Kai Hansen had done it again. Despite being 7 years removed from the release of the second Keepers album, coming off a sub par record in Insanity and Genius, and losing vocalist Ralf Scheepers, Kai Hansen and the Rays still manage to create an album that can hold its own against legendary metal albums such as Powerslave, Painkiller, and Rust in Peace, even eclipsing albums such as Keeper of the Seven Keys Pt 1. Yes, this is that good. I've heard every Gamma Ray album and of the eight studio releases, Land of the Free is easily their best. How can I say this? Well, read on and find out.
Today Kai Hansen and the boys in Gamma Ray generally craft a heavier variation of power metal, with many explicit classic metal influences evident in the music. Turn the clock back 10 years, and you'll find a band rooted in that of German power metal. The music on Land of the Free not only puts an emphasis on speed and melody, but also aggression and power. Rebellion in Dreamland, one of, if not THE best power metal song ever written, is a perfect example of this combination. The song, which is also the album's opener, starts off softly before evolving into an epic anthem that is nearly 9 minutes long. Effective riffing, top notch soloing, and powerful vocal lines make this cut irresistible to fans of the genre. The elements found on the song are not forsaken after the ending of Rebellion in Dreamland fades out however, and carry on throughout most of the album. The only moments where the band lets up on its power metal assault is on the album's ballad, Farewell, the ultimate Gamma Ray ballad.
As I mentioned earlier, Gamma Ray had lost their vocalist, Ralf Scheepers. This was due to the distance between the homes of Ralf (who had also auditioned to be the new Judas Priest singer and was among the finalists for the job) and the rest of the band which seriously limited the practice time between the bands. Rather than searching for a new vocalist, guitarist Kai Hansen simply took over vocal duties. It had been ten years since Kai last handled the dual vocal/guitar role, but on Land of the Free he sounds like he's been singing for years. Definitely an improvement over his stint as Helloween's vocalist on the Walls of Jericho album, Kai Hansen delivers a superb effort. His singing in tracks such as Rebellion in Dreamland, Land of the Free, and Gods of Deliverance is second to none in the power metal field, and Kai's vocals add an extra authority to these songs. As a result, the tracks are that much more convincing, that much more powerful. Kai doesn't falter on Land of the Free's ballad, Farewell, and he shows another side to the aggressive efforts on some of the heavier tracks. The singing here is very emotional, as you would expect from this time of song. No disappointments on this front.
With Land of the Free, Gamma Ray took their song writing to a new level. Sure, they had song excellent numbers in the past, but they just expand on it in a whole new way here. Every song here features an impossibly catchy chorus that is not only engrained in your memory for a very, very long time. However at the same time, the music does not lose its intensity, and even as Kai belts out the memorable choruses, Gamma Ray still presses forward with the same strength and authority as they do during the verses or bridges of the songs. Equally amazing is the absolute lack of dull moments on the album. I'm not sure I can say I've ever felt the need to skip a track, as the album leaves you on the edge of your seat, begging for more.
If there was ever an essential power metal album, Land of the Free would be that album. Combing melody with power, catchiness with speed, this record has everything one could ask for. It is here that guitarist Kai Hansen debuts on vocals for the band, a position he has rightfully held ever since. All though the general census seems to feel that the band peaked with Land of the Free, Gamma Ray would go on to record one more seemingly invincible album, Somewhere Out in Space. Both that record and Land of the Free would go on to solidify Gamma Ray's position as an elite player in the field of power metal. I would definitely recommend this album, has it is one of the best power metal albums you will ever hear.
Rebellion in Dreamland
Man on a Mission
Land of the Free
Abyss of the Void