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The Insanity of King Kai Knows Its Boundaries - 82%

bayern, June 8th, 2017

I guess the world felt relieved when Kai Hansen announced his withdrawal from Helloween; I was a big fan of The Pumpkins all the way to the second “Keeper”, but when said album started smelling cheese and sleaze I knew something unsavoury this way was coming. The band were simply too unnaturally fixed upon the American market even more intently than Scorpions, Judas Priest, and Accept put together. A sad, really sad turn of events after such a strong first chapter…

Although reportedly the reason why Hansen split from his colleagues was the very busy touring schedule, I personally thought back then that he merely wanted to continue bashing the good old speed metal, and since this was no longer possible with Helloween moving away from it, he had to leave in order to embark on a new career and continue raising the flag of the old school. Consequently I, and I believe quite a few other metalheads around the world, were awaiting the Gamma Ray debut way more eagerly than The Pumpkins’ next instalment. However, “Heading for Tomorrow” wasn’t exactly the speed metal “beast” I was expecting, and it took quite a bit of time before I warmed up to it. Then the “Heaven Can Wait” EP followed which was a much better effort with more coherent musicianship, and things started looking a bit better, but only after one had managed to put his/her mind to rest that speed metal all the way for Mr. Hansen was a foregone conclusion.

1991 was an important year for both acts as they released their new works within mere months from each other. Since “Pink Bubbles Go Ape” was more or less an embarrassment (well, worse things were coming for Helloween, but still…), there wasn’t exactly a battle witnessed between the two as “Sigh no More” was a far superior offering. It was also way better than the too friendly and poppish debut as the guys now felt more confident producing a really fine collection of classic power/speed metal hymns. With the growing influence of the grunge/groovy/aggro movement apprehension rose in the air regarding any future showing on the field, but the album reviewed here was another really good affair for the Hansen team who was very lucky to have such an outstanding vocalist like Ralf Sheepers in his ranks. As the axeman wasn’t playing as flashily here as on the early Helloween opuses, Sheepers sometimes had to carry quite a bit on his shoulders always going away with more than just a few “laurels”.

“Tribute to the Past” is an excellent beginning for the “insane” saga, a prime speed metal anthem with soaring melodies, a superb catchy chorus, and more interesting progressive build-ups; a nice reminder of Helloween’s early exploits also bringing hopes for another fierce speed metal carnival. Well, the latter never takes place, but “No Return” is an awesome galloper keeping the hard-hitting guitars and the memorable choruses flying, also keeping the listener fairly entertained. When “The Last Before the Storm” follows a similar hyper-energetic pattern, one can’t help but think about Helloween’s roots over and over again, and Hansen has to find a way to pacify the audience if he isn’t ready for another high velocity showdown. And he does it with the 7-min heavy metal cut “The Cave Principle”, a much mellower piece than the opening trio, the guys moving at a sleepy rate even attempting something scarily groovy consequently dissipating all hopes for a full-blooded aggressive affair.

The roller-coaster goes on unperturbed afterwards, though, with “Future Madhouse”, a rousing speedster of the uplifting, optimistic variety with a few light-hearted additives. “Gamma Ray” slows down again, but remains an intriguing progressive opus despite the softer keyboard-ornated passages, and the somewhat modern-ish vibe and the commercial gimmicks. The title-track is an assured dark power metal cut with a bigger pace alternation and nice melodic undercurrents some of them coming from the keyboards again. “18 Years” is the obligatory ballad pulled by Sheepers with the requisite pathos and attachment before the man steps down for “Your Torn is Over” replaced by a guest singer named Dirk Schlächter on this sharp curt power metal piece which sees the guy providing a bit rusty hoarse timbre, much less melodic and more limited than Sheepers' siren. “Heal Me” is a really cool semi-ballad with Hansen himself practicing his vocal bravado this time, ruling the environment which becomes quite poignant at some point including on the memorable epic chorus. For the closing “Brothers” he gives the mike to Sheepers again who wraps it on with style although this epitaph is just a merry heavy rocker with great melodic leads.

This is a diverse, not very homogenous recording not far structure-wise from its predecessor, the band looking for the right ways to stay relevant on the flippant 90’s arena. Still, kudos should be paid them for staying firmly on old school ground for most of the time, not attempting anything unnecessarily adventurous, attitude that Hansen managed to retain for the future showings to a fairly positive effect. Sheepers had to go after this one, and I guess his departure had already been scheduled during those recordings hence Hansen’s return behind the mike towards the end. There can be no polemics as to who the better singer is, but I believe the guitar wizard wanted tighter control over the proceedings without too many egos interfering in the creative process.

With Andy Derris joining Helloween in the mid-90’s, things took a turn for the better in their camp, and Gamma Ray has... sorry, have had a distinct competition from The Pumpkins all these years. No complaints whatsoever; the music world can only benefit from healthy rivalry between insanity and genius both fractions fighting for domination amidst lethal X-rays and ghostly visitations, and not only on All Hallows’ Eve.