Gamma Ray - Blast From the Past (2000)

Gamma Ray - Blast From the Past (2000) Cover
Daniel Daniel / December 08, 2020 / Comments 0 / 0

My experience with long-standing German power metal heavy-weights Gamma Ray has been limited over the years. I make no secret about the fact that I usually struggle with the European brand of power metal & my only previous attempt at initiating a relationship with Gamma Ray (through their most highly celebrated 1995 album “Land Of The Free”) had seen me failing to breach their melodic shell. The decades that have followed have seen me giving several of the other senior power metal players a chance to convert me but success has been rare so my enthusiasm when going into Gamma Ray’s re-recorded compilation double album “Blast From The Past” was very much kept in check by a healthy layer of scepticism.

When I originally selected “Blast From The Past” as the December 2020 feature release for our The Guardians clan I really had no idea of what I was getting myself into. I hadn’t done enough research to understand the sheer girth of this release (which clocks in at a massive 121 minutes in duration) &, for someone that finds power metal to be a significant challenge at the best of times, this would see my newly instated commitment to reviewing all nine of our monthly feature releases standing like an insurmountable wall in front of me with no option available to me other than to start climbing & hope for the best. A brief preliminary Google search would see me coming to the realisation that “Blast From The Past” was essentially a collection of a few tracks from each of Gamma Ray’s six studio albums to the time with the material from the first three records having been re-recorded with guitarist/vocalist Kai Hansen behind the microphone following the departure of former front man Ralf Scheepers in 1994. The later Hansen-fronted material has apparently been remastered.

My initial impressions of “Blast From The Past” were as predictable as they were inevitable with the first three tracks very much confirming that my initial scepticism was justified. All of the characteristics that marred my previous experience with most European power metal are plainly evident during the start of the album with a heavy emphasis being placed on cheesy melody, particularly during the intro track “Welcome” & the extremely poppy “Heaven Can Wait”. But things take a drastic turn for the better from track four when I was pleasantly surprised by a more ambitious & progressive fifteen minute epic that utilizes a more traditional heavy metal sound. This kicked off a string of eight tracks in a row that I find to be very enjoyable indeed, including a couple of genuine classics in “Changes” & “Dream Healer”. This was very surprising on first listen but it quickly became apparent as to why I found this material to be so damn appealing. There’s a greatly reduced reliance on the Helloween/Blind Guardian model of speed metal-infused & overly-melodic power metal in favour of a more palatable heavy metal approach that draws significant influence from classic Judas Priest. In fact, the Priest worship is so obvious that it actually borders on plagiarism at times however the pristine execution & my general feeling of comfort & nostalgia in that sound see me really digging most of this material & I have to wonder whether the albums these tracks are taken from might be something that I should explore further. Kai’s vocal delivery left me in a state of shock too because I found his performances on the first two Helloween releases to be considerably below par but here he delivers a drastically different & remarkably improved display which often leaves me questioning whether I’m really listening to Judas Priest front man Rob Halford in his prime. I honestly can’t believe it’s the same dude to tell you the truth. He must have sold his soul to the devil since his time in Helloween. Unfortunately the back end of the album sees Gamma Ray placing additional pressure on the accelerator again which sees them pulling away from my comfort zone quite often but it’s not all doom & gloom with three or four enjoyable numbers scattered across the B-side in between the less appealing songs like “The Silence” & “Valley of The Kings”.

The production job of Hansen & fellow axe-slinger Dirk Schlachter is outstanding with all of these songs possessing a crisp clarity & each instrument achieving good separation in the mix. In fact, some may argue that the production is TOO clean but I don’t buy into that way of thinking. Good power metal is generally benefitted by a glossy, modern production job & that’s certainly the case here as it helps to highlight some brilliant instrumental performances, particularly that of the twin guitar attack who shred like their lives depend on it. In classic European fashion, most tracks do include those cheesy & simplistic guitar harmonies at some stage but the rest of the lead work is a real strength. As is the metal-as-fuck rhythm guitar tone & the plethora of outstanding classic metal riffs, not to mention the pounding, machine-gun double-kick of drummer Dan Zimmermann. These guys really know their craft & when you combine that prowess with a sublime higher register vocal performance from Hansen you get a release that offers enormous appeal for fans of the subgenre.

Look…. I still can’t say that German power metal is ever going to be my bag with any sort of consistency & there were certainly a fair few negatives for me to overcome here (see the schlocky keyboards on the cheesier tracks) but there’s also more than enough material that falls inside of my personal taste palate to keep me interested. The more Gamma Ray lift the velocity, the more my interest seems to drift as those cheesy harmonies seem to become more pronounced during the speed metal focused stuff but the more moderately paced inclusions are usually very entertaining & I even find it hard not to like a few of the cheesier examples. I guess I’ve always been a sucker for a high quality metal production combined with excellent instrumental performances & a talented vocal delivery & “Blast From The Past” delivers these elements in spades. Its highlights see me overcoming my fears & giving in to the cheese gods for a release that is definitely one of the stronger examples of its type. My mid-range scoring is only reflective of my musical preferences.

