Sound — 8
Guitarist Kai Hansen first emerged into the heavy metal music scene as one of the founding members of Helloween. During his duration with the acclaimed group, Hansen made an appearance as both lead guitarist and lead vocalist on the band's debut EP and studio album, before ultimately stepping away from the microphone in 1987 to allow Michael Kiske to take command and provide Helloween their first taste of international stardom. When in 1989 Hansen would depart from Helloween, the versatile guitarist was quick to cut his losses and soon formed the highly influential German power metal band, Gamma Ray.
During the band's initial incarnation, Gamma Ray featured renowned vocalist Ralf Scheepers as frontman, who Hansen would later collaborate with in Primal Fear. This formation lasted for a duration of four years, during which time the band released three studio albums and a handful of live recordings. However, it was perhaps inevitable that Hansen would resume his previously short-lived role as lead singer for his new project, a position which Kai Hansen has triumphantly maintained throughout the past two decades.
Since Kai Hansen has stepped out into the main spotlight within the band's roster, Gamma Ray has been met with widespread acclaim for its consistent sound which has graced their ever increasing catalog over the years. This long running tradition continues throughout Gamma Ray's newly released eleventh studio album "Empire of the Undead," an effort driven by scorching melodic elements, as well as the genre-defining combination of distortion guitar and soaring orchestral arrangements.
Gamma Ray don't attempt to break any new ground with their new studio album; instead, the band focus on executing the same formula which has been successful for them in the past, and their performance throughout "Empire of the Undead" is not the exception to this rule. The album is immediately kickstarted with "Avalon," a song which showcases Hansen's striking vocal abilities, engaging guitar work and a handful of energetic tempo changes that strap the listener down for a chaotic ride. Seven minutes into the nine minute long anthem, you begin to believe the song has reached it's triumphant end, only to be launched off once again into another melody driven chorus.
Songs such as the rampaging "Born to Fly" and "Pale Rider" boast a resurgence of straightforward heavy metal, with less emphasis placed on the synthesizer arrangements and instead redirected towards damaging chord progressions and scratching falsetto. "Master of Confusion," however, showcases a resurgence in the familiar Gamma Ray orchestral pieces while implementing some entertaining talk-singing verses.
Lyrics — 8
Kai Hansen is as talented a vocalist as he is a guitarist, and makes this vividly apparent throughout Gamma Ray's new studio effort. Clear elements of Rob Halford, Udo Dirkschneider and Dave Mustaine run rampant throughout Hansen's performance on "Empire of the Undead," which compliments the album's consistent use of crunching distortion guitar and dominating percussion work. Hansen's performance is also consistent with his earlier contributions on "Walls of Jericho" and "Helloween," which attributes a degree of familiarness to these new tracks.
Overall Impression — 8
Gamma Ray offer an impactive collection of frequently thrilling melodic anthems with their new studio album, "Empire of the Undead." The album's engaging use of pick grinding chord progressions, melodic choruses, dynamic synthesizers and applaudable vocal performances should make it appealing to any power metal listener, as well as any established Gamma Ray fan.