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Experimental, but solid. - 78%

hells_unicorn, October 17th, 2006

This album has pretty much been beat up as being either sub-par for the band, and a few have even labeled it as being terrible. All I can really say is that I have no idea what everyone is talking about, I put the CD in the player, and it fucking rocks the whole way through. All though there are a few weak sections in a couple of the songs in the middle, overall I can’t really say there is anything on this album that can be categorized as either throw-away tracks or mediocre.

Ralf Scheepers has been the subject of much ridicule in many quarters, and while I admit that his voice has a heavy Rob Halford tinge to it, there is nothing either revolting or overtly unoriginal about his singing style. When you are in a band that plays within the power/traditional metal genre, you want someone who can hold his own in the higher registers. This results in 4 primary sounds: the sleazy sound of traditional metal singers like Jeff Scott Soto and Dio, the husky falsettos of Michael Kiske and Geoff Tate, the forced high notes of normally baritone ranged singers such as Blaze Bayley, or the mock-opera tinge of Rob Halford and Bruce Dickinson. Every singer in this genre can be categorized as either possessing one of these sounds or a combination or two or more. Furthermore, singers tend to sing in the style that is most comfortable and suited to their range, so this nonsense that someone is automatically a clone of another artist because he sounds similar to them is utter garbage. Scheepers admires Halford, and sings similar to him in part because of this admiration, but he is his own man and his music is an original creation of his talent and his mind.

The overall feel of this album is that of Power/Prog, one could even argue that this album is something of a pioneering effort in merging the two genres. Tracks such as “Gamma Ray”, “18 Years”, and “Heal Me” all possess influences of such older Prog. Rock acts as Rush, Pink Floyd, and even a tiny bit of electronic music in the case of “Gamma Ray”. “Heal Me” actually sounds almost like a self-contained homage to Pink Floyd’s Dark Side of the Moon with a few well placed heavy riffs. “18 Years” sounds almost like a quasi-Queen influenced track during the quiet sections, while the harder sections remind of the material off of GR’s debut.

We have some perfectly crafted power metal classics in the mix as well. “Tribute to the Past” is a fast and furious barrage of incredible riffs and has my pick for Ralf Scheepers’ second best vocal performance with Gamma Ray (his best being the title track of GR’s first release). “Last Before the Storm” and “No Return” are also highly catchy and loaded with memorable guitar riffs. “Future Madhouse” and “Your Turn is Over” are so fast and riff driven that they could almost qualify as thrash tracks. The latter is sung by Dirk Schlachter, whose voice has a heavy German accent and a somewhat punk attitude to it, although when he hits the higher notes he almost sounds exactly like Piet Selick of Iron Savior.

The remaining tracks are mostly slower rockers. “The Cave Principle” and the title track have their share of fast sections, but are mostly driven along by slower drum beats and Deep Purple inspired guitar parts. The closing track “Brothers” is a metal anthem in the Twisted Sister/Accept variety, loaded with lyrical references to the faithful of the metal genre. It’s a bit cliché at times, but still a load of fun.

As stated earlier, there are a few flaws in this album that need to be addressed. Although it’s an interesting idea, the fact that we have 3 different singers on this album does throw off the consistency of the album a bit. Each song that is handled by a singer other than Ralf does a decent job, but it’s not something that necessary makes for a good regular practice unless you have some sort of album concept to justify it with. And although I did like the track “Gamma Ray”, the chorus’ lyrics are a tiny bit hokey, the title of the song is just repeated a few too many times.

In conclusion, this is not Gamma Ray’s weakest album, that honor goes to it’s predecessor the lackluster “Sigh No More”. But it does take the back seat to the debut and all of the post Scheepers material. It’s not a matter of how bad this album is, but how amazing the others are. However, due to it’s mixed approach to style, it may not sit well with fans of the more consistent sound that Gamma Ray now has. Fans of Primal Fear may want to check this release out for Ralf Scheepers’ great vocal work. And fans of Prog. Metal will find things to like in here. Recommended highly to said parties.