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They got their edge back. - 91%

hells_unicorn, February 10th, 2008

Gamma Ray exemplify the standard by which power metal is measured, which is an unashamed devotion to the ideals first laid out by the melodic speed and traditional outfits of the 80s in spite of all the nonsense going on in both radio and music television. Like most of their younger brethren, they are mostly derided for a sense of unchanging loyalty to the style and all of it’s clichés that comes across as obstinate. But this stubborn tenacity is precisely where the band’s power lies, for once a band sets forth its sound its purpose is then to maintain a fan base.

“Land of the Free 2” is largely similar to the 1995 breakthrough album that saw the return of Kai to the vocal helm, albeit there are some differences in the sound aside from the absence of the Michael Kiske guest vocal slots. The production is very similar to that of “Majestic”, although the songs are far more coherent and memorable. Dan Zimmerman’s drumming is equally as insanely fast and precise as it was when he lit up the kit on “Somewhere Out in Space”, Henjo’s leads are extravagant yet reserved in their duration, and Kai’s vocals have lost none of their raunchy edge.

Although structured similar to the first installment of this 2 part story, the pace of the album is a good deal faster. This owes heavily to the long winded epic being the last song rather than the first. Ironically enough, “Rebellion in Dreamland” was the greatest song on that album, while “Insurrection” proves to be one of the least memorable on the bunch here. I’m not sure if it’s the lack of a truly bombastic backing choir during the chorus or just a general sense of flatness from start to finish, but something about the song just screams anti-climactic.

Be that as it may, the rest of the album just kicks out the speed and fury without a trace of mercy. Crushing speed anthems like “From the Ashes” and “To Mother Earth” rival a good deal of their 1990s equivalents, and outshine them in terms of production. If you hear the chorus of “From the Ashes” and don’t immediate start shouting along with it, you are obviously not going to like anything in the power metal genre. Heavier speed tracks like “Rain” and “Opportunity” rely more upon heavy as hell guitar grooves that interchange with up tempo riff happy sections to change it up a bit, but robs nothing from the consistency of the album.

Although very fresh as a whole, we do have a couple of obvious throwbacks in this collection of amazing tracks. “Real World” is yet another in a long line of “I Want Out” variations, probably having the most in common with “Rich and Famous” off the “Sigh No More” release. Essentially if you liked the original Helloween classic you’ll likely enjoy this. “Empress” has a large amount of Accept influences in its riff and vocal approach, although the heavily present keyboards do make it distinct from their German traditional metal forefathers.

It is recommended that newcomers to Gamma Ray look into the first “Land of the Free” album and “Somewhere Out in Space” before buying this, but this is one of the best things to be released in 2007, which has proven to be a year of mostly moderately good albums by the power metal elites, save one or two gems from younger acts. I’d give a slight edge to Helloween’s “Gambling with the Devil” over this, but I recommend it very strongly to anyone who is a fan of fast melodic metal in the vain of Judas Priest and Accept.