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Back in the closet you! - 70%

morbert, April 21st, 2008

Mixed feelings. The best way to describe this album. Of course it is a big hail to your fans if you play some more obscure material from your past instead of just the hits all over again. We all love that when one of our favorite bands does that once in a while.

However Gamma Ray gave the fans the opportunity to pick the songs. Die hard fans are always in for hearing some obscure material they wouldn’t hear normally. But to be honest a lot of songs were chosen that have been obscure for a good reason. So obscure they should have been forgotten really. Each older album holds some hidden gems but they did pick some of the worst ones this time.

Of course the presence of the majestic “Armageddon” is superb. It was, is and will remain the best song from Powerplant (together with the classic “Anywhere in the Galaxy” which isn’t here). “Gardens of the Sinner” is okay, but it was no highlight. Just a decent mid paced song. Same goes for “All of the Damned” from Land Of The Free. It was one of the few fillers. If you want to pick an obscure but good song from that album, why not “Gods Of Deliverance” or even “The Afterlife”?

But to stress my point: Why on earth then did they pick “Rich & Famous” and “One with the World” from Sigh no more!?! OWTW has its moments but of course they should have picked “As Time Goes By” which would’ve fit in more nicely with newer songs and incidentally also was the best song from that album. Instead of the hideous cheeserock tune “Rich and Famous” they obviously should have choosen “Start Running”. I don not know these fans then. Everyone I know into Gamma Ray feels the same way about the Sigh No More album. Who were the fans that voted for these two songs? Fans who only know that album? Fans from Mozambique or Bhutan?

Even worse, they picked “The Silence” from the debut. A cheesy song the band also re-recorded for the Blast From The Past compilation. My oh my, where is “Hold Your Ground”?

Instead of the regular “Heal Me” and “Tribute to the Past” they’ve choosen “No Return” and “Last Before The Storm” from the Insanity and Genius album. A fair choice. Nothing more, nothing less.

The old Helloween tune “Victim of Fate” is great. It’s divine actually. Thanks for that! Also memorable is the presence of “Rising Star/Shine On”. One of the best songs from Somewhere Out In Space and indeed a pleasure to hear a live version.

The performance and sound are great for a live album. This could have been so classic. CD2 is the best of the two. Easily. But as said, where are: Lust for Life, Hold Your Ground, As Time Goes By, Start Running, Dreamhealer, Tribute To The Past, Man On A Mission, Gods Of Deliverance, Abyss Of The Void, Beyond the Black Hole, Somewhere Out in Space and Anywhere in the Galaxy!?!

So the idea was great, but a lot of songs are badly chosen. The setlist was chosen by the fans. Pretty weird because now I have the feeling I have been listening to a pretty different band than the rest of you all these years! Brrrrr, the horror!

One for your 'classics' collection... - 95%

livatlantis, July 22nd, 2005

It's certainly been a long time since Gamma Ray have released a live album, with their only other previous release being Alive '95 eight years back - and they're definately back with another one to remind us how great they are live! However, since I never got the chance to listen to that, this was my first time ever getting my hands on a live Gamma Ray release. So let's start with the basics. The release consists of two CDs, each with songs recorded at shows either in Barcelona or Strasbourg as part of their 2002 tour with the same name – 'Skeletons in the Closet'. Fans (like myself) voted for the setlist through email and the point of all this, Kai explains, was to resurrect the songs not normally played live – which, I think, is being fair to all.

As soon as you pop the first CD into your player (or a computer, as parts of this CD is made for) you are welcomed with a tremendous uproar of the crowd cheering. The screaming gives way to the sounds of the introductory "Welcome", with crowd counting the beats until the guitars and drums smash in around the first minute. Instant realization is this – the show has begun!

There's energy and excitement present in every song they play – beginning with 'Gardens of the Sinner' to the closing riffs of 'New World Order' in the second CD. The songs are altered a bit to make them "live-friendly", which adds colour to them in some ways. For example, in the seventh track of the second CD – in "Heaven or Hell" – the intro riff is slightly different from the studio recording. And not to mention the energy in "Heavy Metal Universe"! Kai simply takes the fans on an exhilarating journey through the metal universe as the band stops the song around the end to have some fun with the crowd! The feeling is simply divine – all these fans shouting along the first line of the chorus 3 full times, after each an evaluation by Kai (and jokes, not to mention) – finally lifting the song from the fans singing "Heavy Metal Universe!" for the fourth time. Crazy! Thumbs up there!

