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Works on some days, others not so well. - 81%

Lane, July 19th, 2017
Written based on this version: 2014, CD + DVD, earMUSIC (Digipak)

Gamma Ray lost their long-time drummer Daniel Zimmermann two years after 2010 album 'To the Metal!'. That album is one of my least favourite from this legendary band, which was created by guitar wizard Kai Hansen after leaving Helloween in 1989. With this berserker of an album, GR feels, at least somewhat, rejuvenated. Let me explain...

As much as I enjoy Mr. Zimmermann's powerful drumming, Michael Ehré (probably best know as Metalium drummer for over a decade) is doing well here. It's similarly powerful; one can picture him hitting them skins like a caveman in heat! No, that does not mean he is a bad player, no, but he is fast and still going through the whole drum kit. It's nothing overtly technical, it's heavy metal after all, and not some music school graduate wankery. He even composed one song here, titled 'Pale Rider', which is a sturdy fist-pumping piece. It's more Accept than Helloween. It actually has a lot of similar vibes to it as the 1991 album 'Sign no more'. Thinking about 'Sign no more' album, the first single 'Master of Confusion' is a similarly happy headbanger like 'Rich & Famous' from the platter. This takes us to 'Seven' which has pretty similar first riff with 'Master of Confusion'! I've noticed GR tributing other bands during their career, but this is something else... Anyway, 'Seven' is a tougher song mood-wise and otherwise different, so it really does not push scales negative way. Plus, 'Seven' is one of the highlights on the album with one of those catchy-as-clap choruses.

The opener 'Avalon' is the album's biggie. It has a feel of modern Iron Maiden, but as a composition of close to 9½ minutes in length, it's much tighter than many a Maiden song on two of their last albums (or rather like many of 21st century Maiden epics; it's way more fluidy and with more happening composition, and it simply does not stall). From calm opening, it grows into a massive song showing some respect to Rainbow (a bit in vein of songs such as 'Stargazer' and 'Gates of Babylon').

'Hellbent' is the band's heaviest song to date,together with the title track and 'Demonseed', and it starts more rocking streak of the album. These more ball-busting, driving 'n' rocking songs happen often, till the end. If you're a fan of 'Majestic' album (2005), it should be a treat for your appetite for kicking, playful power/heavy metal. This side is strong on this album with ripping riffs and carpet bombing double kick drumming. Kai Hansen did two Unisonic albums, after all, which are more hard rocking style. But they didn't forget about catchy choruses (check out that "eagle flying in the sky" type gem on 'Born to Fly' in vein of 'No World Order!' era [2001])! This kind of reminds me about "returning to the roots" thing their countrymen Grave Digger did with 'Return of the Reaper' in the same year.

And no German power metal album without a ballad, right?!?! Hell no! 'Time for Deliverance' with its piano, vocal melodies and aaah-ooh backing choir sounds like a tribute to mighty Queen. This is not the first time I heard influences of them English legends in Gamma Ray's music, no. It has happened on most of their albums, and on more balladish songs. When thinking generally, maybe it is the closer 'I Will Return', that gets the stamp of sounding most familiar song here, when thinking of the band's discography. The majority of songs are rather straight, non-sprouting. This might well be the most straight of all GR albums. It offers good and great headbang moments. But then again, it's nothing too deep. Like its cover art, where the band's mascot Fangface is shown. The music isn't colourless like that, though! And this beats those lame 3D covers hand down anyway!

Kai Hansen makes one of his most powerful and vicious vocal performances on this album. To tell the truth; it's no wonder if he has done proper damage to his vocal chords, as was evident on the tour for this album, where there was second vocalist in the band. Mr. Hansen's and Henjo Richter's guitars are rather ripping this time. Surely they play cool and memorable solos. Dirk Schlächter's bass guitar is as always: polymorphous and he's not following guitars or drums too slavishly. It's all simply forceful. The sound production is perfect for this kind of rocking and ripping power metal assault.

In all, 'Empire of the Undead' is a strong album with. It might not show all the sides of the band that much, so it feels a tad unvaried some days. But when giving it a spin after some time, it feels very much unified. I hope the guys return with GR soon again, after all kinds of solo and band project they've been messing with... We want more!!!

