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Let's call it a draw - 79%

gasmask_colostomy, August 28th, 2017

I think I've written comments before about Gamma Ray having an "unbeaten run" right through the middle of their discography (from Land of the Free in 1995 to Majestic in 2005), but I keep forgetting about this album every time I think of that great vein of form. There's not a great deal wrong with Power Plant when comparing it to other speed/power albums from the late '90s, though it's almost certainly the weakest of Gamma Ray's efforts from this time period, settling down between the punishingly heavy Somewhere Out in Space and the jaw-dropping masterwork No World Order!. I like it and listen to it quite a lot, plus it's got one of the coolest front covers from a band with a history of great album art, which this time isn't too close to ripping off an idea from Iron Maiden.

If we start with the negatives, that should give a chance to explain why you need to buy all those other Gamma Ray albums first before I tell you that you also need to buy this one. The major problem with Power Plant is that the album is too long as a whole and that individual songs are also rather lengthy considering that there aren't too many surprising twists and turns lurking among the structures of these 11 tracks. That the average length is close to six minutes should be a warning, while only three songs can be completed within five minutes, leaving the end of the album a bit of a drag to get through. Those structures don't really help matters because the majority of the songs pack in three verses, three choruses, a bridge, a solo, and perhaps a bit of time for riffing in the introduction, which is a great formula for a power metal song, just not if it's a similar formula for every power metal song on the same album. Despite clean introductions, a few changes of pace, and generally exciting musicianship, that means that the word predictable can certainly be tossed into the equation regarding Power Plant.

Also apparent is the fact that this is certainly more of a power metal album than most of the others that surround it chronologically. One reason why Gamma Ray delight me so much is that they don't buy into too many of the power metal clich├ęs (except a few choruses, which is basically the best part), splicing their DNA with speed metal to keep the riffs biting and exciting, plus traditional heavy metal, providing that wonderful nostalgic feel and the emphasis for a lot of the shredding that the two guitarists turn out. On Power Plant, a song like 'Strangers in the Night' has speed riffing to open the verses and accompany the solos, but the very catchy chorus (the word "happy-clappy" was on the tip of my finger for a moment), the sort of choir vocal parts, the broad melodies, and the long epic outro rather diminish the infectious aggression that has always been at the heart of what makes this band essential. That's the case with quite a few of the songs here, while there are also instances of the band erring too close to repeating themselves with a couple of songs covering alien and space themes and another "heavy metal celebration" song. The slightly disappointing themes make themselves especially known further down the album when 'Wings of Destiny' and 'Hand of Fate' crop up with familiar titles and 'Heavy Metal Universe' bursts in with some predictable lyrics. See for yourself:

'cause it's a heavy metal universe
with a heavy metal sound
masters of the thunder
shake you to the ground.

However, I promised that I was going to insist that you bought Power Plant anyway, and so I will. Although the album does it too much, I already mentioned that Gamma Ray had found the perfect formula for this kind of song and it won't take more than a single listen to 'Anywhere in the Galaxy', 'Gardens of the Sinner', and 'Wings of Destiny' to be utterly convinced that there is nothing left out of any of them. The opener 'Anywhere in the Galaxy' particularly capitalizes on the excellence of the structure with a clean yet breathless introduction that grabs the listener right from the off (the band reverted to the technique for the fun 'Blood Religion' from Majesty) and doesn't let go for more than six minutes, taking in spectacular machine-gun speed riffing, a cream of the crop power metal chorus, and some great leads. As such, it isn't the style that's the issue, merely the overuse of that style. It doesn't help that the two most stylistically different songs are right in the middle of the release, the slower pace of 'Short as Hell' (disappointingly not about midgets) using one lurching riff to full effect before the cover of 'It's a Sin' surprises with melodic bliss and Kai Hansen's best vocal performance on the album. 'Heavy Metal Universe' is a bit different too, going for a more retro style, which - guess what - is very close to Judas Priest with its hard rock feel.

Other than that mid-section, Power Plant sticks to its guns fairly closely, although it's possible to recognize that 'Send Me a Sign' was written to be more accessible, ending up as the single, and 'Armageddon' went rather more explorative, clocking in at nearly nine minutes and tying with 'Dreamland in Rebellion' for the title of Gamma Ray's longest song. Thus, the album does have the material to be interesting throughout much of its 63 minutes, though the running order is unhelpful. On the other hand, there is a small bone to pick with the performances, which are all of a high standard yet appear to be less passionate than one would expect from this line-up. Listening to Hansen's searing vocals on No World Order! can literally bring tears to the eyes, but nothing here has the same kind of power, nor do the musicians' personalities shine as they did on the cheekily complex Majestic, despite some top-notch skills exhibited in the guitar and drumming departments. The production is slightly deader than one would like, emphasizing less of the heaviness than the melody and not especially helping Dirk Schl├Ąchter's bass, though it's the combination of sound quality and performance quality that lessens the effect of the songs.

Therefore, I would recommend you to invest in Somewhere Out in Space and certainly No World Order! as fast as possible and, if you like both of them, to buy this and listen to it a bit at a time. A few songs are truly excellent, such as 'Anywhere in the Galaxy', 'It's a Sin', and 'Wings of Destiny', while a few are not up to much, but nothing is actually bad, just awkwardly organized and lacking a finishing touch. In the light of this album, perhaps I can rename the "unbeaten run" as a "winning streak with a draw in the middle".