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The Greatest Maiden Tribute Album Ever - 90%

Hidius, August 19th, 2008

Purely because I enjoy pissing people off, I’m going to start with a story about a nu-metal band. (Don’t worry, it has a point.)

There is a band called Avenged Sevenfold that illustrates a great point through their lousy music. I don’t know if this is nu-metal or screamo or rock or what, but it’s laughably bad. Their early material had a lot of impact but only while it was playing. It was not memorable music. As they went along they attempted to add beauty to their music, but as they did, they lost their impact. So their music remained unmemorable because it meandered all over the place and dragged on through really boring passages, with the occasional attempt at reliving the hardcore days. The point is that, in order for a song to be memorable, it has to have impact and beauty at the same time.

That brings us to this album, Land of the Free 2. What this album does musically is to take everything from Killers, Powerslave, Somewhere in Time, and Seventh Son and synthesize it into a single hour-long package. Yes, there are other influences to hear in these songs, but these are the primary ones. Each of those albums by Maiden had a different sound, because they never did the same thing twice, but on this Gamma Ray album you can hear it all at once. Into the Storm has some Killers-style guitar parts and some “Woah” type singing followed by wild solos. It’s as rousing an opener as Aces High was. From the Ashes continues with a rousing chorus and some more wild guitar solos layered over a Maiden-ish gallop. It even has more sing-along “Woahs.” When the World has obvious Powerslave riffing. Opportunity listens like a new age Maiden song but has a few ideas from the old days packed in for variation, notably harmonies and solos from Somewhere in Time and acoustics from Seventh Son.

But the greatest song here is the epic Insurrection. This is better than the epics from the Keepers albums, because there seems to be more variation as the song goes along. The old Keepers epics had a sense of, for lack of a better phrase, “sameness throughout.” This is one of Kai’s best songs altogether, and it functions well as a closer to such an immense Maiden tribute. It has massive riffs under soaring vocals, even more of that “Woah” type singing, a memorable chorus, and energetic solos that crisscross. If you think it’s not hard to sit through, that’s because you don’t sit while you listen to it. The songs that came before it get you up, and this one keeps you up until the album ends, at which point you say, “What?” because you want more.

This is one of the most exciting albums I’ve ever heard. These songs have all the beauty of Iron Maiden’s work but this combines with Gamma Ray’s own unique impact to leave a lasting impression. You remember the music, and you want to hear it again. Avenged Sevenfold fails to write good music because they fail to combine beauty and impact in any meaningful way. When they’re not slamming you with garbage, they’re wandering around with it aimlessly. Apparently, in the United States, that’s the way to conjure up a fanbase.

Furthermore, they claim to be influenced by Iron Maiden, like Gamma Ray. But their music does not do their influences justice. Gamma Ray does a far better job of paying tribute to their influences. This is the power metal version of Maiden’s particular style of NWOBHM, and I must say it comes off much better than anything else I’ve ever heard claiming to be Maiden-influenced. (Perhaps I’m biased because I happen to live in the heart of “Kid Rock Country” where the best music comes from sloppy bands like Avenged Sevenfold. Thus, I can’t help but compare the good stuff to the sludge available in America.)

Finally, many accuse this album of being not a tribute, but outright plagiarism. I can only say that Iron Maiden didn’t write this album, Gamma Ray did, and whether or not they intended it to be a tribute, that’s certainly how it functions. I couldn’t be more satisfied with this album. This is power metal, not classic metal, not NWOBHM. However, it is probably the best all-out tribute to Iron Maiden you’ll ever hear.