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I'm a man of wealth and taste...
Yes, yes we all know the opening lines of the album are "Voices are calling from somewhere below, melting on the eastern shore." But in essence they symbolize the same thing, a band that revolutionized the music scene in their early years, had lost their way amongst flowery silliness and then had gone back to their roots to turn rock & roll on its ear once again.
Sure the second wind Gamma Ray/Rolling Stones comparison seems like a really long stretch (especially since the formers case revolves Kai Hansen himself more so than Gamma Ray), but do some yoga with me for a second. Beggar's Banquet starts with Sympathy For The Devil, the longest track on the album and arguably the greatest song of the Stones' career. This starts with Rebellion In Dreamland, a dynamic tour-de-farce reinvention/yet back to the roots that can also be acclaimed as Gamma Ray's finest song. While Rebellion wasn't nearly as controversial to the squares in the Bible belt, that was more because America, having learned its lessons from the rock & roll scares of the 70s and 80s, just chose to ignore heavy metal altogether. And it seemed like the only way for the genre to get its foot back in the door of the public conciousness was to start taking hostages, Airheads style.
But its so laughable to me that sissies like Eddie Trunk and Scott Ian call 1995 the absolute low point of metal, citing an absolute void of quality, non-alternative esque metal bands (traditional ones anyway, as most now black and death were in full swing to an extent). And while it is true that traditional/heavy metal had lost a little bit of ground since about 93, Land of the Free was a critical component of the power metal spearhead that kept the genre alive and relevant in Europe, the only continent that ever mattered in metal (lets be honest here, the only times America got it right with metal were the thrash and death metal scenes, most everything else were exceptions that proved the rule). The other components of that spearhead were Iced Earth's Burnt Offerings and Blind Guardian's Imaginations From The Other Side. Of those three albums, this one has the most easily identifiable links to Maiden, Priest and Sabbath.
Gone is Ralf Scheepers, and with him most (but not all) of the Queen influences (see the breakdown of Man on a Mission). Nothing wrong with being influenced by Queen, and its not like Kai would entirely stop (*cough cough Blood Religion cough cough*) but you look at something like Heal Me and just laugh and go "Come on guys, you're talented, but NO ONE is Queen talented. Regardless, Kai takes over led vocals for the first time in 10 years. One would think that would lead to disaster but sometimes, not often, people can get better at endeavors by not doing them (or Kai just reverse engineered his backing vocals), and miracle of miracles, the dulcet tone of Kai Hansen comes forth. No longer will he need to stand behind the Walls of Jericho excuse of "Yea its technically crap but who cares, those riffs!" He may not still be as clean as say, Dio, but the soul. The utter passion and soul that comes through with hitting those notes, THAT my friends doesn't need defending except to Faith No More worshipping asshats who think music can't be legitimate unless you can paragraph ad naseum at Spin Magazine or something retarded like that. Metal never needed an alternative, it just needs someone with the correct core principles of metal to fly the flag. With Land of The Free, Kai picks up the flag, and he sticks it up the ass of every Tool, Pantera (latter day when Phil had gotten to grating for his own good), Korn, Machine Head and any other artfaggy dunce cap who thought everything had to move forward and be organic 100% of the time.
So is Land of the Free Keeper of the Seven Keys Part 3? In terms of sheer consistent quality, no. It can be argued that as great of work Kai Hansen did with Gamma Ray, he never topped Keeper 2. Hell it can be argued that nothing in power metal topped Keeper 2. It's more like Walls of Jericho: The Reboot, but the not-as-dark-or-gritty-and-actually-kinda-family-friendly-but-it-still-works-anyway-because HAVE NO FEAAAAAAR REBELLION IS HERE! What does happen when the so called music academia decides that music that was formerly dangerous is now just plain uncool? Rebels are still rebels fighting. The best thing to give old soldiers are new targets.
Strangely enough Michael Kiske actually does show up for Time To Break Free, but I find this to be a bit more divisive among the tracks simply because he makes it sound like a country song. Not the good kind either; Taylor Swift and Shania Twain country. Yea its backed by really heavy riffs and solos, but you could probably sneak this into CMT and not have it sound too out of place (better than Beyonce anyway).
One final note: It's interesting how after this Dirk chose to take up the bass. It certainly wasn't because of incompetence, as his guitar solo in Rebellion In Dreamland is one of the best guitar solos ever, so much to the point that I was a little pissed that the Blast From The Past version had that replaced with something inferior. Not that Henjo is an inferior player, but even Brian Robertson had the brains to acknowledge you don't replace a legendary solo.
Land of The Free is the sound of metal being rebuilt by the people who matter; a series of songs that comprise a master class in how heavy metal at its core is supposed to be played: You need a riff, you need a great singer capable of majestic melody lines, and you need balls. Despite the occasional fruity section (like the aforementioned Man On A Mission breakdown and Farewell) this band, and this album has balls in spades.
