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Great studio tracks but weak live material - 70%

kluseba, May 26th, 2014

While we were waiting for an upcoming new full length release, German power metal veterans Gamma Ray came around with a new EP featuring two brand new studio tracks, two cover songs and six live tracks from the last release “Skeletons & Majesties” that were not included on all regular editions and are now available for all fans around the world.

The two new studio tracks are definitely the highlights on the release. “Empire of the Undead” is a dirtier and almost thrash metal orientated track with a hard rock soul. It reminds me almost a little bit of Motörhead and of some of the more brutal tracks Edguy used to do around ten years ago. “Master of Confusion” hits a more traditional European power metal vein. The quite melodic and catchy song reminds a lot of Helloween’s legendary “I Want Out”. Kai Hansen somewhat copies the style of his ex-band and despite its lack of originality, the song is energizing enough and should be a sure value for the upcoming concerts.

The two cover songs hit a similar vein. “Death Or Glory” is a little bit harder and reminds of the New Wave of British Heavy Metal while “Lost Angels” is more commercial and melodic. This means that the songs are rather close to the originals. They lack of originality but they are surely fun to listen to and have their reasons to be there.

The live tracks are not so convincing in my opinion because they don’t really have a spectacular live atmosphere and are rather close to the studio versions. The only exception and highlight is the emotional rendition of “Farewell” that works better than the studio version. The other songs are alright but nothing outstanding at all.

In the end, if you like power metal and are able to get this EP for a fair price somewhere between five or ten dollars or Euros, don’t hesitate to grab it. If it’s too expensive, just be patient and wait for the upcoming full length release. Note that the Japanese version of this release includes an interesting bonus track called "Sag Mir Bescheid", a German version of the Gamma Ray classic "Send Me a Sign". Lucky Japanese!

If you are looking for great live material, be smart and grab the energizing “Skeletons in the Closet” double-album from 2003 instead of the last live release.

Originally written for The Metal Observer

Breaking the silence once more. - 82%

hells_unicorn, April 22nd, 2013

There has been a deafening silence in the world of things Gamma Ray, owing in part to Dan Zimmerman's absence from the fold and front man Kai Hansen's side project with Michael Kiske Unisonic. With this has come a high anticipation and a degree of lowered expectation on the part of the author of this review, given that replacement Michael Ehré is an untested element in the studio with this outfit, though his longstanding work with Metalium definitely take precedence. Naturally any extreme levels of skepticism would be unwarranted given that the worst of this band's experimental forays are long behind them in the early 90s and the worst that could come about would be a dry, generic affair as was heard on "Majestic".

Thankfully, Kai and company have decided to avoid the autopilot trap and have brought about an impressive mix of covers and promotional new works for what is hopefully a soon to come LP. Leading off the charge is a monster of a speed metal anthem after the mold of Grave Digger and Paragon in "Empire Of The Undead". This number definitely hearkens back to the glory days of early Helloween, putting an almost complete emphasis on crunchy riff work and a nastier than usual vocal performance out of Kai. Things then take on a more familiar tone with "Master Of Confusion", which takes things down to mid-tempo and puts a good bit more emphasis on melody and flashy lead guitar work. It contains that familiar "Out In The Fields" vibe that Kai has dabbled with since "I Want Out", but it does a fair bit to differentiate itself from a growing number of similar sounding anthems in Gamma Ray's back catalog.

The cover department is also well covered, bringing forth some old names from the formative days of heavy metal from the 70s and reminding the faithful from where the current scene's roots lay. The Holocaust cover is a pretty cut and dry affair, differing little from the original save for Kai's nasally howl and a heavier guitar distortion. Much like their selection of "Heavy Metal Mania" back during the "Land Of The Free" days, the choice in "Death Or Glory" sees a song that is heavy enough, but also quite primitive and free of elaborate interludes or twists. But the Sweet cover proves to be quite an auspicious affair, as the interpretation here brings an old 70s anthem that has heavy similarity to something Queen would have put out rings quite similar to some of Kai's handiwork during the high period of Gamma Ray in the late 90s. There are literally times where one wants to accuse Kai of near plagiarism given how a lot of the melodic material on here is so remarkably similar to some sections heard on the closing epic of "Powerplant" in "Armageddon".

