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.
The best thing about EMPIRE OF THE UNDEAD is that it's a return to the heavier, thrashy sound that seemed to have evaporated on TO THE METAL. Songs like "Demonseed" have some of the crunchiest guitar work ever shown off by the band, with Kai Hansen and Henjo Richter just slamming through the song with a thick, piercing aggressiveness that just makes the song sound epic and huge. Vocally, Hansen is at the top of his game throughout. He leads the truly brilliant opener "Avalon" with a soaring vocal performance that's as good as anything he's done in the past. The two players are perfectly complemented by bassist Dirk Schlachter and drummer Michael Ehre. They work brilliantly a cohesive unit on "Master Of Confusion" and the speedy, best track on the release, "Seven". For the most part, this is the Gamma Ray of old that I have loved for a long, long time.
While there's a lot of good here, there's some really clunky moments on EMPIRE OF THE UNDEAD. Songs like "Pale Rider" are a prime example of it. This may sound stupid coming from a person like me who's well known for profanity, but this songs use of profanity just feels forced. It's also beneath the more cerebral lyrical approach that he's highlighted throughout his career. In short, it just feels like the hook was too short so he threw it in to fill the rhythmic lyrical gap. It doesn't work here. Another song that really grinds me is "Time For Deliverance". This song almost sounds like a compilation of other songs and bands that are out there. I'm not sure if it's showing influences or just blatantly nicking parts, but this one is almost annoying. The song opens with a Y&T-like guitar open, before going into an Iron Maiden meets Queen sound that's really quite distracting. Listening to it over and over, I spent more time trying to figure out just what Queen song it the orchestration feels like, before settling on a close similarity to "We Are The Champions". Sadly, this is not the first time Gamma Ray has done this, as the Maiden sound has crept into several songs over the last few albums.
PITRIFF RATING - 81/100 - When it's good, it's about as brilliant as this band gets. It's diluted with some less than stellar moments, but it's hard to imagine any fan of classic, traditional power metal wouldn't be happy with this release. EMPIRE OF THE UNDEAD is a solid power metal effort with some truly great moments.