Pleased to meet you....hope you guess my name!
Rebellion In Dreamland
All of the Damned
As my clock ticks downwards, I continue my quest to tackle albums that are special to me on a personal level. And really, despite listening to this album for a decade, it's only recently reached that special sentimental level to me, and it really isn't because of any silly reason like "It reminds me of grandma" or "I lost my butt-ginity while 'Time to Break Free' was playing" or anything like that. Simply put, this album just... makes me feel good.
Really, this is a very optimistic album. I've mentioned in my review for The Crimson Idol that when I'm feeling down, I usually listen to equally depressing music that would allow me to just wallow in self pity for a time. If I'm sad, I don't want to be cheered up, I'll feel better when life gets better, dammit. And then there is Land of the Free, the glorious exception to the rule. This, above any other metal album ever written, inspires feelings of hope and optimism. Instead of "Life sucks, let's write about it", Kai seemed to approach this album with the mindset that "Life sucks and everything is unfair, but it can get better and you can help". The chorus of "Man on a Mission" can nearly move me to tears if I hear it when in a perfect spot of emotional vulnerability.
What we need right now is a miracle on Earth...
Yeah yeah, I know the literal themes are the same thing Kai always goes on about, aliens and illuminati and such, but unlike darker, more bitter albums like Majestic, this shows the spirits of the band still being in rather high order. Doomsday isn't here yet, and we can still prevent it if we all band together as brothers and sisters and stand up for what is right. A lot of instances indicate that the efforts may be futile, but it's wishful thinking that keeps our spirits up before the big fight. Land of the Free is basically just a giant rallying cry against... negativity in general, and I can really relate to such hopeless naivete and dogged well-wishing in the face of overwhelming bleakness. Most people can, and even if they don't, there's a chance it could inspire such feelings (as it does for me, even when it the darkest of corners).
So the overarching theme, tone, and feel of the album are marvelous, but I must admit that it stumbles a couple times throughout the duration regardless. The ballad, "Farewell", is heartfelt and genuine and features a great cameo from the mighty Hansi Kursch, but it's overall entirely forgettable. The random forty second interludes that pop up from time to time are essentially useless and add nothing to the songs they tie into. "Fairytale" is basically a fifty second fake-out ending to "Man on a Mission" that could have easily stuck on to the back of that preceding track and not felt out of place at all. And the closer, "Afterlife" ends the otherwise stellar album on a pretty mediocre note, which is a bit of a bummer since the journey to reach that point is so wonderful. And strangely, tracks that are great, high speed power/speed metal numbers like "Gods of Deliverance" and "Salvation's Calling" end up being forgettable in the grand scheme of things thanks to one of the more absurd and baffling problems of all time... the best songs are so good that the rest of the album feels somewhat flat in comparison.
Yeah, that amazing atmosphere of hope and optimism that I love so much certainly prevails throughout the course of Land of the Free, but the title track, "Man on a Mission", and "Rebellion in Dreamland", are all so thoroughly perfect that they obliterate the rest of the songs utterly and completely. I mean, I love the mid paced epic in "Abyss of the Void", but damn it has nothing on the mid paced epic that is "Rebellion in Dreamland". "Salvation's Calling" is an awesome speed metal song, but it's nowhere near as good as the awesome speed metal of "Man on a Mission". Seriously, these three tracks make up 90% of the greatness on the record. The trademark Gamma Ray formula of putting a huge, epic break/buildup in the bridge of all the best songs are present on these three tracks, of course, and all three of them are just stunning. The solo in "Man on a Mission" is also nothing short of exhilarating. I'm willing to say that that track is actually one of the greatest power metal songs ever written. And then there's "Rebellion in Dreamland", generally regarded as the band's best song, and I really can't take too much contention with that claim. It's almost nine solid minutes of the most grandiose power metal ever recorded, and even nearly twenty years later I personally think it's still unsurpassed in terms of one mini-epic track. The chorus is iconic, the middle break with all of the fastest riffs is incredible, the entire track is the result of taking that magical subbier-than-subniche of mid to late 80s German speed metal, polishing it up and honing it's precision until it juuuuuust becomes power metal, and then injecting it with a tremendous sense of scope and grandeur. It's basically the entire album in a nutshell, and encapsulates the theme perfectly. This is it, folks. The eyes of the world are closing forever, but we can reverse it. Shit's about to go down, but if we all band together, we can save the world. And the title track? Essentially a combination of the two. It's a short, fast, punchy power metal song with an iconic chorus and huge sense of wonder.
Let us walk away together...