European / Russian / Ukrainian / Argentinian bonus track 'Built a World' is a killer song! It beats many of the album tracks, to tell the truth. It's a bit melancholic, mid-paced piece with a hugely catchy chorus, that is one of the most "pop" from the band, ever. Gladly they didn't let it fall into obscurity!!! Cannot comment on Asian bonus track 'Someday', sadly. European digipak / box set live bonus tracks are goodies for fans. The DVD is much more special also for any occasional listener with cool and very intimate rehearsal place live session recordings done with some fan attendance. It also includes interview stuff, concentrating on the destruction of the band's studio. It's all in one chunk, but gladly there's no more slow forward or rewind waits... The DVD also includes, as bonuses, 'To the Metal!' music video, and three cuts off of 'Skeletons & Majesties Live' DVD released in 2012.

(Originally written for

I's only rock & roll, but I like it - 59%

TrooperEd, May 27th, 2017
Written based on this version: 2014, CD, earMUSIC

After I had heard that there was a bit more of a thrash element to this album, I callously mistook it as a return to form, i.e. no more goddamn riff ripoffs. Imagine my disappointment upon hearing the title track and hearing fucking Hit The Lights. Never mind hearing the I Want Out ripoff on not one, but TWO songs in close proximity! I'm taking ten points off alone for not hiring a "riff consultant." Shouldn't you have learned from the Viva La Vida lawsuit Kai?

The best song on this album by a wide margin is the closer I Will Return. Maybe Arnold's presence convinced Kai and pals to not phone this one in, but they finally churn something out worthy of the Land of The Free through Majestic streak. Particularly with that absolutely scorching solo section, including a line at 3:51 that would have Dave Mustaine chucking Bibles through hotel windows that he didn't come up with it for Dystopia (and if I find out that was stolen from something I will resurrect Jesus himself and chuck him through a hotel window).

The silver medal goes to opener Avalon. Some have called this a Rebellion In Dreamland knockoff, my response is "so was Insurrection, and I didn't hear you bellyache about it then!" Also, neither Insurrection nor Rebellion In Dreamland itself had an opening verse so infectious and compelling. And that majestic chrous "and the eyes of God have turned away....FROM A-VA-LOOOOOOOOON," soaring, and very effective. If I didn't know better I'd want to say that chorus is even better than RiD. To be fair, while its speedier section is alot of fun, it is here where RiD's Everest standard reigns supreme and Avalon doesn't quite scale (maybe Kai should have asked Dirk to do a guitar solo for old times sake?).

How does newcomer Michael Enre fare? To be perfectly honest there's nothing really about him that makes him new. I'd have to think about it to realize Dan Zimmerman is no longer pounding the skins. I suppose it's a good thing that he's good enough to make you think no one has been replaced, but man, I miss Dan. Jukka to Kai Hahto was an upgrade, and a hell of one.

Despite the greatness of I Will Return, the rest of this album makes almost me wish Gamma Ray wouldn't. Something I never thought I would utter from my metal hesher mouth. Aside from Time For Deliverance (who the fuck keeps telling Kai he's good at ballads? Probably the same asshole forgetting to tell him there are Metallica vegetables in his soup), and the milking of the rotting teat that is the I Want Out riff (and the Out In The Fields form, if we're being brutally honest here), there's nothing inherently awful here. Lyrically some might cringe at the "burn motherfucker" in Pale Rider, but I counter that at least he's not riled up about his Superman outfit. It's a lot of fun at times, but even White Devil Armory was more top ten of the year worthy than this. One would think this lack of riff inspiration and/or recycling is just the nature of heavy metal/power metal after practically 50 years, but if Blind Guardian can knockout two killer metal slabs in a row with no (or at least minimal) ripoffs, one would think the father of it all would slave a little harder. Here's hoping Kiske acts as a drill sergeant for the inevitable Helloween reunion album.

Go snatch I Will Return from iTunes or Spotify or wherever.

The empire soldiers on. - 84%

hells_unicorn, January 31st, 2016
Written based on this version: 2014, CD, earMUSIC

Gamma Ray's career, particularly following the exodus of original vocalist Ralf Scheepers, has mirrored that classic paradoxical statement Snake Plissken made in Escape From L.A. that "the more things change, the more they stay the same". At first glance, each subsequent studio release following Insanity And Genius has had this external freshness and contrast from preceding works that made it appear that a constant process of stylistic evolution is taking place, but deeper scrutiny upon repeated listens will reveal the same fundamentals, like an identical foundation beneath several differing buildings. Kai Hansen, being the band principle songwriter and dominant personality, has always been an old school heavy metal and hard rock fanboy at heart, going all the way back to the primordial days of mid-80s Helloween, and one offering has tended to differ from another in how blatant this fact appears, barring some external variation in production practices.

