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Gamma Ray have built a respectable career by now, and deservedly so. I myself consider Kai Hansen one of the greatest guitar players in metal and one of the most influential musicians overall, and this only contributes to the way I feel about this release as I will explain.
First of all, let's face it, writing a sequel for a seminal album like Land of The Free is no easy task, and I don't know of any bands that have truly pulled it off. Kai's former band, Helloween, tried it with that thing they dared call Keeper of The Seven Keys - The Legacy, and failed miserably. The only reason the Keeper of the Seven Keys part I and II albums managed to do it successfully was because they were recorded at the same time, as one album, and later released as two for commercial reasons. Other than that, I can not remember any case where a band truly managed to write a sequel to a great album with the same impact and success.
Land of The Free Part II is a great album, and it would be even better by some other name. Nobody in power metal put anything out in 2007 that comes even close to this album. It definitely sits at the top of my list. But the problem does not lie on the choice of title alone, as this release has several other flaws that justify my low rating for it.
Up to Powerplant the band had been releasing fairly original material with their distinct brand of power metal. The songs were powerful, direct, fast, very catchy, and immediately recognizable as the Gamma Ray sound. Then something happened, as Kai himself maybe tried to steer away from the repetition that was plaguing the genre in the late 90's, like some other bands did, going for a sound more heavy metal oriented as an alternative since everybody was basically sounding the same.
The problem is, the band lost their creativity and, above all, originality in the process, and started repeating themselves and sounding like some older bands after a while.
The point is, what draws the line between influence and just plain ripping off? What is the limit? Because, from No World Order on, Gamma Ray's songs began to showcase parts that clearly sounded like some other band's songs. Riffs, verses, choruses, sometimes an entire chunk of a song. Being a fan of Kai Hansen's since the Helloween years, that was very disappointing to me. Of course Kai came out and readily told everyone those were on purpose and were supposed to be some homage to his heroes and so on, but come on, at this point in their career and at his age?
Land of the Free Part II is full of such examples of supposed 'influences' and 'tributes' to older metal bands. You can find Iron Maiden, Judas Priest, and even Rush, right there, in your face. It may be appealing to some, especially younger fans, but it only pisses me off for I know these guys can do better. This is Kai Hansen, people! This guy practically invented power metal as we know it! And now his band puts out an album, a supposed sequel to one of the greatest albums ever, and you can hear Iron Maiden's “Rhyme of the Ancient Mariner” in the middle of a song?! What the hell? Judas Priest's “The Sentinel” pops up in the middle of another? And then Rush!!! And those are only the few examples I can remember right now, as the album is full of them. I believe there is not a single song on this album that doesn't rip off some earlier work by some metal legend. Kai even rips himself off, copying melodies off old Helloween stuff and Gamma Ray's as well.
And what is this anti-religion thing all of a sudden, coming from the man who wrote lyrics such as "The Guardians of Mankind" and "The Saviour", actually the entire Land of the Free album, and now he decides he wants to say there is no God, just to sort of pray to the 'father of this earth' in the very next song? I mean, I don't care what people believe in and whether they have a religion or not, but just try to show some character and coherence is all I ask.
So, does the album kick ass? Yes, it does. The band plays incredibly and the songs are exciting. But it lacks originality in every sense, and that is a very serious flaw to me, especially coming from this band, fronted by this living metal legend. Other bands should be ripping them off, and they do, and not the other way around. Put out a tribute album and get it over with, or maybe it’s time to call it a career and hang the guitar picks.