All of the other songs on display have elements of these three masterpieces on display, but none of them are as strong. "Salvation's Calling" has a great main riff that brings to mind Kai's early time with Helloween (think Walls of Jericho), but... but it just isn't as good as "Man on a Mission"! "Gods of Deliverance" is another awesome, speed metal influenced number, but it doesn't hold a candle to "Land of the Free". "Time to Break Free"... well that on I genuinely think is kinda bad, but that might have something to do with the fact that fucking Michael Kiske sings on it, and that man can't help but wussify every goddamn thing he touches with his stupid, syrupy voice. That's really the only issue with the seven full tracks that aren't those magical three I raved about earlier, they're just... not those three songs. It's not for lack of effort or ideas, thematically they contain everything I enjoy about this album and they're generally well executed ("Farewell" not withstanding). They're just a bunch of little Torry Holts, while those monumental three songs are all Jerry Rice.
On the whole, the album still manages to be greater than the sum of its parts. "Rebellion in Dreamland", "Man on a Mission", and "Land of the Free" are all among the best songs in the genre, I can't stress that enough, and that unfortunately makes the rest of the songs seem somewhat tame in comparison, but as one big unit (hur hur) it works marvelously well and there's very little I would change. The overarching theme of optimism and hope acts as a huge rush of fresh air from the darkness most metal was wallowing in during the mid 90s, and even within its own genre, as the fantasy element is quite underplayed here. If you're anything at all like me, Land of the Free will put a smile on your face and a warmth in your soul, because listening to it reminds you that things are going to be just fine. It's time to put The Crimson Idol and From Fathoms away, it's time to move on with life. Land of the Free is the perfect soundtrack for that. Life's not so bad, y'all. I know you can't just snap your fingers and feel better or change your outlook on life at the drop of a hat, but if there's any non-pharmaceutical aid in such an endeavor, this album is it.
I'm not kidding when I say this helped change my life.
Let the fairytale be real...
Originally written for http://lairofthebastard.blogspot.com/
Come 1995 Mr. Hansen suddenly can sing. Which is very very strange, because we all know how crap he was in Helloween (though his guest appearances in Blind Guardian were kinda good.) Oh yeah, aren't people suppose to get worse as they age? So Kai's voice is like wine, needs a few more years in the casks afore it can be enjoyed by the discerning power metal fan i.e. wankers like moi. Amongst other improvements are his soloing and songwriting, though the latter can also be attributed to Scheepers leaving the band.
Perhaps the best example of improved songwriting is the epic "Rebellion in Dreamland," THIS is how "Heading for Tomorrow" shoulda been done. Cut out all the bullshit and giving us 9 minutes of power fuckin' metal. The transitions between the main chorus (By the moonlight...) and the bridge is very good. Perhaps the only weakness is that the main chorus is used only twice, shame since that chorus is so damn catchy/epic I can quote it on demand. Hell sometimes I do just that when I walk down the street.
Other remarkable songs include the much lauded "Man on a Mission" who's chorus makes me crack a grin whenever I hear it. "Gods of Deliverance" who's main riff is gonked by Unearth in "Sanctity of Brothers." And the title track, which is a mini-epic.
The worst part of this album is the stupid 40 second interludes. Man the only band to have ever done interludes well is Bal-Sagoth, this album does not change my opinion. They could have been collapsed into the songs ("Fairytale") or better yet, drop them altogether. I don't really see the purpose of any of the 3 interludes, 2 are just crap instrumentals anyway. Some of the songs are average, "All of the Damned" and "Salvation's Calling" are competent but not comparable in quality to the highlights, "Afterlife" is meh. "Time to Break Free" is wholly sung by old Helloween foghorn Michael Kiske, but song sounds like a crappy version of "Kids of the Century." In truth I thought it was alright but should not have been on the album. Oh and ballad sucks, that is all I have to say 'bout that.
The players are good, 'cept for the bass. Kai's voice is not nearly as great as he would be in "Powerplant" or "Somewhere Out in Space" but hey, he's still good. Soloing is better, though it would take the arrival of Henjo Richter to really make them memorable. I'll admit the solos in "Man on a Mission" and "Gods of Deliverance" are well done, some of Kai's (and Dirk's) best stuff there. Nack is a capable drummer, and he doesn't ride that double bass to oblivion. His drumming is pretty tasteful for a power metal band actually, a great deal more variance than say Sonata Arctica's drummer (seriously check out Ecliptica, less variance than a second-rate thrash drummer!)
Production is good, though the bass is buried (though it may be an attempt to hide crap playing, I don't know.) Guitars are a tad quiet compared to the drums, and the whole mix could be a little louder.
All in all, I'd say Kai Hansen's come back album is great. Given a chance to improve this band can produce fantastic work. Which they did, Somewhere Out in Space/Powerplant. Not essential, but worth your time nonetheless. Hey at least Scheepers is gone!
Being their most acclaimed album, I was sort of confused when I heard it. The first two songs were amazing, and Salvation’s Calling + Land Of The Free are epic, but the rest isn’t that great.