Empire Of The Undead is among the more blatant examples of Hansen's ongoing fixation with metal's roots and earlier past when looking at the area of songwriting, yet also one of the more modern sounding ones in how heavy and gritty it comes across. On one end of the spectrum is a series of songs that remember the early days of Kai's own handiwork, being most blatant in the A-side of the preceding single/EP "Master Of Confusion", which falls under the umbrella of mid-paced rockers after the mold of Gary Moore's "Out In The Fields" that he's been revisiting to varying extents since the late 1980s. Not far behind is this album's magnum opus, a nine minute epic opener in "Avalon" that actually remembers the initial glory of Gamma Ray's opening song from their breakout album Land Of The Free more faithfully than the closing epic that continued the tradition on said album's 2007 sequel. Between all the magnificent atmospheric touches, driving rhythmic punch and fancy lead guitar madness, the only complaint that can be lobbed at this song is that it opens up the album and steals the thunder from everything that follows.

Truth be told, this entire album takes on even more of an overt tribute to various metal and rock icons than ever before, and would perhaps make it a comical affair were it not well executed. It's most noticeable when the tempo gets pulled back to a slower paced groove, yielding an unapologetic derivation of Dio's signature heavy/doom sound during his early post-Sabbath period in "Demonseed", being rivaled only by the shameless nod to Accept's mode of crushing grooves on "Pale Rider". Both of these songs sound like they could have been written in 1983, though they are so infused with a modern sense of heaviness that they also remind of something out of U.D.O and Dio in the earlier 2000s. One area where things lean a bit into the comical area is the totally unsubtle nod to Queen's "We Are The Champions" in "Time For Deliverance", which doesn't work very well and is this album's lone throwaway song, despite being well-produced and featuring Kai pulling off a fairly decent clean vocal croon. Much of the remainder of the album sees things being more on the fast and furious side (no pun intended), with "Hellbent" and "Empire Of The Undead" holding up the heavier side a bit more and coming off as the strongest, though the remaining songs are sufficiently engaging and strong.

Though not the most astounding thing to come out of Kai Hansen's musical career, Empire Of The Undead covers all the obligatory bases and definitely shines brighter than much of what they've done following No World Order, in spite of Kai splitting time between this project and Unisonic. Then again, Gamma Ray tended to shine their brightest during the period where he was likewise splitting attention with his longtime fellow power metal pioneer Piet Selick's band Iron Savior. This album also affords longtime fans the occasion to hear Gamma Ray keep their end up while breaking in their replacement for Dan Zimmerman, though Michael Ehré has been at the kit with a similar approach for a while as well when taking into account his extensive career with the similarly styled Metalium. It presents a unique middle ground between the crushing German steel of outfits like Primal Fear and Paragon and the lighter and happier one of Freedom Call and the more comical elements of Helloween, and also a somewhat more eclectic one.

More speed metal next time? Please, Kai - 77%

Andromeda_Unchained, August 1st, 2015

A new Gamma Ray full-length is always cause for rejoice, and it’s always great to see Kai Hansen is still doing what he does best. Empire Of The Undead stands as album number eleven for the gang, and see’s the band continuing along the path paved via Land of the Free II onward. Whilst the run of genre-defining power metal may have ended with Majestic, I do feel they channel some of that magic in places – whilst retaining the palpable heavy metal approach from the last album.

No more is this evident than in the glorious opening number “Avalon”. Hands down the best song Gamma Ray have done in quite some time; reminiscent of both “Rebellion In Dreamland” and modern Iron Maiden at its finest. A massive, building number complete with catchy vocals and choirs, ace riffs, and an absorbing structure; really setting the pace for what’s to come – hell, imagine if this had opened Land of the Free II? Either way a smoking tune, and without doubt worth the price of admission. Still, Gamma Ray doesn’t blow its load at the starting line, and there’s plenty to sate the appetite here.