Something one can certainly not fail to miss is the great audio mixing and mastering. The drums are audible clearly, the voice stands out, the guitars are sharp, the bass guitar is thumping (yes, thumping) with wild echoes of the fans shouting, making for a perfect backdrop. Never will the crowd interfere with the songs, yet they are vital to every single song! Heavy overdriven sounds don't fail here. The raw power is certainly present, but sharp sounds makes for listening pleasure. Also, have to mention that the guest keyboard player for this CD was Axel Mackenrott (of Masterplan) and he does a heck of a job. Just listen to "Rising Star/Shine On" if you don't believe me.

Dan's drum solo once again reminds us how talented he really is. It just sounds like he's having a blast improvising faster-than-light drum patterns, occasionally shouting out to the crowds! At a part he plays a certain pattern at extreme speeds and slowly lowers the speed to a point at which we can appreciate the complexity of his playing. Again, the crowd interactions make for a multi-dimensional CD track (and not just any old drum solo).

The cover artwork is screaming out "Skeletons" – literally! Fangface, with all his blue-green skull friends surround the dim images of the band on stage and the fans in the pit. Chains in the borders, skulls at the ends, golden words without a dent. And what more – one can take satisfaction in learning it was none other than Henjo who was responsible for the great artwork and design. The booklet has pictures as well of the band on stage and fans (just as wild!).

There is one hidden track for you to discover (it really isn't difficult), for which you will find a corresponding MPEG video, and two others. The band has included in the first CD video files of 'Gardens of the Sinner' and 'Razorblade Sigh', which is compiled with pictures, live footage and slow-motion captures – all packed in, thanks to Mackenrott's video editing. Also included is a short (37 seconds worth of) backstage footage in the company of a certain "McTee". This is going that extra bit to make the live experience more colourful.

The only negative side of here video file format and quality. The three vidoes (96.2 MB in total) are encoded in MPEG format, meaning you need a computer (or some other device with MPEG playback facility). Due to high compression, if you resize the video size to even just 2 times the normal (small) size, it's distorted and pixelated. Forget fullscreen. Personally I'd have enjoyed better better quality and resolution if a video is going to be included anyway - but since the primary aspect of the CD is the audio, the videos make up for a fun, simple, no-nags addition.

With over hundred minutes of playing time, one hidden audio track, three MPEG videos and amazing performance, presentation and colour – Gamma Ray prove once again they're as good a powermetal band live as they are on the records.

Highly recommended to anyone into powermetal, any Gamma Ray devotee or anyone into metal. This is one is surely for the the classic powermetal collection!

Simply Amazing - 96%

Kai4prez, March 11th, 2005

What an amazing live album we have here. The guy below me said it. When you're gonna do a live album, then do it right. This album is a perfect example. It's simply amazing.

So what makes a good live album? First of all, the performances of the songs must be great. That's the most important thing, and this is where many bands fail, simply because they suck live. Also, the songs can't sound too similar to the album versions, or else it will just get boring. The best thing is of course when the songs sound better live, and that's exactly how it is in most cases on this album. Not many of the bands I listen to can achieve this, but thankfully Gamma Ray is one of them. Other bands that can be mentioned are Iron Maiden and Children Of Bodom, with the infamous albums Live After Death and Tokyo Warheads.

Then we have things such as production, interaction with the crowd and the overall mood. Many live albums simply fails at giving me a great live feeling, but that's not the case here. When I listen to this album I sing along like if I was there and I really enjoy it. The production is, of course, nothing short of perfection, exactly what you can expect from perfectionist Kai Hansen. He and Dirk did a terrific job. But as the guy below me said, WE NEED A GAMMA RAY DVD! It would be so goddamn awesome to see an entire show from this tour. Well, there's no need to hide that Kai knows how to handle the crowd. The Heavy Metal Universe thing is excellent. "that was not even a small city". Brilliant. Just brilliant. The only thing I think could've been better is some song introductions, but that's not a big deal. I too like my live albums to be one full show, but it's hard to notice that it isn't. You will probably forget about it when you're listening to the album anyway.