The guitar work is really hard to replicate for one. Beginners will not be able to touch this. I had a hard time playing to some of these songs, and I wouldn’t dare try the solos. While being easy to listen to and enjoy, playing it is a whole other world. The drum’s utilize some new passages thanks to a new fill in from Mr Thomas Nack, but the guitar takes the cake. The playing is really beyond what most of the fan base would think. This is the only album where Kai and the group use off-time signatures relative to standard 4/4 time. There is some 5/4, 6/8, and I think a 5/8 somewhere if I remember right. On a side note, I do not recall hearing the bass guitar well due to the production. This album is the type where muddy fuzz tends to linger. Fuzz is probably a bad term because of raw black metal coining it, but you need to jack up your sound 10% to put it on the level of other releases.
I would like to say that Rebellion In Dreamland is a great song, but it is not amazing. People tend to say that they believe Kai maxed out his creativity there, creating the ultimate anthem. He did, and he didn’t. It feels at times as though the song goes somewhere or is trying to go somewhere; changes direction and takes a whole other path. Ideally it is progressive power metal at its own finest. Things kick up a notch with Man On A Mission, and that is just totally classic. Speedy, solid, enjoyable, and refreshing. Cropping up once in a while are these really stupid 30 second filler songs. After listening to Man On A Mission, I don’t get why the song Fairytale exists. The band could have just added it in and saved us a track that everyone listens to anyways. It follows the same pattern of song anyways, so why exclude it? Unless Kai was planned on selling this one out to a radio station, then I don’t know.
From here on in the songs become mediocre. All of the Damned is amazing live, but in the end doesn’t really go anywhere special. Gods Of Deliverance follows the same pattern. They’re great ideas, but executed properly. There is an element that was in the three previous albums missing within these songs that push them to a higher level. It is possible to take it for what it’s worth, but most of the remaining songs except the ones I highlighted at the beginning hold almost no replay value for me.
Eventually we get to Salvation’s Calling and Land Of The Free. Holy shit batman, these are done right. Land Of The Free is the best song Kai Hansen has ever made. It got around 140 views in one week on my last fm. Doing the math, that's approximately 50 minutes of that song alone per day. I hope you are convinced. This, and One With the World from Sign No more, is Gamma Ray’s apex of evolution. There is no better, and never will be any better. Following the epic masterpieces, we get another stupid 30 second filler song, with some overhyped Micheal Kiske songs. Seriously, they’re fun too “Boogey” to, and good for a power metal release, but they don’t make me want to go back and listen to them again.
Gamma Ray has hit some peak, as people all over the globe claim it is their best. I don’t see it as their best, in fact Land Of The Free part II has more fun songs. To compare them:
LotF I best songs < LotF II best songs < LotF II worst songs < LotF I worst songs
Seriously, just get this CD for the first two songs and the title track.
Let’s not mess about with some big intro or history lesson or attempt at scene setting. Cut straight to the chase: this is simply the best straight-up power metal album ever made. Sure, other albums rule in their class (Iced Earth own the more aggressive, thrashy kind, Iron Savior at the more raw kind, etc), and there are other albums that are exceptional in the same type (Persuader’s debut, anyone?). But Land of the Free is simply the definitive power metal album. If ever anyone wants to know what the genre is all about, this album is it.
What makes it such a success? Mainly the way that it blends simplicity with skill, melody with power. The album goes right to the very edge of awesome metal, the point some bands never reach and others shoot way past, ending up sounding like they’re trying too hard (DragonForce’s later albums for example, though their first remains a classic). Gamma Ray get as fucking awesome as you can get, and leave it there. Common flaws of the genre: each tracks sounds the same, all of them sounding like they’re trying to outdo one another. None of that here, every song is pure power metal yes, but the catchy choruses and changes in pacing break the album up and keep it from stagnating, while never feeling like any of the songs are just fillers put there to pad things out. It’s just beautifully crafted.
Another potential pitfall: Going too over-the-top. For some bands, like Rhapsody, the over-the-top nature of power metal works just fine, but with others it comes across as trying too much to fit into a stereotype. Kai exemplifies this. His vocal performance honestly couldn’t be better, he’s total power and energy, but never feels like he’s straining to pull it off, or desperately and constantly hitting high notes. And I say this as someone who didn’t even much take to his time in Helloween: these are not the words of a Hansen fanboy. His voice fills you with power like few others can manage, and yet always sounds perfectly convicted, just adding the right edge of aggression when it’s appropriate to the song, or going for the occasional Halford-esque falsetto.
Every track is pure gold, filled with great riffs of mid and fast pace, powerful solos that will make anyone air-guitar along, and as I say, Kai’s top-notch vocals. When they want to go fast, as in "Man on a Mission" or "Salvation's Calling", they blast off into the fucking stratosphere in that speed metal way, and when they turn things down for a more reserved pace (see: rebellion in Dreamland) they maintain a steady rocking beat.