What I really like about the album – saving the grandiose opener – is its stripped back approach. Whilst this was a hallmark of the last one, here Kai and the boys are working with a superior set of songs, and with a general dial-back on layering the songs are straight to business. “Hellbent” would be my favorite example, certainly in the “Ride The Sky” vein, and the most venomous I’ve heard these guys sound in a while. Pure Priest on steroids, a fist in the air anthem that I can imagine would destroy live. The title track follows suit with its speed metal riffing, and admittedly I do kind of wish the album featured further focus on this side of the band.

There are a few elements which do affect my overall enjoyment here, the first of which is a certain punkish vibe to some of the lyrics and structuring, particularly noticeable in “Master Of Confusion” and “Born To Fly”, although they’re hardly bad numbers by any stretch. I could also do without the cheap cussing in “Pale Rider” which is otherwise a slamming mid-pacer. I guess if I’m picking faults then “Demonseed” is a probably a little too long, and the middle does feel padded out. All relatively minor niggles though, and really it’s more in attitude than anything. I won’t hold it against them, Gamma Ray have had their collective tongues in cheek from the start.

Despite a few off moments in between, Gamma Ray bookend the material with absolute winners. I’ve already went on about “Avalon”, but “I Will Return” deserves a mention for being so bloody good. Pure speedy Gamma Ray magic. Overall, I couldn’t really ask for much better from a veteran band. Definitely something here for all fans of Gamma Ray, and proof that they still have some real magic left, in the case of the aforementioned bookends. Definitely worth picking up.


BastardHead, February 3rd, 2015

Man, it seems like Gamma Ray just has no idea what they're doing anymore, doesn't it? Kai's been running on fumes for nearly a decade at this point, with Majesty thru To the Metal being riddled with blatant plagiarism (though the former still stands as their last great album despite the constant riff stealing) and everything since Land of the Free pt. II: Electric Boogaloo sounding like a calculated exercise in ticking every single trope the band had established as instrumental to their classics up to that point without actually reproducing the spirit of the 95-05 era. Unfortunately, Empire of the Undead, while teasing some great tracks with "Master of Confusion" and the title track a few years back, ends up as yet another nigh-lifeless retread through moments they'd already perfected twenty years earlier.

Nothing illustrates this more than the opening track, "Avalon". On its own, it's not necessarily a bad song. It's got a nice, catchy chorus and a great galloping bridge, those are two things that Gamma Ray has always been at and I could hear them recycle that formula for the next two decades if the songwriting was good enough. And therein lies the problem, it's just not. Not anymore. "Avalon" was clearly chosen as the opener purely in an attempt to recapture the lightning in a bottle they nailed in 1995 with "Rebellion in Dreamland". In all actuality, this wouldn't make the cut on anything up to No World Order. That's the saddest part about this album really, it's full of songs that are essentially okay, but just so far away from the majesty that the band used to churn out with alarming regularity a decade ago.

Now, I'm being slightly unfair, and I know I should just judge this album on its own merits, but even then all I can really say is that it's a pretty safe and predictable album with only three songs that stand out as above average. "Hellbent" is a mad thrashing ripper with more vitriol than they've arguably ever showcased. The lyrics are cheesy and dumb but the message stands tall regardless: "We are here because we fucking love this music and we're going to play it until we drop dead mid-song". The title track fares about equally as well, being one of the darkest and most aggressive songs they've penned since "Hell Is Thy Home". "Master of Confusion" stands as the most "normal" song they've written in a while that's managed to rise above mediocre, since it rides on a recycled melody they've used at least twice before and just retreads lyrical themes they've beaten to death over the years, but it's a charming uptempo power rocker that is certainly worth a listen and stands as a highlight. And I guess I can offer up some props to "Demonseed" for the main riff being a nice jaunty bouncing number with a touch of blues flavoring. Granted, it's only two notes away from being identical to the outro of Megadeth's "Wake Up Dead", but that's been Kai's modus operandi for a while now so it's almost pointless to hold it against him anymore.