Then we have the setlist, and this one here is very interesting. I remember when I fist saw it, I was like "WHERE THE HELL IS REBELLION? BEYOND THE BLACK HOLE? SOMEWHERE OUT IN SPACE? MAN ON A MISSION? LAND OF THE FREE? DETHRONE TYRANNY? And the list goes on... This album certainly lacks some fatal songs, but after a while I realized how unique the setlist really is. I don't think they would have ever performed excellent songs such as Rising Star/Shine On, All Of The Damned and Rich & Famous without the voting. The songs are spread over the whole discography, but Land Of The Free and Heading For Tomorrow only have one song each, and that's a bit sad. Of course All Of The Damned and The Silence are great, but I wish there was at least one more song from these albums on here. How about Hold Your Ground? I think that song would absolutely slay here. It would also be very interesting to hear Afterlife. But I can't complain. This setlist is excellent, and it's better than a regular "best of" list which contains all the songs we have heard a million times before.

I can list my person favorites from the album, and I'm starting with Armageddon. Oh my God, does it kick ass or what? That intro never fails to send shivers down my spine and then you get that shitload of speed and power thrown in your face. It's orgasmic. I can also mention that Henjo is fucking insane in this song. Just listen to him. He's in the left speaker. Next we have Rising Star/Shine On, which is the most unique song Gamma Ray has ever done, and it definitely sounds much better live. I just wonder why Kai never sings "diamonds in the distance" in the chorus. He's supposed to do that in the second and fourht chorus, and it feels kinda wrong when he doesn't, but this is no big deal of course. The Silence, Razorblade Sigh and Guardians Of Mankind can also be mentioned as favorites. The latter is one of my favorite songs off the Somewhere Out In Space album, and it sounds very good here.

But there is one song that really stands out among the rest here. You guessed it. Victim Of Fate. Oh. My. Fucking. God. I already loved the original more than anything, and I can really say it's one of the best songs ever written, but when I heard the version on here... How is it possible to improve on the best songs ever in every single aspect? Everything. Just everything is better about this version. Kai's voice is excellent, the mood is perfect and the goddamn solos literally tear me apart and send me to another dimension. The way they fade out after the last chorus before they kick off again with that ass-kicking riff is pure magic. I will never understand how they managed to accomplish this, but one thing is for certain. This song here is THE BEST GODDAMN LIVE PERFORMANCE OF ANY SONG EVER.

That's it. This album is really close to perfect, and there's no doubt that any fans of Gamma Ray should be ashamed if they don't have it in their collection. The only thing I'm really missing now is a live DVD.

Coming out of the closet - 90%

NightOfTheRealm, May 21st, 2004

2003 seems to be shaping up to be the year of the live album with some ten or so live albums thus far, and honestly, I almost feel burnt out by live albums. Fortunately, the majority of live releases thus far this year have been of consistently good quality, and SKELETONS IN THE CLOSET is no exception.

It’s been eight years since Gamma Ray released ALIVE ’95, and I feel that the time is due for another live album from one of Germany’s best exports. 2 discs, nearly 2 hours of Germanic speed-power metal. Need I say more?

I guess more is in (New World) Order here.

If you’re gonna do a live album, do it right. SKELETONS IN THE CLOSET manages to nail down all the important aspects of a great live album.

1). Setlist:
The tracklist on SKELETONS IN THE CLOSET was determined by internet fan-voting, so in addition to classics like “Razorblade Sigh,” “Armageddon,” and “All of the Damned,” we also get some rather unexpected tracks like “One with the World,” “Rich and Famous,” and my favourite track on this album, “Rising Star/Shine On.” If only Iron Maiden would use this format for their next tour...c’mon “Flight of Icarus” and “Prowler”!

2). Production:
Has any Gamma Ray album in the last 8 years been anything but flawlessly produced? I thought not. SKELETONS is no exception, achieving an excellent balance between a clean sound and the live energy. Kai Hansen and Dirk Schlacter handled all the mixing, mastering, and production duties, so I’m sure that the only way to improve this would be on a DVD (Please, Gamma Ray, get me a DVD!) or front row at the concert itself. I’m taking some points here because SKELETONS IN THE CLOSET is not a complete single show recording, but pieced together from the Barcelona Razzmatazz on 10-31-02 and Strasbourg La Laiterie, 11-02-02 shows. In reality, the songs are so finely edited together that it is nearly impossible to distinguish between the venues.