As for a few specifics, "Man on a Mission", as other reviews will attest to, is an absolute power metal anthem, ripping along with a fast-paced strength that wouldn’t sound out of place in a thrash album, and all backed up by an irresistible chorus. A great sing-along track all in all, and that break at the third minute is perfectly timed to drag you in and prepare you for the full-blown explosion of soloing that follows (warning: faces will melt). "Gods of Deliverance" is another with an amazingly infectious chorus, with the verses melding a rapid riff with a steady beat, and then taking off in the chorus. "All of the Damned" has that guitar tone that suggests Eastern influence, as well as plenty of great lead work.
All told, the single solitary criticism to be levelled is a couple of those interlude tracks that plague so many power albums these days. The Saviour in particular adds nothing, and feels out of place, too sudden after the abrupt end of "All of the Damned". But in truth, these are small and basically can be ignored. The rest of the album is just so gorgeous I couldn’t bring myself to take any marks off. Well, okay, so the chorus of "Time to Break Free" always reminds me of the closing section of Devin Townsend’s Punky Bruster album, preventing me from really taking it seriously, but that’s my problem.
Ladies and gentlemen, THIS is power metal. It never tries too hard, it just works, representing both the core and pinnacle of the genre in one glorious album. Flawless and utterly definitive.
God damn, when this album came out I was amazed. One of the first thoughts that crossed my mind was that Kai Hansen (musically) admitted with this album that the previous two Gamma Ray albums were actually a mistake. One often gets that feeling when a band suddenly and drastically returns to their roots.
First of all, with Kai back behind the microphone the album automatically started to sound more like old Helloween than previous ‘Ray albums. Secondly the compositions were no longer just a tribute to the past but a real return.
I don’t think he and the band wrote this old shool power metal album for selling out aka earning more money. Hansen has never been about that. And even so, in 1995 old school power metal wasn’t really that popular anymore. It took a few years before that scene started to flourish again. So his heart and soul just went there I guess. Fortunately so! He decided to write what he writes best. Good for him! He also sounds as if he’s having so much fun again on this album.
So now you have an idea of the style but how good is the actual album? Well I played this album every day for a few months! So that says enough. Of course there are a few fillers but most of the songs are very excellent. Opener “Rebellion in Dreamland” is epic and dynamic. It has become a Gamma Ray classic for obvious reasons. Even though this song is marvellous it isn’t even my favorite song here!
“Man on a Mission” is the song we’ve all been waiting for since “Ride The Sky”. Heavier and faster than anything from the Keeper era yet more melodic than the Walls Of Jericho period. This song is beyond good. This song is divine! To this day I even think this is the best power metal song from Gamma Ray ever.
Other speed/power metal highlights include “Gods Of Deliverance” and “Salvation Calling”. Though not as good as “…Mission” these songs are fast, melodic and very catchy!
Another true highlight is the threesome “Land of the Free”, “The Saviour” and “Abyss of the Void” which all crossfade into eachother and can be considered one long story. These three songs together are one long epic journey going through every pace and type of classic power metal Kai Hansen has been about.
“Time To Break Free” is a very happy song that sounds like a mixture of the average atmospheres on Heading For Tomorrow and Pink Bubbles Go Ape. It features none other than Michael Kiske on vocals! Even though the song is less heavy or less epic than the rest of the album it is very enjoyable and doesn’t feel out of place.
“Faitytale” is briliant yet too short and “Rising Of The Damned” and “Afterlife” are decent and entertaining. I can live with “Farewell” because it is dedicated to Ingo Schwichtenberg (such a tragic story). But to be honest it is a generic and cheesy ballad which I often skip.
Kai Hansen is back ladies and gentlemen!
Kai Hansen has done it again. Yes, even despite being 7 years removed from the release of the second Keepers album, coming off a sub par record in Insanity and Genius, and losing vocalist Ralf Scheepers, Kai Hansen and the Rays still manage to create an album that can hold its own against legendary metal albums such as Powerslave, Painkiller, and Rust in Peace, even eclipsing albums such as Keeper of the Seven Keys Pt 1. Yes, this is that good. I've heard every Gamma Ray album and of the eight studio releases, Land of the Free is easily their best. How can I say this? Well, read on and find out.
Today Kai Hansen and the boys in Gamma Ray generally craft a heavier variation of power metal, with many explicit classic metal influences evident in the music. Turn the clock back 10 years, and you'll find a band rooted in that of German power metal. The music on Land of the Free not only puts an emphasis on speed and melody, but also aggression and power. Rebellion in Dreamland, one of, if not THE best power metal song ever written, is a perfect example of this combination. The song, which is also the album's opener, starts off softly before evolving into an epic anthem that is nearly 9 minutes long. Effective riffing, top notch soloing, and powerful vocal lines make this cut irresistible to fans of the genre. The elements found on the song are not forsaken after the ending of Rebellion in Dreamland fades out however, and carry on throughout most of the album. The only moments where the band lets up on its power metal assault is on the album's ballad, Farewell, the ultimate Gamma Ray ballad.