But really that's it, the rest of the album goes by without much consequence. There's a lot of filler to be found here, even if it's pretty varied in execution. "Time for Deliverance" continues their time honored tradition of shoehorning in awful ballads on damn near every album and "Born to Fly" makes its mark by being one of the most utterly inconsequential songs ever featured on a power metal album. I can namedrop songs all day but really Empire of the Undead finds itself being reminiscent of a Hammerfall album in the sense that it has a couple good songs amidst a bunch of boring go-nowhere filler. And just like Hammerfall, Gamma Ray are sticking to their strengths throughout the duration of the record, the sad truth is just that, apart from Kai's voice (which is just as strong as ever), the band isn't all that strong anymore in the songwriting department. I remember not really noticing until their live album, but damn near 100% of their best songs feature some sort of epic break in the bridge where the whole band falls out and builds up again for one huge release. They redid this at least a dozen and a half times to great effect, but it never mattered because it was always awesome. If they tried that now, it'd be massively noticeable by the sheer fact that there's a very large chance that the song surrounding such a moment would be toe tapping at best and soul meltingly dull at worst.

Maybe Zimmerman's departure was more instrumental to their future than I had initially realized (I'm pretty sure the other three guys did the bulk of the writing, didn't they?), but at the end of the day, Empire of the Undead sees Gamma Ray keep their streak alive of not releasing any out-and-out bad albums or songs, but still ends up being on the bottom end of their oeuvre, despite the darker shift in tone. Worth a listen for established fans for the few good songs, but most of them will probably leave the experience feeling underwhelmed on the whole. It's another album to justify more tours, but it's nothing you're going to proudly display in the Heavy Metal Hall of Fame.

Originally written for Lair of the Bastard

Building Empires - 80%

Altair 4, June 25th, 2014

Gamma Ray has been through some tough shit to produce this album. It's no new news that their studio caught fire and they lost a lot of equipment, but luckily not the album, haha! This is an album which feels sort of organically recharged. I feel Gamma Ray has still been kind of suffering since their lackluster 'Land of the Free, pt. II' album, despite how great 'To the Metal!' was. This album certainly has a much darker and more malevolent energy compared to the past two Gamma Ray releases, and it's a welcome direction to be sure. However, this isn't to say that the trademark Gamma Ray power metal elements are lost. There are still bouncy, happy tracks ("Seven", and "Born to Fly" in particular), so it would seem this is a well-rounded album which should offer all Gamma Ray fans something to enjoy.

The album opens with the soaring track "Avalon", which is a 10/10 song on all accounts. An epic Iron Maiden aura permeates throughout, and an epic chorus that is bound to get metalheads of any affiliation bouncing. Other highlights include the furious, catchy title track "Empire of the Undead", the mammoth-stomping "Pale Rider", and "Demonseed" with it's creepy-as-hell cinematic intro. The only particular weak moments I would nitpick is the mediocre ballad "Time for Deliverance", and the recycled, uninspired lyrics of "Born to Fly".

Otherwise, this is a very solid album which should satisfy fans who didn't like 'To the Metal' or 'Land of the Free, pt. II'. An overall much darker offering, 'Empire of the Undead' offers the standard Gamma Ray riffage and power metal fare, but where other Gamma Ray albums are content with 16th notes, double bass, and soaring melodies, 'Empire of the Undead' is very much at home tumbling and churning, stomping and pounding.

(Bonus points go to "I Will Return" for including a sound clip of Arnold Schwarzenegger's "I'll be back" line from 'The Terminator')

One For The Road - 73%

GuntherTheUndying, June 1st, 2014

“Empire of the Undead” is Gamma Ray’s “The X Factor” (the Iron Maiden album for the unacquainted). I’m not being facetious: the similarities are striking. Maiden, during that strange, conflicted period, had lost the integral Bruce Dickinson; “Empire of the Undead” shows Gamma Ray without drummer Dan Zimmerman, who had been a surprisingly vital factor in the band’s progression. And like that misguided records, “Empire of the Undead” boasts a handful of wonderful songs that are clogged up by sizable chunks of filler, which stick out like yellow teeth on a Brazilian supermodel. Above all else, it’s darker and faster than the usual Gamma Ray output, and it continues the evolution of Gamma Ray’s discography justly.

