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Heading for the trash bin - 25%

kluseba, June 6th, 2017
Written based on this version: 2015, 2CD, earMUSIC (Digipak)

What kind of band releases its first live album one year after its foundation and after having released just one single studio record? Well, Gamma Ray sure does. I'm not exactly sure whether this is a sign of megalomania or more like a failed experiment but such a release isn't reallly justifiable so early in a band's career. A look at the track list shows the obvious flaws of such a release. Heading for the East consists only of songs from the first studio album as well as the aptly titled b-side "Who Do You Think You Are?" plus three Helloween covers in form of "I Want Out", "Ride the Sky" and "Save Us". One of the cover songs has even been cut in half and paired with a Gamma Ray song which wasn't the band's best idea either.

Since Gamma Ray's first studio record is one of my very favorites from the band, I actually appreciate some of the material on here. The energizing up-tempo power metal smasher "Lust for Life" kicks the show off in a vivid way. The fun anthem "Free Time" sends rays of joy to the crowd. The ballad "The Silence" is as haunting in concert as it is on the regular studio album and Ralf Scheepers shows what a talented singer he is.

The record also includes its share of fillers though. "Who Do You Think You Are?" is a b-side for a reason and can't compete with the other tracks. "Save Us" is a rather unusual choice for a Helloween cover but what sounds interesting at first contact ends up being rather bland. The aforementioned medley of "Ride the Sky" and "Hold Your Ground" doesn't do the two excellent songs any justice.

The major issue is though the album closer that is a real pain in the ass to sit through. "Heading for Tomorrow" already feels artificially stretched on the studio record with its fourteen and a half minutes of boredom and is Gamma Ray's most overrated track ever in my book. On this album, the band fails to deliver a more concise and energizing version of this musical sleeping pill and stretches this over-ambitious track to more than twenty-four minutes, garnished with more boring and overlong instrumental sections than before. The band managed to make one of its few bad tracks even worse. In addition to being offensively long, this song is the only reason why this live album has now been re-released on two discs instead of one. Mother Earth didn't deserve to suffer for this piece of crap. On the other side, I don't get why the band stretched this song to twenty-four minutes but had to play a medley of "Ride the Sky" and "Hold the Ground" in order to save time. It seems to me that the band only made bad choices when this live album was released.

The production and overall sound is average and unspectacular. The audience isn't particularly audible and even though the band performs really well, it's nothing mindblowing either.

In the end, Heading for the East might only be interesting for die-hard collectors as well as people who were in the audience when the album was recorded. At the very best, this album could have been included as one single disc by shortening that horrible album closer on one of the re-issued studio records of the band's early years. That being said, what has happened to these re-releases? The label had announced to re-release Gamma Ray's entire back catalogue but has actually stopped after the first few studio albums and a few unnecessary live cuts. That hardly comes as a surprise because that same label also started re-issueing Stratovarius' back catalogue by starting in the middle of the band's discography with a studio and a live album and never released anything else since then.

To keep it short, Gamma Ray's live album should be heading for the trash bin. The band has released numerous other live albums that are all better than this set of coasters. My recommendation would be to go for Skeletons in the Closet or the stupidly titled but actually convincing Hell Yeah !!! The Awesome Foursome and the Finnish Keyboarder Who Didn't Want to Wear His Donald Duck Costume - Live in Montreal.