Review Summary: Somewhere Out in Space is an essential Power Metal album, where Gamma Ray expands their sound to something legendary.
Kai Hansen, generally considered to be the creator of Power Metal, had a colorful career by the end of the 1990s. After creating very raw and aggressive Speed Metal with Walls of Jericho, his creative control waned with the legendary Keeper of the Seven Keys albums in Helloween, leading to his departure and creating the rival band Gamma Ray. Not ready to lose creative control again, he released three Power Metal albums of varying quality with Ralf Scheepers until redefining the genre with the release of Land of the Free. One of the cornerstones of metal in the 90s, this album was widely loved by many Power Metal fans, and was succeeded by an album even better. Ten years after his first exalted masterpiece, Somewhere Out in Space is everything a Power Metal fan can dream of, with aggression, melody, and perfect performances and song-writing all around.
If you have listened to Gamma Ray before, you may recognize the general musical style of the album. Throughout the album, Kai takes his fellow band members through about a dozen passages which take the band to areas that are both fresh and exciting while appealing to those who loved Land of the Free. Songs like “The Winged Horse” and the title track will satiate any fan of the Gamma Ray’s previous styles; containing more aggression than anything the band would compose until No World Order. A special recommendation has to be given to “Lost in the Future,” arguably the Ray’s darkest composition in their entire career. Kai’s lower, less energetic vocals work well with lyrics detailing “a million people left alone down in their desperate, blackened homes,” and how “we’re individually lost” and “nailed to our cross.” The instrumentals do everything to compliment the hopelessness the song presents, creating a bleak atmosphere that is almost unheard of in Power Metal.
As for the new elements in the album, the band has experimented with more varying song-tempos. “Valley of the Kings” and “Men, Martians and Machines” are both leisurely-paced compared to songs like “Land of the Free” and “Lust For Life,” focusing more on melodic structures than fast-paced or heavier riffs. Both of these songs succeed in this regard, as Kai’s vocals sound almost foreign to listeners in “Men, Martians, and Machines,” and “Valley of the Kings” is a very worthy listen for its bombastic, energetic chorus. “Beyond the Black Hole," though another example of a vocally-based track, certainly has technical instrumentation to compliment Kai's singing with solos on drums, bass, and guitar.
Other experimental tracks include the use of pianos, or creating some of the most heartfelt or melodic tracks in the band’s history. “Pray” might not be the band’s first ballad (behind both “The Silence” and “Farewell”), though it is certainly the most inspired ballad they released. Though I’m personally not a fan of many of their ballads, this one still provides an enjoyable listen and works as breathing point after about half of the album. “Shine On,” though not an epic album closer like many of Iron Maiden’s or Iced Earth’s releases, provides yet another enjoyable listen by providing almost symphonic elements into the band’s style. The song quickly opens up with a flurry on piano, and, while quickly segue’s itself into a familiar Gamma Ray track, has one of the musically cheeriest choruses in the band’s career.
The biggest thing that sets this album apart from its competitors is one song: “Somewhere Out in Space.” The incredible amount of emotion and creativity makes it a highlight of not only Gamma Ray’s or Kai Hansen’s discographies, but throughout the entirety of Power Metal. Each additional minute adds more swerves to the song, containing aggressive verses, melodic bridges, and a symphonic chorus that wouldn’t sound out of place on a Blind Guardian release. Every member of the band, from the rhythm section to the guitars and vocals, stand out remarkably, and leaves nothing more to be desired when the final shout of the song's title brings closure.
From the drum solo at the beginning of “Beyond the Black Hole” to the end of “Shine On,” it is without a doubt that Kai Hansen has released his best work. Mr. Hansen has found a way to erase detractor’s statements by one-upping not just Land of the Free, but anything he has recorded with Helloween. The energy, creativity, emotion, melody, and power really set this album on a level far beyond any of Power Metal’s bests; and deserves a listen by any fan who wants a taste of Power Metal.