Gamma Ray – Land Of The Free
“Rejoice! Ralf Scheepers left! And of his own free will so we look good!”
I think that’s what was going through Kai Hansen’s head when Gamma Ray was set to record Land Of The Free, after three sub-par releases (and previously coming off three genre-defining classics with Helloween). Of course, it’s not all roses at this point. For all the awesomeness that Kai Hansen brings as a songwriter, he has a tendency to run out of ideas. There’s a bit too much average/below-average filler on Land Of The Free than later Gamma Ray albums, but that’s mostly since Henjo Richter and Daniel Zimmerman won’t be in the band until 1997.
The album opens with the amazing “Rebellion In Dreamland,” quite possibly the best song in the Gamma Ray catalog. This is the standard for power metal epics; the mid-tempo chugging suddenly erupting into a full-on fury. Great guitar solos, great riffs, and Kai’s awesome vocal delivery. “Man On A Mission,” “All Of The Damned,” “Gods Of Deliverance,” and “Salvation’s Calling” are the all-out speed metal staples, with “All Of The Damned” and “Salvation’s Calling” being the best of the songs without “Rebellion” in the title. The other clear winner is the Michael Kiske (!!!) fronted quasi-goofy track “Time To Break Free.” It’s almost a slightly more serious version of “Rise And Fall” from Keeper II, and just a great, catchy pop-metal tune that made Helloween so fun!
“Farewell” is the obligatory power ballad; not bad, but certainly not great. “Land Of The Free” rounds out the rest of the “great” songs on Land Of The Free, while “Abyss Of The Void” and “Afterlife” are easily the weakest songs on the album. Now, if you have a reissue with the bonus tracks, you’re in luck! The Holocaust cover, “H.M. Mania” is a great tune, and we are treated to a classic from the yet-to-be-released Ralf Scheepers Gamma Ray Songs That Didn’t Suck album, “As Time Goes By” (originally from Sigh No More, but with Kai on vocals). “The Silence ’95” is a bit better than the original from Heading For Tomorrow, because removing Ralf from Gamma Ray is great in the way that removing a boulder from your shoe makes your feet feel better.
Overall, this is certainly worth checking out, but this is (given Gamma Ray’s penchant for subtly worshiping Judas Priest) their Defenders Of The Faith. It opens with a bang, hangs in for the majority of the album, and then BAM, out with a whimper. However, it does show signs of promise for what was to come next…
Kylie’s rating: 4.25 out of 5