3). Crowd Interaction:
In addition to the production successfully capturing the live energy, the crowd interaction significantly contributes to the overall energy of the disc. Kai Hansen really works the crowd well, especially with some obligatory extended silliness on “Heavy Metal Universe.” Personally, I wouldn’t mind if Kai goofed around a little more between and during songs.

As soon as I got this baby unpacked from the mail, I stand in awe of the packaging. Derek Riggs has contributed some wonderful cover art to the album, and the layout is just incredible. Considering that Gamma Ray ranks among my ten favourite bands, it is difficult for me to select highlights from the album, but here are some of the most enjoyable songs:

“Armageddon” – 9 minutes of speed metal, this one has been a Gamma Ray favourite of mine since the first day I got POWERPLANT.

“Victim of Fate” – Reaching way back into the Helloween days, I was totally surprised to find this one on SKELETONS. What a great rendition of this classic, too. Oh the solos!

“No Return” and “Last Before the Storm” – my two favourite songs from the criminally underrated INSANITY AND GENIUIS album.

“Rising Star/Shine On” – The happiest Gamma Ray song ever, this one would certainly appear on my personal Gamma Ray dream setlist.

Hell, every one of the songs on here sounds as good, if not better than the album versions. “Heaven or Hell,” Gardens of the Sinner,” and an extended “Heavy Metal Universe” also stand out. Just listen to the whole damned thing loudly!

Unfortunately, there are a couple drawbacks that prevent SKELETONS IN THE CLOSET from earning full points. First of all, as good as the recording is, this is not a full show, as I would have liked. Secondly, the abscence of certain key songs such as “Beyond the Black Hole,” “No Stranger,” and “Rebellion in Dreamland” is largely unforgiveable. These shortcomings are minor, however, and any Gamma Ray will find SKELETONS IN THE CLOSET to be worth every penny.

(originally written by me for www.metal-rules.com, October, 2003)

Come Out Of The Closet! - 90%

Slinky, November 2nd, 2003

Skeletons In The Closet (Metal-IS/Sanctuary, 2003)

Tracklist: 9/10
Production/Mixing: 10/10
Packaging: 8/10
Overall: 9/10

The second live album since Alive ’95 from Hansen & Co. and what a release this is when compared to its predecessor and live albums in general. The sound and mixing has Live After Death written all over it, with Hansen’s guitar on the right, Richter’s on the left and bass with drums mixed in the middle. The crystal clear production makes it very enjoyable to listen to as every instrument is in place (with each bass kick distinctly heard) and the vocals are simply terrific and makes you wonder how does Hansen pull it off behind the mic. Now the songs chosen to play all simply shred, from beginning to the end, no exceptions and serves as a lesson to all veterans on how to record a quality live album that is worth a purchase (e.g. Rock In Rio, Live In London). The only complaint that I have is that the material overall is a little short, clocking in at 1 hour and 40 minutes, the addition of a drum solo which is unnecessary and the lack of crowd interaction. But these are all minor issues that will not bother you much since even the drum solo sounds pretty cool (but still a drum solo). The additions to this live album that I have never heard before done is the mixing of backing vocals to the person they belong as you would see them on the stage (Dirk’s voice on the right, Richter’s on the left and Zimmermann’s behind Hansen in the middle); this sounds really good at least in headphones. The songs are all played at a faster rate than studio offerings but that doesn’t bother me due to the fact they are all fast songs to begin with so more speed makes ‘em sound that much more powerful. The addition of a keyboard player makes the songs sound even more like studio recorded material and polishes out the sound almost to perfection.

Moving on to the packaging: the foldout digipak ( :) ). Not very durable but looks really good, the 32 page booklet features tons of photos, message from Kai and a bunch technological stuff that was used when recording the album. As well as CD 1 features a couple of live video tracks.

This package clearly demonstrates the Hansen’s desire for perfection as ever single thing is at least looked over. I would also recommend this as the second essential Gamma Ray record for new fans (after Blast From The Past) who want to get to know the band by getting their essential songs first.