If someone asked me to pick a band that stood atop the power metal world for the better part of the end of the 90 's, it would definitely be Gamma Ray. In a period spanning six years, they'd released four very successful albums, with two of them being essential power metal classics (Land of the Free and Somewhere in Space), and one of them approaching this level but just falling short (No World Order). That leaves 1999's Power Plant. The jury still seems too be out on this one. Some consider it to be the band's magnum opus, and one of the best albums in power metal. To others it's a complete blunder, a black eye on the band's career. As for my opinion, I stand squarely in the middle. Power Plant is neither a classic, nor is it a coaster, but instead an album that is worth every penny you paid to buy it, and every second of your life that you have/will spend listening to it.
Power Plant is a precursor of sorts. It creates a bridge between the two of the realms that make up Gamma Ray's music. It takes the more traditional power metal aspect that was found on prior releases like Land of the Free, with some of their more recent works. The hybrid that between the increasingly aggressive speed metal-esque material and the traditional sound combines together excellently. Songs like Anywhere in the Galaxy and Razorblade can show you this. Gamma Ray shows no signs of letting up with this release, as can be seen through their inspired, energetic performances. The duelling guitars maintain a heavy presence in the band's sound, and never let up. No, not even for cover songs such as It's a Sin (originally by The Pet Shop Boys), which even contains a melodic solo from the Hansen/Richter line-up. In the album's greatest tracks, Armageddon or Send Me a Sign for example, this twin guitar attack plays a large role in some of the more interesting moments of the songs.
I have two complaints however. Number one would be the production on the music. Now, it's infinitely better than any of the band's first three records. However, it pales in comparison with pretty much every other Gamma Ray album. A few of the songs, specifically the ones in the middle of the album, sound very thin. At times during the verses the guitars do not capture my imagination as I've learned to expect from Kai and friends. Luckily, the band makes up for this during the interludes and solos of several songs, including Gardens of the Sinner and Heavy Metal Universe. Strangely, the first few and last few tracks are perfectly fine, and do not need any sort of production upgrade. My other complaint is somewhat related to, and probably caused by the above problem. The middle of the album is on the weaker side, and does not maintain the momentum that the beginning of the album created. What made records like Land of the Free so great was that it never ran low on quality material. Unfortunately, Power Plant has songs like Wings of Destiny and Strangers in the Night, and Short as Hell (though this is a fun song), which are pretty sub-par when compared to the likes of Send Me a Sign or Gardens of the Sinner. It's kind of disappointing from a band as good as Gamma Ray, but what can you do?
Overall, Power Plant is another decent album from Gamma Ray. Though perhaps not the highlight of the band's career, it does not have them slipping into mediocrity as some of the other important genre leaders have done. Power Plant possesses classic Gamma Ray songs like Armageddon, Send Me a Sign, and Anywhere in the Galaxy, songs that contain some of power metal's most infectious moments. Gamma Ray gets top marks for musicianship, as this is not the area the album is lacking in. Rather, had the album been armed with a greater sound quality, it may have been a more interesting listen. But saying that, Power Plant is still a fun listen, and definitely worth getting. After some of the other Gamma Ray albums, anyways.
Send Me a Sign
Anywhere in the Galaxy