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Believe - 98%

gasmask_colostomy, May 28th, 2015

There’s a big difference between thinking that you can do something and knowing that you can do something. The thing that makes that difference is belief, and Gamma Ray had it in spades when they recorded 'No World Order'. Somebody - and all eyes are on Kai Hansen here - knew exactly what to put in and exactly what to leave out to make this album a success, and he took no prisoners in doing so. I ask you to please search this album for the parts that are unnecessary or ill-judged and throw them onto the burning heap of rubble that adorns the artwork, where they can conflagrate and smoulder along with the mockery of governors, leaders, and society that the concept seeks to dispose of. This is a fucking great album.

There was not much wrong with any of the three preceding Gamma Ray releases, but 'No World Order' makes everything a little tauter, a little tighter, a little heavier, and brandishes it in your face just to prove what can be done with power metal at its best. There are many traditional power metal traits on these songs, like speedy riffs, energetic, upbeat drumming, screaming leads, and wailing vocals; however, tradition is met by innovation, enthusiasm with anger, and cheese with aplomb, rendering many of the age-old power metal criticisms redundant. The basic formula for modernising power metal could be seen in the last couple of Gamma Ray albums, as well as that of their rivals Helloween, whose 'Better Than Raw' achieves its success in a similar manner to 'No World Order'. The heaviness and modern influence is very important, since every song punches hard, while songwriting formulas never become too convoluted, allowing a small amount of experimentation and frills to keep each song distinct and with an average length of about five minutes.

As it turns out, five minutes is ample time for Gamma Ray to blow your socks off and then reload: 'Dethrone Tyranny', in particular, crams so many ideas (and ideas of great quality at that) into four minutes that the first time I listened to it I was certain it had run over into the next song and, when I checked the track, there was still enough time for a last melody to wind down in style. And, unbelievable though it may sound, that blistering opening is nowhere near the best thing the band has to offer. 'Heaven or Hell' is one of those songs you will be forced to sing aloud in public places; 'Lake of Tears' is a truly climactic closing ballad with awesome key changes; 'The Heart of the Unicorn' scorches with white-hot fury and blazing guitar work, and it still can't quite beat 'Eagle', which is the highlight of this band's career, simply put. Hansen does seem to have an obsession with the bird of prey (it also crops up in the chorus to 'Solid'), but there is something magisterial about the image of an eagle soaring at unreachable heights that seems fitting for a song about freedom, the riffwork, solos, and hooks of which put it far beyond the ability of most bands. There are some slower songs that make use of hard rock rhythms, balancing out the speedier numbers and providing simpler catchiness at the cost of a little excitement and skill. The only song that falls short is 'Damn the Machine', which attempts something different - and succeeds - but feels restrained and lumbers rather compared to its more energetic brethren.

If anyone had given any less than an accomplished performance, this album would probably have fallen on its arse. Thankfully, there are four men on fire who nail all of the tempo changes, interludes, licks, harmonies, fills, and the extra quirks that make this album so joyful. Just listen to the swell of 'Follow Me' as it cruises through its last two minutes: it's a very melodic song, without much in the way of riffing, yet the shifts that split up parts of the solo, build drama, and then set up the chorus are impeccable and leave you wanting nothing more. Therefore, imagine what the doubled effect of that precision and timing is when the more forceful and exciting songs rain down around your ears. 'Eagle' is Gamma Ray's masterclass, as well as an entrancing song, since Dirk Schlachter keeps everything going in the verses with limber basslines that get doubled up by the rhythm guitar, Dan Zimmerman is all over the transitions between bridge riffs and solo parts, scattering fills across the duelling guitar part, there's that that riff (you'll know which) and a couple of others, plus Hansen is singing absolutely out of his fucking skin on every note, not just on this song, but on the album as a whole. It is his belief in his singing ability that pushes a song like the aggressive 'The Heart of the Unicorn' past the usual standards of power metal to a more visceral and consequently a more emotional experience, outstripping what we thought was possible and making us too believe that we can try harder, and go further, and do better. That's what heavy metal is all about - belief.