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Ok, so it's no secret that there are two different Gamma Rays and I'm not going to pretend which one I like. My preference is firmly in the favour of the band's heavier, later sound, after Ralf Scheepers left and Kai Hansen started to do the vocals. There's nothing particularly wrong with the early Gamma Ray material, except for the wetness of some of it: the debut album had some super-lame songs about 'Free Time' and 'Money' and the second album had some boring instrumental ideas to go with a lack of direction. This EP falls in the middle of those two albums, though the material is culled from the 'Heading from Tomorrow' sessions if I'm not mistaken.
The material has that kind of Sunday afternoon Iron Maiden feeling to it, like a lazier version of 80s Maiden with a few other influences thrown in. The feeling of the songs is not very intense and quite melodic, with solos more or less the best part. Apparently the title song is different from the one that featured on the album, though it's more to showcase the changed lineup than to reorder the music itself, meaning that it doesn't end up better than the original, just a similar power/heavy metal number with a lot of lyrics and dated-sounding gang vocal chorus.
The extra material is not worse than the album tracks from 'Heading for Tomorrow': in fact, 'Sail On' might well be better than about half of that record. It's my personal favourite here, packing a great chorus that has a great surge of energy compared to the softer and slower verses. 'Mr Outlaw' is a faster heavy metal song with some good traditional riffs and speed, as well as a super melody/solo section (bass included!), but the chorus is fairly pants and generic, which spoils it for me. The other two tracks I could take or leave depending on my mood, since 'Who Do You Think You Are?' is fairly average and 'Lonesome Stranger' is a decidedly non-metal instrumental, which is Gamma Ray having a decent crack at country rock, though there's no reason why it should appeal to their core fans.
This is a moderately straightforward EP, which should be an EP because of the mixture of songs on offer, and satisfies only if one bears this in mind. Gamma Ray opened up a bit for the following 'Sigh No More', which itself could - and perhaps should - have been relegated to EP status, though this release points to the broader direction the band's sound would take next. It's worth a listen, but it's far from essential.
Yes. That's what I like to call the contents of this EP. The songs on here sound like they could easily fit into the album, but they are a bit weaker than the songs on there. Perfect b-side material, in other words. That's not saying much though, knowing how excellent the album is.
Logically, the first song is "Heaven Can Wait", now re-recorded with the new lineup featuring Uli Kusch on drums and Dirk Schlächter on guitar in addition to Kai. The song isn't much different from the original, but I definitely prefer the original. The vocals are the weakest spot. If you read my review of Heading For Tomorrow, you know how much I praised Ralf's vocals there. I just don't get the same feeling here.
"Who Do You Think You Are?" is a catchy mid-tempo song that was also released as a singe before the album came out. Nothing special about this song. Probably the weakest on the EP. The ballad-like "Sail On" is a bit better, but it's nowhere near "The Silence". Not that you would expect that anyway. The chorus is pretty catchy and I really love the mid-part og the song. Excellent vocals by Scheepers there.
No doubt "Mr. Outlaw" is the best song on here. It's really brilliant, with great verses and an excellent sing-along chorus. A perfect example of how good short and catchy songs can be. But the best part is definitely the solo-section. The first thing I thought when I first heard the first solo was "Dragonforce - Valley Of The Damned". It's very similar. The drums kick inn after some time and you get a shitload of speed and power thrown in your face. This is really a taste of future Gamma Ray. Brilliant song, that could as well have been on the album. Well, it is, as a Japanese bonus track, but that doesn't really count.
The last song is something completely different. It's a cowboy instrumental with a silly spoken intro. Pretty funny, though. As for the song, it lasts for almost four minutes, with not much variety, but it doesn't drag on either. It's a great song that suits it's name perfectly. The melody really gives a feeling of a lonesome cowboy riding through the prairie.
Overall this EP is pretty good, and I recommend it to anyone who loves Heading For Tomorrow and wants more of the same kind of material. However, this is not something you will come across in your local store. eBay is probably your only option, but don't hesitate if you should actually find it. Otherwise you can just buy the remastered versions of Heading For Tomorrow and Sigh No More, and you will get these songs as bonus tracks, except the re-recorded version of Heaven Can Wait. There is also a third option. I don't think Kai would mind if you downloaded these songs.