With 1995's Land of the Free, Gamma Ray proved to the metal world that they were a force to be reckoned with. The soaring vocals of Kai Hansen; the heavy, aggressive riffs; the memorable song writing; the powerful soloing; everything went their way. But despite this, change was in the air for the Gamma Ray camp. In a musical chairs of band members, bassist Jan Rubach and drummer Thomas Nack left the band. Guitarist of the time, Dirk Schlachter picked up the bass guitar and the Rays found a man by the name of Henjo Richter, who took Dirk's vacant position. Finally, Drumming duties were given to Freedom Call drummer Dan Zimmermann. This has proved to be the most stable line-up in the band's history, as the line-up has not changed ever since. 1997 rolled around, and with it came the newly renovated band's first chance to prove themselves. The album, titled Somewhere Out in Space, once again failed to disappoint.
This time around, Gamma Ray expands on the approach the used on Land of the Free. The elements that made Land of the Free so good are once again found on this album, only this time there is more focus on melody than aggression. Harmonies and leads are even more evident on this album. Like you would expect from a Kai Hansen lead project, these melodic elements are second to none, the kind of material that influence a generation of similar bands. A big part of the album's sound comes from the lyrical subjects. The main themes of the album deal with Sci-Fi inspired stories and as a result, the music has that epic, space-ish feel to it. Two very obvious examples of this come in the form of songs Somewhere Out in Space and Beyond the Black Hole. Both tracks are energetic outings that perfectly define Gamma Ray's musical style.
With their fifth album, Kai and friends seem to have discovered a new interest. Space. Many of the album's lyrics deal with the topic of space in one way or another. Whether it be Star Trek inspired story of insanity during a space mission in Somewhere Out in Space; traveling through black holes in Beyond the Black Hole; space colonization in Men, Martians, and Machines; and so on. However, some tracks such as No Stranger (Another Day in Life) or Pray, the band's lyrical approach turns its gaze towards real life subjects similar to earlier Gamma Ray albums. While you couldn't exactly call Gamma Ray excellent writers in terms of lyrics, for a power metal band, they are satisfactory. They don't destroy the competition, yet at the same time, they don't disappoint.
With Somewhere Out in Space, Kai Hansen shows that he will only get better as the years go by. With Land of the Free, I felt he had a very strong performance, positively affecting the band in ways that former vocalist Ralf Scheepers couldn't dream of doing. With this album, Kai delivers an even more powerful effort. Sure, he doesn't top performances in albums like Majestic, No World Order, or Blast for the Past, but his singing is still top notch. Definitely one of the most enjoyable listeners in the genre. Hansen spends a fair bit of time singing in mid range, but he can hit the high notes with relative ease. During the choruses (and pre-choruses) is where he really shines. Gamma Ray writes some of the catchiest vocal lines in metal, and Kai is the perfect vocalist to sing them. Listen to just about every track (especially the single, Valley of the Kings), and you'll have it stuck in your mind for days at a time.
Along with Land of the Free, Somewhere Out in Space is an excellent representation of the elements that make up the German power metal scene. With Powerful riffs, mind-blowing soloing, heavy double bass, and strong singing, Gamma Ray once again creates an album which reaches standards which only the greatest of bands ever match. I definitely recommend this album to both newer and…not so new listeners to metal, as it is very enjoyable and there is very little to dislike.
Somewhere out in Space
Beyond the Black Hole
Watcher in the Sky
Men, Martians, and Machines