Gamma Ray
Empire of the Undead


3.5
great

Review

by Alex Newton USER (43 Reviews)
March 27th, 2014 | 37 replies | 6,603 views


Release Date: 03/28/2014 | Tracklist

Review Summary: Though often dragged down by bad habits, "Empire of the Undead" shows flashes of Gamma Ray's former glory.

12 of 12 thought this review was well written

Considering it was originally a side project, Gamma Ray has shown remarkable staying power at the core of Europe’s power metal scene. It’s been almost twenty years since Gamma Ray released two of the genre’s defining albums in Land of the Free and Somewhere Out in Space, but the quartet is still alive and well. The fact that fans were disappointed with 1999’s Powerplant – an album whose songs remain the band’s opener and encore today – says a lot about how much respect the band has in the metal sphere. Lately, however, singer/guitarist Kai Hansen seems content to rest on his laurels, as the band’s last two albums have played things about as safely as possible. It’s been a full four years since To the Metal! raised concerns over whether Gamma Ray had anything left in the tank, between the album’s inconsistency and borderline plagiarism, so Empire of the Undead has some questions to answer.

If first impressions were everything, Empire of the Undead would be golden. “Avalon” harkens back to the quartet’s glory days, winding through nine minutes of shimmering guitar verses and thunderous peaks, as if “Rebellion in Dreamland” called and demanded a true successor. New drummer Michael Ehré certainly proves his mettle, if somewhat more conservatively than the departed Dan Zimmerman, as he effortlessly throws in back-beat fills and changes styles on a dime throughout the song. While there aren’t any jaw-dropping drum featurettes a la Somewhere Out in Space’s title track, fans should be pleased with Gamma Ray’s newest addition. After a charging middle section and lengthy guitar flourish, “Avalon” concludes with a tremendous mid-tempo gallop, with Hansen’s calls of “Don’t close your eyes and turn away!” bringing the piece home. Basically, if Gamma Ray doesn’t feature this prominently in their next tour and every one after it, they’re crazy.

During Empire of the Undead’s recording and mixing, Hansen claimed the album would have a more “thrashy” sound, and there are a number of songs that live up to that promise. “Hellbent,” in particular, showcases some of the Painkiller-inspired riffing that made 2005’s Majestic so much fun. There’s also an old-school guitar solo battle in the middle of the song, giving Henjo Richter’s underrated chops a moment in the spotlight. Still, the all-too-obvious lyrical nods to “Metal Meltdown” and “All Guns Blazing” are pretty cringe-worthy: “A merciless tempest, a flash underground / The sky ripped to pieces, the flames all around / Revolts on the sidewalks, screams in the dark / The world sinks in chaos, the world falls apart.” But whatever, this is power metal. As long as the song rocks nobody really cares about the lyrics, and “Pale Rider” promptly keeps things rolling with its confident strut and quirky modulations, though Kai’s insistence on over-singing every line gets old quickly.

Farther along, “Master of Confusion” is a clear stand-out and has the feel of a classic Gamma Ray song, probably because it’s almost literally a composite of previous Hansen-penned singles. The main riff, verse, and solo are ripped straight from Helloween’s “I Want Out,” while both the chords and lyrics of the pre-chorus (“and now I’m riding on the wind, but I won’t have much time”) echo No World Order!’s “Heaven and Hell” (“riding on the wind, there’s only one place left to go”). Listen closely and you’ll hear “Send Me a Sign” in there, too. There are certainly worse songs to steal from, but Hansen’s song-recycling here comes off as an uninspired, if not downright lazy, approach to songwriting. “Born to Fly” may not be a bad song in its own right, but come on – another anthem about flying high like an eagle in the sky? It’s like Kai thinks power metal fans haven’t heard “Eagle Fly Free” ten different ways, and frankly, it’s a little insulting.

It is worth pointing out that “Master of Confusion” is still quite a fun song despite its thinly-veiled pedigree. The song’s lyrics reference Gamma Ray’s troubles with actually making Empire of the Undead, as Dan Zimmerman unexpectedly retired and the band’s studio burned to the ground during mixing (“The label’s calling – boys, are you done? / The deadline’s passed, time to deliver / I am so sorry, we’re running late / Some unexpected ghost in the machine”). During the song’s post-solo build, Dirk Schlächter lays down some walking bass as Hansen changes the lyrics up a bit, lending the final chorus a feeling of satisfying resolution. Further solidifying the album’s center is “Empire of the Undead,” another thrash/speed number built on unrelenting drumming and shredded guitar leads. Kai’s countertenor screech fits much better here than on “Pale Rider,” with his signature dramatic screams ushering in both the bridge and solo section. The chorus suffers from the dreaded “sing the title four times” syndrome, but there’s enough energy to keep “Empire of the Undead” rolling to its furious conclusion.

Empire of the Undead does, however, continue some unsettling trends in the Gamma Ray discography. For starters, somebody needs to tell Mr. Hansen and co. that it’s not okay to simply copy and paste pieces of classic songs they didn’t write into their own compositions. You might remember hearing Iron Maiden’s “Rime of the Ancient Mariner” on Land of the Free Pt. II or “Metal Gods” on To the Metal!…well, here we go again. “Time for Deliverance” lifts the chorus of Queen’s “We Are the Champions” almost note-for-note, and if anyone sings anything other than, “and weeee’ll keep on fiiiighting ‘til the end!” at Gamma Ray’s next show, they ought to be ashamed of themselves. Plagiarism has become a real problem over the band’s last few albums and it’s clearly not getting any better. Another sore thumb is Kai’s newfound affinity for cursing, which isn’t so much an objective problem as a perplexing artistic choice. From a band that’s had a generally mature approach, hearing words like “mother***er” is rather jarring. Leave the shock-rock tactics to Five Finger Death Punch and their punk metal cronies.