The only area where things leave being outright glorious and turn into a mixture of good and bad is the live song department that immediately follows. Rest assured, there is no lack of brilliance in the ability of the performers, but in the selection of the material itself. The loser of a sophomore slump "Sigh No More" sees one of its weaker tracks "The Spirit" represented on here, and it's goofy bluesy elements stick out like a sore thumb next to the blazing glory of "Wings Of Destiny" and the somber nostalgia of "Farewell". Similarly, the odd progressive rock character of the Birth Control cover that bears the band's name loses none of its banality from its "Insanity & Genius" days. But on the positive side, the version of "Insurrection" heard on here is actually better than the studio version, particularly Kai's vocal performance which is oozing with passion and fury.

Things are definitely looking good for the road ahead for those who still crave more of that classic, speed infused, age old German approach to delivering the goods. While not perfect, this is definitely worth picking up for the covers and most of the live work (even all of it for those who liked GM's 2nd and 3rd albums in their entirety), and also gives a bird's eye view into how the new drummer will fit into the mix on the eventual full length that hopefully will not be too far down the road. They say that silence is golden, but evidently they aren't listening to the right music if they still cling to that tired cliche.

Never burn out, never fade away... - 90%

Immortally_Insane, March 30th, 2013

Gamma Ray released their latest EP, Master of Confusion on March 15, 2013. While hearing little to no buzz about this EP, I was unsure of what to expect after the three years of relative silence, outside of the Skeletons and Majesties live CD and DVD release recorded in Switzerland. Hearing that release proved that the band still had it in them, even after the near 25 years of bouncing between the road and the studio. Master of Confusion however, is a couple new tracks, some cover songs, and additional live recordings of some of their classic tunes recorded in Bochum, Germany.

Original track Empire of the Undead begins with a rough scream and some drum and guitar collaboration that is sure to knock you off your feet. Michael Ehre on drums is a relatively new member to the band, and with this track being my first impression of his work, I am quite excited to hear more from him. Straight of out a lost 80's thrash record, the song is in your face, fast paced, and an all around suprisingly heavy track for what classic GR fans would expect. Hansen's vocals are as sharp and classic as ever, never hesitant, never faltering. The guitar work from the band's trio of guitarists, Hansen, Dirk Schlacter, and Henjo Richter, is quick and dense, with great lead licks harmonized within.

Master of Confusion, a sharp contrast to the first track, as it demonstrates a definite tempo cut, with traditional power metal drums and bass lines. The vocal work is lower pitched, with few exemptions in the chorus. The song's message is a definite stadium like anthem, an ode to Gamma Ray if you will, as they claim to be the masters of their craft, which I doubt anyone would deny. The EP also features two cover songs, Death or Glory (Holocaust) and Lost Angels (Sweet) which are two very severely contrastive songs. This isn't the first time Gamma Ray has covered Holocaust, as their cover of Heavy Metal Mania is found on Land of the Free. Death or Glory is one of those dark and angry, short-sweet-to the point kind of metal tunes, as Holocaust was well known for, and is perfectly executed by Gamma Ray. Sweet however, is a more lighthearted pop-rock band, however they were still a very influential band of the 1970's. This song has a more traditional power metal vibe when covered by GR, but still sounds very close to the original.

The live tracks on the EP were recorded in Germany (because Germany gets everything of course) and as what is typically expected with GR, they are as strong and sharp as ever. The balance in the mixing is clear, and had I not been told these were live, I would have assumed they were some long lost rough studio mix, because they are so perfect. Michael Kiske is featured on track 9, Time to Break Free, which plays back to the fact that Germany gets to see everything, as if Wacken wasn't enough (I'm not a bitter American at all). All of the live tracks are beautiful, perfectly executed, and a great tease into the GR live experience for those of you that missed the Skeletons and Majesties live release.

This EP is a good look into a possible new album from the power metal kings. The new material is exciting, and truly makes a Gamma Ray fan smile to see that they're not burning out and certainly not fading away.

[Originally written for &]