One of the unsung glories of Gamma Ray has been the band’s diversity between albums—no two Gamma Ray records are exactly identical. The band’s structural integrity has remained the same, yet the outer appearance has changed considerably between records. “Empire of the Undead,” compared to “To the Metal,” which was more of a basic chorus-based record, boasts long, multi-faceted anthems. Some are fairly standard Gamma Ray cuts with no secrets or layers hiding in the shadows. “Master of Confusion” and “Born to Fly,” for instance, pitch at the listener familiar melodies, choruses, riffs, and structural ideas—they play it safe, and in turn sound that way. I’m fonder of the album’s darker anthems and its elaborate, multilayered tracks.

“Avalon,” the record’s opener, is an outstanding piece of epic power metal that displays proudly the finest traits of the Gamma Ray squad: excellent riffs, luscious lead guitar work, and a juicy chorus to boot. “Hellbent” and the title track are faster and heavier than the bulk of the band’s extensive discography; ripping riffs galore! I like “Seven” and “I Will Return” as well, though they don’t have the same stopping power as the aforementioned songs. “Pale Rider” and “Demonseed” are fairly lame and uneventful, and “Time for Deliverance,” the record’s ballad, is a strong reminder that Gamma Ray needs to stop with the goddamn ballads. I couldn’t shove it off a bridge quick enough.

The real cherry on the sundae happens to be the factors unrelated to songwriting. The production gives the album a crisp, clear bite, and boasts the finest sound quality the band has ever had; and Kai Hansen, whose vocals are always fantastic, sounds awesome as expected. “Empire of the Undead’ is also a passionate, fiery record with sharp claws and pointy teeth; the faster numbers are especially hostile. I like “Empire of the Undead” for what it is, and for a band like Gamma Ray that has been spitting out records since the dawn of time to continue to release quality albums, what more could a casual fan or diehard prophet ask for?

This review was written for:

Gamma Ray rising again - 85%

Gintoki, May 27th, 2014

If someone asked me to name a band that symbolizes power metal and represents its virtues the most I'd say "Gamma Ray" without hesitation. Their middlestreak albums from 1995-2001 gave us four classic masterpieces which are benchmarks for every power metal album that's being released since then. These four albums were so magnificent that even Gamma Ray themselves haven't been able to reproduce the success after they took their four-year studio hiatus after "No World Order" in 2001. "Majestic" was strong but something was missing and "Land of the Free II" aswell as "To the Metal" were a further step down the way. But this time time GR struck back with their strongest release since NWO.

"Empire of the Undead" is probably the thrashiest release from Kai Hansen and his bandmates with only "Majestic" competing for the title. Titles such as "Hellbent" and the titletrack are the heaviest songs on the album, with the former being a Judas Priest oriented song and the latter a tribute to the speed metal "Walls of Jericho" Helloween era.

There are also some classic melodic pieces reminiscent of the classic euro power metal genre like "Born to Fly", "Master of Confusion" and "Seven". At first I thought the latter two are the same song because they share the same opening riff, something that shouldn't happen, and "Born to Fly" is probably the 417th song to glorify the flight of an eagle. I mean, come on, how many more eagle songs do we need who also sound the same. Nevertheless all of these tracks are pleasant to listen to if one doesn't focus on the lyrics.

However the highlight of the album is the opener "Avalon". Just like in "Land of the Free" more than 10 years ago, Gamma Ray opted to open up with the mini-epic. Personally i prefer when the longest track of the album is at the end of an album because the following tracks have a hard time to shine as the listener's jaw is already at the bottom of the room. "Avalon" starts slowly with Kai singing lightly over an accoustic guitar which explodes after a minute or so into an anthem-like metal masterpiece with a lot of changes in tempo never getting boring or repetitive.

All in all this is a good album but far from being a classic. There is no really weak track to be found here, even the ballad "Time for Deliverance" is pleasant to listen to, but aside from the epic "Avalon" there is no track that stands out to be remembered in the future. Any power metal fan and even fans of classic heavy metal will find its joy here. If you prefer happy flower metal with cheesy choruses you should rather try out Freedom Calls "Beyond", which is still the best melodic release of the year so far.

They Have Returned! - 86%

ArcanaAwaits, April 15th, 2014

Back in early 2013, da Rayz made a rather pleasant return to form with the release of their EP “Master of Confusion”, releasing two new songs that would appear on their next full-length, “Empire of the Undead” and “Master of Confusion”. These songs featured new drummer Michael Ehré to the group after the departure of Dan Zimmermann. They marked hopeful thoughts for myself and various other Rayz fans out there after their disappointing 2010 effort “To The Metal”! After three years of waiting, we finally had the Gamma Ray we all knew and loved.