As I mentioned earlier, Gamma Ray had lost their vocalist, Ralf Scheepers. This was due to the distance between the homes of Ralf (who had also auditioned to be the new Judas Priest singer and was among the finalists for the job) and the rest of the band which seriously limited the practice time between the bands. Rather than searching for a new vocalist, guitarist Kai Hansen simply took over vocal duties. It had been ten years since Kai last handled the dual vocal/guitar role, but on Land of the Free he sounds like he's been singing for years. Definitely an improvement over his stint as Helloween's vocalist on the Walls of Jericho album, Kai Hansen delivers a superb effort. His singing in tracks such as Rebellion in Dreamland, Land of the Free, and Gods of Deliverance is second to none in the power metal field, and Kai's vocals add an extra authority to these songs. As a result, the tracks are that much more convincing, that much more powerful. Kai doesn't falter on Land of the Free's ballad, Farewell, and he shows another side to the aggressive efforts on some of the heavier tracks. The singing here is very emotional, as you would expect from this time of song. No disappointments on this front.
With Land of the Free, Gamma Ray took their song writing to a new level. Sure, they had song excellent numbers in the past, but they just expand on it in a whole new way here. Every song here features an impossibly catchy chorus that is not only engrained in your memory for a very, very long time. However at the same time, the music does not lose its intensity, and even as Kai belts out the memorable choruses, Gamma Ray still presses forward with the same strength and authority as they do during the verses or bridges of the songs. Equally amazing is the absolute lack of dull moments on the album. I'm not sure I can say I've ever felt the need to skip a track, as the album leaves you on the edge of your seat, begging for more.
If there was ever an essential power metal album, Land of the Free would be that album. Combing melody with power, catchiness with speed, this record has everything one could ask for. It is here that guitarist Kai Hansen debuts on vocals for the band, a position he has rightfully held ever since. All though the general census seems to feel that the band peaked with Land of the Free, Gamma Ray would go on to record one more seemingly invincible album, Somewhere Out in Space. Both that record and Land of the Free would go on to solidify Gamma Ray's position as an elite player in the field of power metal. I would definitely recommend this album, has it is one of the best power metal albums you will ever hear.
Originally written for Sputnikmusic
This was my favorite album of the year when it came out over ten years ago. I had fervently followed Gamma Ray since the very beginning of the band; but this album was just the penultimate experience in my life at this time. I love everything about this album; especially the lyrics and guitar harmonies. At that time of this release, I was obseessed with lyrical content and "Land of the Free" was my raison d' etre. This album is the perfect embodiment of everything Helloween was evolving into, before Kai departed. I loved the speed, intensity, and melody of the music from the epic "Rebellion in Dreamland" to the ripping "Man on a Mission" and "Gods of Deliverance", right up to the emotional ballad "Farewell" replete with Hansi Kursch's illustrious vocal arrangements, continuing with the rocking "Time to Break Free" with Mike Kiske on vocals reminiscient of the rousing Helloween keys to the kingdom; concluding with the tear jerking lugubriuos lament - the anthem "After Life" - in memory of Ingo from Helloween who had recently and tragically comitted suicide ealier that year.
The concept of the collective songs on "Land of the Free" also brought together everything which Kai had been hinting at for a decade now from Helloween's - "Phantoms of Death" right up to "Tribute to the Past" on their previous album which featured Ralph Scheepers on vocals. Kai had been so reticent to take over vocal duties for this undertaking, after the departure of Ralph who had hoped to replace Rob Halford in Judas Priest; but fans of "Walls of Jericho" urged him on and by far he had now created the best Gamma Ray album up to this time. This is still one of my favorite albums of all time and a real landmark and iconic paragon which many bands would later emulate in the years to come.
Now I've heard that after the release of the new DVD entitled: "Hell Yeah", they plan to release a new CD entitled "Land of the Free Part II". I know that Kai and company will succed where recently Helloween, Queensryche, and King Diamond have had harmartia due to their hubris. The Ramming guys will always have the tenacity and derring do to create consistent quality power mettle!
Well, despite three previous gamma ray albums before this, Kai had basically been missing in action since leaving Helloween. Save his small (and amazing) appearences on two Blind guardian albums, he had done nothing worth his tallent. that is, until he took over on vocals of Gamma ray himself.
Hansen's vocals are distinctly different than they have been before this. they seem to me to be slightly gruffier, but he still has that amazing shriek to his voice that makes him so distinctive. he certainly is one of the best vocalists in Metal music today.
Well, onto the album. well, this is a Damn fine one! Not as lyrically brilliant as Somewhere out in space, nor as overwhelmingly pummling as Power plant, The band seem to just be finding their feet at times, still, there is nothng here that isn't at least "really good" and some stuff is just mind blowing.
