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Calling the album 'Land Of The Free II' was more than just giving the thing a name for Gamma Ray. It's saying you're going back to the sound of that highly successful album from the mid-nineties. For me personally, they didn't really need to. I loved the darker and cynical monster that was 'Majestic'. In fact, I thought that was their best album since the original 'Land Of The Free' and hoped they would carry on that darker path full of variation. Instead, we saw the band returning to their past a little. However, instead of reincorporating a few of the older influences into their new sound, Gamma Ray decided to regress with this new album.
The beginning ain't bad at all. 'Into The Storm' is nothing too special - like all of their opening tracks after 'Anywhere In The Galaxy' - but it's a nice, rocking little track which in deed is a slight return to the LotF-sound. It's after a song and a half when it falls apart for the first time; 'From The Ashes' starts out as an absolutely killer track, the intro is brilliant Power Metal to the max, but when the way too artificially happy chorus enters, my stomach turns. Maybe 15 year old me would have found this awesome, but I can't stand this right now.
From then on, this goes for a lot of songs. There's not one song on the album that's completely crap, in fact, most of the songs have absolute killer segments. Almost all of the songs start out great and the guitar solos are without exception great - I mean, it's Gamma Ray we're talking about - but usually it's the choruses that kill the songs ('From The Ashes', 'Mother Earth'). And if the songs DO have a great chorus ('Rain'), the pre-chorus fucks it all up. And the "and where the fuck is my Superman-outfit?" doesn't exactly do the song any good either. And what's up with summing up the days of the week in 'Opportunity'?
However, that doesn't mean there aren't any good songs on 'Land Of The Free II'. Au contraire! Despite the guitar melodies that are quite similar to those in 'Kryptonite' by Three Doors Down (which is, let's be honest, a good song), 'Leaving Hell' is a great Power Metal song with a nice punch to it. 'When The World' is an even better Power Metal track with some familiar sounds (the intro reminds me of Maiden's 'Flash Of The Blade') and an absolutely brilliant chorus. This one isn't exactly happy, it's rather hopeful. And I love double lead vocals and I'm being treated here!
Another positive listening experiences is 'Real World'. Somehow the goofy chorus of the song (check the other reviews for quotes) works here, but the thing that really stole my heart are the Nintendo-ish guitar lines in the intro. Youth nostalgia mixed with great Metal, you can't make me happier! The Danny Zimmermann-penned 'Empress' (most of the songs have been written by band leader Kai Hansen) is a stand-out track as well. Style-wise as well as quality-wise. The song is a Rock song with a relatively prominent role for the keyboards rather than a Metal song. However, it works. It's refreshing to hear a song like that. 'Insurrection' is a nice closing epic too, it's just not too special anymore, as Gamma Ray has a tradition of closing their albums with similar songs. This one obviously profits from being written by Kai Hansen though; it has a darker vibe than most of Henjo Richter's similar-styled songs.
Gamma Ray doesn't do anything explicitely wrong on 'Land Of The Free II', I just feel they've lost some of the power and hunger that made 'Majestic' such a great album. In addition, Kai Hansen sometimes has a strange fatigue in his voice. Could be because he's getting older, but it's there.
The musicianship on the album is top notch and so are some of the compositions, but I feel like something's missing. But I have little doubt that the next studio album will be great again. As long as they don't call it 'Land Of The Free III'...or 'Somewhere Out In Space II'...well, you catch my drift.