While eagerly waiting for the album to be released (finally titled “Empire of the Undead“), a few months prior to the actual release, Gamma Ray revealed the album artwork which was computer generated and appeared to look almost unfinished, comparable to Iron Maiden’s “Dance of Death” in 2003. This teaser was more of a let down than anything. After such a great teaser the previous year, I wasn’t sure what to expect with their next full-length.

Empire of the Undead is the 11th studio album over a career that spans over 21 years and 30 if you consider Kai Hansen’s entire career. The opening track kicks off with one of their best epics since “Armageddon” or “Rebellion in Dreamland”. Clocking in at nearly nine and a half minutes, this song starts off ballad-like with Kai promptly singing over a guitar flooded with reverb and ultimately builds up to one of their best hooks (vaguely reminiscent of Avantasia’s “Sign of the Cross” chorus) to date. "Pale Rider" and "Demonseed" both sound like they could have came right off of Majestic, with a same general structure and their slower, crushing riffs. Time For Deliverance is a ballad with classic Gamma Ray-style, sounding like a mixture between “Eagle” and “The Silence.”

Born to Fly is probably the lowest point on the album with forced hooks that aren’t very catchy, yet the song seems to do its job. "Hellbent," "Empire of the Undead", and "Seven" are the more speedy sides of this album, all of which are incredibly fun and catchy. "Hellbent" was released a little over a month before the full-length with a video to support it. "Master of Confusion" sounds like an absolute mixture between Helloween’s "I Want Out" and "Send Me a Sign", which were similar songs in their own right to begin with. This will undoubtedly please both newer and older Rayz fans, for sure. "I Will Return" starts off surprisingly with a audio clip from the movie Terminator with Arnold Schwarzenegger saying the classic “I’ll be Back”. With strong leads and catchy verses and choruses, this is a Gamma Ray classic right from the start and one of my personal favorites on the album.

I was overall thoroughly impressed with this return, as the only real disappointment was the album cover. This certainly isn’t the best Gamma Ray album to date, as most of the songs on here sound similar to previous works they’ve done, but these and the others certainly hold their ground.

Empire of the Average. - 80%

Metal_Jaw, March 30th, 2014

In all honesty I've been eagerly awaiting this release for a while ever since Kai Hansen announced that this one would have more of a thrash metal vibe to it than their last few albums. Well does it? Eh...kinda. "Empire of the Undead" does have noticeably a harder and darker vibe to it akin to 2005's "Majestic", maybe even more so. Even still it does kinda sit as one of Gamma Ray's more average efforts, although it stands on the shoulders of their last two albums with ease.

The bandmates keep consistently firing on all cylinders thankfully. Kai Hansen's elegant, nasally howling sounds as strong as ever; this time around he throws around some nasty growls and grunts to spice it up. He and Henjo Richter still make a fine guitar team after all these years, letting loose with an array of snazzy leads and a particularly impressive rhythm section. Also highly impressive is the drumming of Michael Ehré, who fills the shoes of long-time skin-smasher Dan Zimmerman. He brings a really aggressive quality to the set, giving the already rocking rhythm section an extra steroid boost. Mr. Dirk Schlächter's bass, while not totally undermixed, just sits there mostly, but fills out the sound beautifully otherwise.

The album begins promisingly enough with "Avalon", an song that belongs up there with the best of Gamma Ray's epics; built around a swooning mid-paced chorus, thumping melodic grooves and a nice solo, it never gets boring even when going a bit over the 9-minute point. The rest of the album is sort of a grab-bag of quality and memorability. We have cuts that give the album it's darker nature, like "Pale Rider" and "Demonseed", armed with punishing grooves; all I can say about the former is..."BURN motherfucker! Feel the flame!" Hehehehe. The title track ranks in a personal favorite, a real neck-wrecker of a song with highly impressive rhythm work and that DAMN DUMB but also DAMN AWESOME chorus. Also of mention is closer "I Will Return" brings back memories 90's Gamma Ray speeders, albeit with a slightly meaner touch. Any song that opens with an Arnold Schwarzenegger sound bit better bring the goods, and this song doesn't disappoint. have the oddball stuff. Many songs come equipped with sound bits or minute instances of post-modern faux tough guy growls, both unusual for this power metal outfit. Most instances are few and far in between, which is good. The oddest song on here is probably the ballad/anthem "Time For Deliverance", one of the most definite and obvious homages to the greatness that is Queen and Freddy Mercury I've ever heard; not a bad song, just kind of out of place and pretty unexpected. Then you have the filler crap; sub-par tracks sadly run rampant under the names of "Seven", the bonus track "Built A World" and "Born To Fly", the last of which is just another one of the group's lackluster "Eagle Fly Free" knockoffs.