Fortunately, Gamma Ray has one very big bullet left in the chamber with “I Will Return,” a seven-minute shot of energy that brings to mind previous album anchors “Revelation” and “Armageddon.” Ehré again shows his versatility during the song’s numerous sonic shifts, while Hansen and Richter thrill with a huge solo section. Placing the album’s two best songs as the opener and closer really increases Empire of the Undead’s replay value, and in the end, weaker cuts like “Demonseed” prove relatively easy to gloss over. So yes, Kai Hansen deserves a slap on the wrist for copyright infringement, and yes, Empire of the Undead has largely the same DNA as Gamma Ray’s last three albums. The difference here is that Empire of the Undead showcases flashes of the top-notch power metal Gamma Ray built its reputation on for the first time in a while, and that, in itself, is worth your attention.



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user ratings (46)
Chart.
3.6
great

Comments:Add a Comment 
Calc
March 27th 2014



11975 Comments


ugh great review man, hard pos. too lazy to look for songs though so I guess I won't hear what this sounds like.

Digging: Kashiwa Daisuke - April. #02

pedro70512
March 27th 2014



2411 Comments

Album Rating: 3.5

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZkF-ErMnwNo

merry christmas

Willie
Moderator
March 27th 2014



15876 Comments

Album Rating: 2.8 | Sound Off

Listened to part of the opening track and didn't really have a desire to hear the rest of it (although I will listen eventually). I haven't really liked them since Insanity and Genius. Good review.

Digging: Emperor - In The Nightside Eclipse - 20th Year Anniversary

pedro70512
March 27th 2014



2411 Comments

Album Rating: 3.5

Thanks Willie.

"I haven't really liked them since Insanity and Genius."

Woah, that's not an opinion you see every day...most fans only like/know their post-Scheepers material.

VermTheImpaler
March 27th 2014



1360 Comments

Album Rating: 4.0

First sonata arctica an now gamma ray, it will be a good year for power metal :D:D, I'm so happy

Willie
Moderator
March 27th 2014



15876 Comments

Album Rating: 2.8 | Sound Off

Woah, that's not an opinion you see every day...most fans only like/know their post-Scheepers material.


I'm not a big fan of Kai's vocals. Not on Gamma Ray, not on the Helloween debut. That's the biggest reason that I only like the first three Gamma Ray albums (especially Insanity and Genius -- Tribute to the Past is one of the coolest power metal songs ever).

manosg
March 28th 2014



5700 Comments


Quite on the long side but a solid review man. Have a pos from me.

This review should really be featured.

Digging: Donovan - Sunshine Superman

pedro70512
March 28th 2014



2411 Comments

Album Rating: 3.5

Thanks manosg. I wouldn't mind that a bit if someone wants to nominate it.

manosg
March 28th 2014



5700 Comments


Did that a couple hours ago. Fingers crossed.

ksoflas
March 28th 2014



347 Comments


Good review man. Pos'd.

pedro70512
March 28th 2014



2411 Comments

Album Rating: 3.5

Much appreciated. Yeah I didn't realize how long this was until I had all my thoughts written down and began editing it, but sometimes there's just a lot to say (case in point, my 2012 Swans review).

warlordfun
March 28th 2014



383 Comments

Album Rating: 3.5

Enjoyable album. But nothing too spectacular. Great review. Have a pos.

Digging: Lords Of The Crimson Alliance - Lords Of The Crimson Alliance

TPM731
March 28th 2014



217 Comments


One error: "the quartet is still alive and well in its fourth decade". A decade is ten years, and if the band was in it's fourth decade it would be at least forty years old. The band has only been around for 25 years.

Otherwise, the review is very good.

pedro70512
March 28th 2014



2411 Comments

Album Rating: 3.5

@TPM - The 80's are a decade, as are the 90's, 2000's and 2010's. They started in 1989 and are still going, hence this is their fourth decade. So yes, they have been around for 2 1/2 decades but this is the fourth in which they have taken part. Just a different use of the term.

pedro70512
March 28th 2014



2411 Comments

Album Rating: 3.5

You know what, I'll just drop that part. You make a good point that it's a vague statement.

warlordfun
March 28th 2014



383 Comments

Album Rating: 3.5

Avalon and I Will Return are amazing compisitions. Gamma Ray had a chance to prove to the metal world that they still belong to the power metal elit, but they lost this chance.

pedro70512
March 28th 2014



2411 Comments

Album Rating: 3.5

I very much agree. Gamma Ray has a tremendous body of work but the creative flame is dying fast. That great discog makes for a hell of a live show though.

Mabbitt
March 28th 2014



1324 Comments


Avalon and I Will Return were both awesome, sad to hear that the rest of the album isn't quite as good. Will still check it out

linguist2011
Contributing Reviewer
March 28th 2014



1842 Comments


Nice review, and although the last album I heard by gamma Ray was in fact Majestic, I'm intrigued to hear what this is like.

Digging: Black Anvil - Hail Death

bloc
March 28th 2014



34669 Comments


Actually looking forward to hearing this

Digging: Anberlin - Lowborn



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