The opener, "Rebellion in dreamland" One of the best songs ever written, few can deny that. its the standard for all epic power/speed metal bands to follow. starting slow, it builds up into a full throtle masterpice. i quote the best lyrical chorus section ever:
"By moonlight there’s a way... for rebellion
here, the world has gone astray... revolution
Now, the time has come to pray... hallelujah
deep, inside our minds we wait... for rebellion
Here in dreamland we will not obey the masters"
Unfortuntately, it is only done twice in the song, and here is its perhaps only weakness, they should have worked in a way to do this chorus one more time near the end. Still, i cannot critasise this song. There are a couple of other gamma ray songs which may match it in parts, but for EPIC speed metal, this is THE song.
Following comes "Man on a mission" Very fast, with some real riffery, plus a few silly vocal bits thrown in there which makes this song light hearted. nicely done.
"Fairytale" is a 49 second blugeon piece of music. it should have been longer, but its good enough though.
"All Of The Damned" comes next. Starts slow, before slowly working its way up to speed, with some really cool guitar work. the vocals seem almost weeping at times, but the chorus, as always, is unforgetable.
"Rising of the damned" follows, a short piano instrumental, its over in only fifty seconds, so pass.
"Gods Of Deliverance" Is another great song. Very fast, great lyrics, nice guitar work, and nuff said,
"Farewell" is where this ablum loses out. Gamma ray never do really great ballads, but this one is certainly more poor than ususal. Hansi's much vaunted appearance shows him on bad form, the only really skipable full length song on the album.
"Salvation`s Calling" gets the album back upto speed once again, perhaps with the sillyest lyric Kai does on this album: "Hello my name is Mr. Know-It-All" Still, very good song indeed.
Then the title track, again, this is a fine slab of speed metal, but more than that, its the second best song on the album. a soaring chorus, the kind which Blind guardian should watch out for, wins this song its second place on the album
Then "the savior" another, this time, silly little interlude, pass onto...
"Abyss of the Void" Quite slow this one, even when the guitars kick in it never gets to full speed ahead. Still, its a nice grinding song which is still quite good.
Then "Time to break free" with a much vaunted Michael Kiske on vocals. Well, before god worship takes place, Kiske is not great, and plus he's totally hypocritcal. Still, the song is reasonable.
Ending the Album with "Afterlife" a quite slow starter again. however, Kai pulls of his amzing screams nicely. Plus, its good to see a fast paced deadication to a fallen idol. another great song.
As for the bonus tracks, only H.M. Mania really sticks out. it seems like "heavy metal universe"'s little brother.
All in all, its an amazing return to form for Kai, things would get better on the next album though...
Land Of The Free
The introduction to the world of Kai Hansen and the key to the absolute rule of Gamma Ray in the power/speed metal industry. Quite simply Land Of The Free is among the best albums of the 90s and *ahem* of all time. The loss of atmosphere and creativity of Insanity & Genius is clearly present here on each and every track with no exception. Of course not all are *divine*, some fall short just being very good.
Now, I am not here to bash Scheepers in any way, as I believe he has one of the best voices in metal, but as soon as you start your journey with Land Of The Free (especially after listening to the previous efforts beforehand) you will be amazed as to how well Kai developed his voice since WOJ era.. and well :) on to the review… :
1. Rebellion In Dreamland –
Best song ever? Quite possibly so. Unbelievable.. Kai decided to take us all into his world, the world of undisputable greatness of Heavy Fucking Metal. The opening guitar sounds are so majestic you almost start to *sigh* we won’t hear them again in this song … same for the intro by Kai’s voice… “Voices are calling…” never fails to send shivers down my spine … incredible. And then the song builds up … well .. Hell I can’t describe it all .. LISTEN TO IT, again and again… you gonna love it. Every second of the magical 8:45 minutes, total guitar dominance.. wow.! If you’ve yet to listen to Rebellion In Dreamland, you have yet to live and experience Metal. 10/10
2. Man On A Mission –
Picking up the speed once again and truly establishing the pace that is set to progress Gamma Ray on to the years. This song really burns, teriffic atmosphere throughout, great guitar work and terrific tempo changes … especially the Queen inspired quiet part with a high pitched voice… Which has now became a Gamma trademark. There is also a song called Miracle available on a single and remastered CDs… every bit as great as this menacer. This could also easily qualify as the best duo opener in the history of metal.. perhaps only rivaled by Aces/23:58. 10/10
3. Fairytale –
The powerful 45 second blast really shreds.. and I don’t think its possible to have this song last any longer since it just totally rocks with a rock factor 20/10. And the melody! Wow.. I usually don’t rate songs shorter than a minute … but this song really deserves my recognition. And yours too! 10/10
4. All Of The Damned –
Unbelievable. What more can I say.. This is easily 4th masterpiece of a song in a row. With the 4 all being totally different and totally rockin’. This song has an incredible catchiness to it, but the opus is clearly the guitar solos. I can not describe it in words. Kai … Starting at about a 3 minute mark, with the climax starting at 3:37 (I even memorized that… :D) Truly a teriffic song, which might take some time for you to get to love it, I know many people don’t. 10/10
5. Rising Of The Damned –
Very atmospheric outro to the previous beauty. Great piano works, and I especially love how it follows right after AOTD, it flows brilliantly. But, since it is too short and no lyrics in it I am not rating it. :P However it is great trust me.