Overall, "Empire of the Undead" has some good points. Some songs rock pretty hard and are probably among some of Gamma Ray's best, not to mention the band themselves still can kick it up a notch. But the promised thrashiness is seldom fully employed, many songs just sit around and go nowhere, and a few artistic choices to make the album "darker" or heavier are a little misguided. A solid, passable modern power metal effort weighed down by just a little more bad than good.

Hellbent for METAL!!! - 80%

mjollnir, March 30th, 2014

So here we are in 2014, with Gamma Ray having been in existence for a quarter century, they have released their eleventh full length album, Empire of the Undead. Strange title with even stranger artwork, but the proof should be in the music, right? Anyone who is a metal head should know this band's history and it's roots. Guitarist and vocalist Kai Hansen left Helloween at the peak of their career to form his own group. There are two eras of this band, the Ralf Scheepers era and the good era! lol Anyway, this is another of the highly anticipated albums of 2014 and after the somewhat of a let down album, To The Metal, can Gamma Ray release an album that will put them back on the power metal throne? A year ago we were treated to a taste of the new album with the EP Master of Confusion. That was actually a good EP and the two new songs on it were promising. And, of course their was the fire at the band's studio that reportedly destroyed everything. Even with that obstacle they persevered and now we have the new album...and it appears that the band is not slowing down anytime soon.

The opener is the nine minute opus, "Avalon." It appears that they were going for a "Rebellion in Dreamland" type of song and though it's not as good as that classic, "Avalon" is a great song it it's own right. It begins slow with clean guitars and and Kai's vocals. Then the riffs kick in and the main riff seems to have an almost eastern feel to it. The song is epic and melodic with keys in the background to set the atmosphere but not to overwhelm. The songs picks up the pace in the middle with some nice riffs and a melodic verse. Then the leads kick in. First we have dual harmony leads that go into trade off solos and are they fucking huge. Kai Hansen and Henjo Richter are masters of their craft and it shows that they are still on top of their game. This is an epic metal song that is to be expected by a band of this caliper. This gives me hope that this is the album I expected it to be.

And man, was I right. "Hellbent" was a teaser that was released so we all know what it sounds like but I love hearing it over and over. It's fast, full of riffs and is massive! The lyrics are cheesy "metal" lyrics but when a song kicks your ass like this the lyrics fit the song perfectly. Once again, the solos are the star of the show here. You will be paying air guitar to these solos and headbanging to this song...if you don't then you are not a metal head and need to leave the hall! And it doesn't stop there. "Born to Fly" has a cool groove at the beginning and speeds up to a typical speedy melodic Gamma Ray song. Cool riffs, nice hooks, and a decent groove makes for a most enjoyable song. And, once again, the solos. I can't say this enough, Kai and Henjo are masters.

We know "Master of Confusion" and the title track from the EP. These are your typical Gamma Ray rockers. They may not offer anything new or innovative, they just rock. The title track is the more speedy of the two and just kicks your ass. Cool traditional metal riffs with melodic hooks and godly solos...what more could you want? "Demonseed" is a heavier song that is not as speedy but pounds you into submission. It has cool riffs and a catchy chorus and a blasting solos. "Seven" and the closer, "I Will Return" are speedy and riff laden songs that are catchy and full of hooks. This album is already favorite of mine and has surpassed it's predecessor by leaps and bounds.

This would be a perfect album except for "Pale Rider" which is just meh and nothing special as well as a terrible ballad, "Time for Deliverance." What's wrong with these bands? Why can't they write a decent metal ballad anymore? Anyway, this is still an overall very enjoyable slab of metal that will get plenty of playing time. This album shows that Kai and the boys are still capable of doing what they have always been known for, creating good power metal.