It's always great when a band, famous or unknown, can create quality music in the studio and mould it into something great and worth listening to. But when they take those same studio tracks to the stage and perform them flaw with even greater vigour and excitement, then you know you've found something special. As fans who attended shows in Barcelona (Spain) and Strasbourg (France) on October 31 and November 2, 2002 found out, Gamma Ray is one of those bands. For it was on those two nights that Gamma Ray recorded their second live album, Skeletons in the Closet. This particular release is quite notable, as it features some of the Ray's secondary material, songs like All of the Damned and Rising Star, Shine on, seemingly forgotten material which rarely gets played (get it, skeletons in the closet) in the numerous concerts and festivals that the band performs at. And what can I say? The album is in fact quite good.
Undoubtedly, one of the most important parts of a live album is, you know, the actual performance of the band. As with many of metal's greatest acts, they transfer their studio energy over to the stage very well. Cuts such as the blazing Heart of the Unicorn or even the ballad, The Silence, are extremely energetic renditions performed in top form. Be it through the melodic harmonies and solos, the screamed, yet precise vocals of Kai Hansen, or powerful bridges and interludes, Gamma Ray pulls off these tracks in an entertaining fashion, making for a memorable experience for all those listening. Another quite likeable aspect is the interaction between the crowd and the band. Kai Hansen really knows how to control a crowd and he does an excellent job in both Barcelona and Strasbourg. Of course, it always helps when you're playing in front of an enthusiastic crowd, and both crowds fit that description. But one example of this enthusiasm occurs during the epic track, Armageddon. The fan favourite has both Kai and audience obligingly singing in unison. It's one of those things that makes the hairs on your neck stand up and sends shivers down your spine. Yeah. Really, if you enjoy live albums, you should enjoy Skeletons in the Closet.
The production values found on Skeletons in the Closet are virtually flawless. The guitars sound crisp and clear, the crowd is deafening, Kai's soaring vocals are high in the mix…really it's what you would expect from a Gamma Ray album. It's evident that Gamma Ray put a lot of effort into the making of this album, as everything is rather clear, and does not get lost in the mix. Yet despite that, it still retains that live feel. While listening to a track such as Heavy Metal Universe, which features a long sing-along/ chant, or Armageddon, it feels as if you're alongside the several hundred fans that showed up at the two concerts. It's a really great feeling that just adds a new dimension to the band's songs.
I don't listen to many live recordings. For whatever reason, I'd rather listen to studio albums, most likely because the production makes it easier to listen to. But when I actually do listen to these releases, my expectations are as high as with any other album. And Gamma Ray certainly delivers. Throughout the entirety of the two disc album, the German quartet (plus Masterplan keyboardist, Axel Mackenrott) combines strong showmanship with all of the power metal essentials, driving melodies, powerful choruses, and high octane energy, and transforms it into an enjoyable hour, forty minutes worth of music. Skeletons in the Closet is a very memorable piece of work, and while it unfortunately doesn't contain some of the Ray's classic songs, tracks like Heading for Tomorrow, Rebellion in Dreamland, and Changes, it is certainly not short in quality material. If you're a fan of Gamma Ray, Helloween, power metal, or just live albums in general, don't hesitate to order Skeletons in the Closet.
New World Order
Heart of the Unicorn
Heavy Metal Universe
Last Before the Storm