6. Gods Of Deliverance –
Here we begin to mellow out a little. This is definitely a sub par song (by Kai’s divine standards anyway). I do like it, but it clearly falls short on many departments including melodic factor, it is a fast paced song, but I just can’t put my finger as to what it is its missing. Something is missing though, still a totally solid number by all means. 7.5/10
7. Farewell –
The quality level rises right back up again. Great number this one is. (featuring Hansi) This song is quite possibly the best ballad by Gamma Ray, it is also very atmospheric, and by all means not a pretentious junk worthy of the name of HammerFall or something. This is the way powermetal ballads should be, great piano interludes and tempo changes. Great stuff all along. 9/10
8. Salvation’s Calling –
This is perhaps the second and last filler-like song on the album (along Gods Of Deliverance). And quite a similar song as well. However, with this one, you easily get a feel Kai just wanted to drastically pick up the pace after the ballad, which brings another issue (sort of) I have… why not have a little short interlude to merge the ballad with the following rocker? Maybe just me … again a solid number, what else to expect from Kai & Co. :D 8\10
9. Land Of The Free –
Here we GO! Back to where the opening trio took us. One of Metal’s all time classics and a concert mandatory monster. This is a very special song, not only does it feature one of the best vocalists on this planet (Mike), it has an incredible structure, guitar work (what else is new?) and of course the chorus lines. This song shreds. And hearing Mike in the chorus just reminds you of the Helloween days so much, almost do I shed a tear. Beauty. 10/10
10. The Savior –
Although a separate song, I think it is a natural part to the next opus. This is a tremendous interlude which almost makes you feel the power that is coming next, and of course it leads just perfectly into one of my another all time favorites.
11. Abyss Of The Void –
The soft intro, and the bombastic power explosion on the words “THE SAVIOR!” I don’t think it gets better than this. I absolutely love it. And is also another one of those songs which can not be described in proper words. The soft instrumental mid part is another timeless classic. It’s hard for me to believe material like this came out in the 90s. The supposed again DEAD stage of metal. Listen to this all you disbelievers. 10/10
12. Time To Break Free –
YES. Another blast. And with Mr. Golden Pipes himself on lead vox. Sweet. Michael makes a full appearance here, and Oh how this song rocks. Total blast. And a completely uncharacteristic song as well, shows how diverse and creative the songwriting skills of Kai really are. Just like Helloween. Too bad Mike is not into Metal anymore. Well, I only wait for more appearances from him in the future, until then, KAI is the man.
13. Afterlife –
Now this is a really different song. On the surface it goes just like any other (divine) track but it is really different especially with the instrumental parts almost sounding like Kai tried to be over complex. Now why fix something that isn’t broken? I myself can not think of a better structure for the song, now it’s not my job either is it :P. The emotion of the song and the atmosphere is actually unmatched by anything else on this album as this is of course the dedication to Ingo. R.I.P. Friend.
And so we conclude the ride. And a ride to remember it was. Hard to believe I do not consider this to be Gamma’s opus. But. Many people consider to be it. I love it endlessly, and can not pin point a single wrong thing with this album as to how the songs flow and compliment each other.
I do however recommend not making up your judgement about the album after only the first or second listen. Since of course the BIG 4 will jump on you from the first listen, it is the underrated miracles which will take some time to get to.
We seriously need more albums like this to keep our music strong.
Finally, his evil songwriting influence is gone, oh and did I mention Kai Hansen has a far better voice? THIS is the album that Gamma Ray were capable of putting out, and oh my goodness does it fucking RULE!!!!
Kai Hansen finally embraces his speed-metal nature, while keeping some touches of Keeper I and II in here, and comes up with a masterpiece. The highlight of the album is the opener, "Rebellion in Dreamland". Think "Child in Time" or "Winds of War" - typical soft intro, builds up to a fearsome middle section with several awesome guitar solos. Then the soft outro part. Gamma Ray's best song ever.
Other stuff on here is quite nice too, in fact everything is very good, except the ballad, "Farewell", which is merely okay. Some people complain about "Time to Break Free", which features none other than Michael Kiske on vocals, but it really is not lacking in quality, and happens to be the catchiest song on here. Catchy is good, people. Really.
This is one of the essential Gamma Ray albums. Never mind the slightly odd track listing (I just realised not long ago that there are two 45-second songs, which I had just thought to be parts of others...), it's definitely worth getting.