EMPIRE OF THE UNDEAD
My affinity for Gamma Ray really predates the band itself, as it's much more of an appreciation for the vocal work of singer Kai Hansen. Be it with Gamma Ray or his legendary work with his previous band Helloween, Hansen has always been not only one of the most elite vocalists in power metal in my eyes, but one of it's greatest writers. Recent releases like TO THE METAL really missed the mark for me, which is pretty surprising as much as I'm a fan of just about everything Hansen has ever done. with EMPIRE OF THE UNDEAD, the band has righted itself somewhat, although this is far from classic Gamma Ray material that you would want, or even expect.
With the overabundance of traditional and power metal bands out there, it's not surprising how many of them just sound the same. Without question, Finland's Battle Beast takes their influences from the classic tones of power metal. Unfortunately for them though, they take a bit too much influence without incorporating much of their own style into it. After multiple listens to BATTLE BEAST, I'm yet to find anything at all that separates them from the bulk of the European metal bands that are finding their way to our shores these days. While there's nothing terrible here, there's not a single "wow" moment either. In short, BATTLE BEAST is the kind of release you listen to in between bands that you just like better.
DELIVERING THE BLACK
There are so many great bands out there that don't get nearly the credit they deserve. At the top of the list of those power metal bands without their just credit is Primal Fear. Since the late '90s, Primal Fear has been delivering powerful collections of iron that has been overlooked by the mainstream, but has hit the mark repeatedly to us old schoolers who wanted something new, yet cut from the same cloth as the great Judas Priest. While they have never put out a bad release, the last two or three have strayed away from the vintage sound they started with and looked to find a bit more mainstream crossover. That seems to have been pushed away this time though, as Primal Fear has reverted back to the classic sound of their first 3 releases. Without question, DELIVERING THE BLACK is the best release the band has done since then...maybe ever. In short, DELIVERING THE BLACK is as close to a perfect metal release as it gets. Welcome to 2014, folks!
STRAIGHT OUT OF HELL
When you history is as long as stoic as a band like Helloween's, people tend to come into each release with a series of expectations. They also tend to judge anything new they release by comparison to the rest of the catalog instead of as a standalone release. Certainly, that's justified. For me, I first remember discovering Helloween when I was stationed in Korea. They used to play their videos in a bar called the "MTV Club" in Itaewon, Korea. I watched for a year as videos for "I Want Out" and "Halloween" played over and over in this club. I remember buying KEEPER OF THE SEVEN KEYS: PART 1 in some bootleg shop in Seoul, and literally wearing that tape out in only a few months. From that point on, I've never missed a release of a disc by Helloween, and I've compared every release to KEYS 1. Some have been hit and some have been miss, but all have pretty much maintained the core sound of the band. Even changes in core members hasn't derailed Helloween...at least to my ears.
FEW AGAINST MANY
I know I wasn't alone in worrying that guitarist Gus G. joining Ozzy would ruin Firewind. Sure, we all get that it's a great move for Gus. Further, we also understand that it is an unbelievable opportunity that that has propelled every other guitarist except Joe Holmes to stardom. In short, we get why Gus did it. That said though, Firewind has been, along with Primal Fear, the most consistently great power metal band of the last decade. Seeing it become a part time project behind a very high profile gig could have spelled disaster.
Thankfully though, this has not happened. While it's not the best album Firewind has ever done, FEW AGAINST MANY is very much in tune with the greatness of previous efforts and continues to show development of the band as songwriters. To say the least, FEW AGAINST MANY kicks ass in the tradition the band had previously established.