs and lows - there are some spectacular tracks - especially "Heal Me", but also some rather less inspiring numbers. On average though, it's still probably worth an 8/10.
Don't worry, I'll be giving the next GR album a higher ranking. It's "Land of the Free".
* As I have previously noted, does Michael Kiske. However, Kiske's voice is more angelic and powerful, whereas Scheepers has a raw edge.