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A Triumphant Return to the Land of the Free - 97%

octavarium, February 25th, 2011

By trying to continue the legacy of their most successful and famous album, Land of the Free, Gamma Ray no doubt had a tall task ahead of them. The German power metal outfit led by Kai Hansen, regarded as the founding father of power metal, had the experience and skill to pull it off, but could it really be done? The answer is an absolute yes.

Though it's a continuation of the first Land of the Free, the style of the sequel is somewhat different. Instead of a straight-forward power metal style similar to that of Hansen's Helloween days, this album relies heavily on speed metal and heavy metal characteristcs. Still, as it is a Gamma Ray album it is still power metal at heart. Almost every song blitzes your ears with fast-paced, intense riffs that makes one question if it is humanly possible to play that fast. Unfortunately, Kai's voice, while great on this album, can be somewhat on the soft side and is sometimes muffled by the sound. Still, he stands out on several tracks, most notably the lead single and album opener, Into the Storm. Starting off with a distant-sounding riff, it gets louder and louder until it explodes into a full band effort. Kai's voice is not lost this time as he proudly proclaims that he's on his way "into the storm!" It also hearkens back to the first Land of the Free with the line "A land of the free, a land for you and me!" The most spectacular part of the song is the guitar solo duel between Hansen and Henjo Richter in which we are all the winners. And that's just the first song.

While Into the Storm may be the album's strongest track and obvious choice for a single, the rest of the album does not lag in any way. To Mother Earth has a real power metal feel to its opening riff, Leaving Hell has a powerful, upbeat feel to it, and When the World blasts on with a riff similar to Iron Maiden's Flash of the Blade. Opportunity starts off as what would seem to be a power ballad, but halfway it transforms into another speed/power metal hymn. With an epic beginning, the album must have an epic finale, and that comes in the form of Insurrection. Despite coming at eleven and a half minutes, the length did not make the song seem boring nor drawn-out. The only song I was ultimately unimpressed with was Empress. Perhaps because it has a slower, steady beat and features growled vocals during the chorus compared to the other songs filled with speed and energy caught me off guard, but in a way it still fits with the overall album and ultimately does not seem out of place.

Diehard power metal fans who remember the early days of Helloween may not like the speed metal aspect, the album still carries a power metal feel and seemingly never loses a serious step. Fast riffs, blasting drums, this album is a true milestone in any metal genre as the guys from Gamma Ray prove that they are true veterans and show no sign of stopping. No matter how many listen-throughs, the intensity never stops and never feels repetitive. Gamma Ray has not only returned to the land of the free, they've made it their kingdom.