For fans of Helloween, Blind Guardian & Judas Priest.

shadowdoom9 (Andi) shadowdoom9 (Andi) / June 26, 2019 / Comments 0 / 0

I haven't heard Gamma Ray in such a long time, ever since my great move out of my earlier power metal taste. Well I did a review of one of the greatest albums Land of the Free a few months earlier, but now that their compilation album Blast From the Past is December's Guardians Feature Release, I knew what must be done... Reviewing this trip down the memory lane of Gamma Ray's first decade! Let's see if this could really be a blast from my power metal past.

This compilation is never ordinary. The first disc has songs from the era of their first vocalist Ralf Scheepers, while the second disc has songs from the vocal era of no other than Kai Hansen! All selected songs from the Ralf Scheepers era and Land of the Free were re-recorded (possibly to fit with E-flat tuning). Are ya curious? Look no further...

"Welcome" was known as the intro to the band's debut album and career, an instrumental hymn of acoustic strings along heavy riffs with the strength of the bass and drums, accompanied by epic synth-orchestration. Surprisingly, the original was kept in. Just when you thought it was gonna be a boring compilation album, the optimistic speedy "Lust for Life" strikes in with E-flat-tuned riffing to remind you that is a re-recording album. The original song sounds as if it was an outtake from one of the Keeper of the Seven Keys albums by Helloween (the band Hansen was in before Gamma Ray). There's nice touches of acoustic and an awesome solo as long as DragonForce. Still one of my favorite Gamma Ray tracks! Next up is the fun energetic "Heaven Can Wait". The fast happiness might've inspired DragonForce! A simply great solo levels the fun factor. The original also sounds like a Keeper outtake, along with strong backing vocals in the chorus. However, the re-recording is made much better! The title track of Heading for Tomorrow is the band's longest, a 15-minute epic in the same vein of Helloween's similarly long epics. The great intro has been extended with an acoustic part before the metal kicks in. The strong point is the riffing, but the soft acoustic midsection is too long and weak. That's not how Helloween lengthened their epics. Still a great track!

Then we change over to Sigh No More with "Changes", which is actually a bad one to put in this album. It's just too avant-garde! Like the experimentation is as much as Arcturus at the time of this compilation's release. It's hard to describe a song like this. Psychedelic power metal?? Maybe... But at least there's a fun solo. "Rich and Famous" (the aforesaid bonus track) is an amazing singalong song with fast bass and drums, both the original and the re-recording being a splendid starting song for heavy/power metal newcomers, hence my recent playlist track submission. I absolutely love "One With the World", a catchy song with a nice lyrical message. It is another one of my favorite Gamma Ray tracks of all time and the best one of their sophomore. However, the original's solo was its only weak link. Yet this re-recording has a better solo, redone to perfection! With that, I consider the song's re-recorded version as possibly my favorite song of the band! Well done!! "Dream Healer" is a shorter "epic" that expands the band's otherworldly vibe. I can clearly see some influences from the early (metal) Judas Priest along with the foreshadowed diversity of Power Plant.

The past tribute continues as we visit their third album Insanity and Genius, starting with "Tribute to the Past". It is a memorable song helped out by the vocals, especially in the refrain alongside the background chorus. The drumming rhythms go insane in the incredible intro. However, the slowdown towards the end wasn't necessary. Despite the excellent lyrics, guitar rhythms and leads, the song is good but not one of their best. Next up, "Last Before The Storm" is one of the fiercest power metal songs with blazing blasts, raw riffs, and vicious vocals, all in a fast tempo alongside excellent soloing. The peaceful yet chaotic "epic" (still shorter than "Heading for Tomorrow") "Heal Me" was known as the first Gamma Ray song with Hansen on lead vocals. However, the song itself is bad, and the re-recording sounds too similar than the original (hint: they kept the original E/drop-D tuning). Thumbs down for that one.

The slightly better disc 2 begins with "Rebellion in Dreamland", an epic dynamic opener. This is a marvelous instant classic for Gamma Ray! And that's only my second-favorite song from that album. My actual favorite Gamma Ray song is "Man on a Mission". It is the song listeners of Helloween's Walls of Jericho almost a decade for. It is heavier and faster than Jericho, more melodic than Keepers of the Seven Keys Parts 1 & 2, and has beaten the first 3 Gamma Ray albums to oblivion. This is beyond divine! The best song by Gamma Ray and one of the best ever in power metal to this day. Another true highlight is that album's title track, a real power metal anthem with guest vocals by former Helloween member Michael Kiske. Surprisingly, even though those songs are re-recorded, they kept the original E tuning, so they're a bit identical, but I don't care, they're some of the best! However, this next song isn't. "The Silence" was re-recorded and re-sung in Silent Miracles EP. Of course I used to like power metal (more than what I like now), but no, just NO!! The ballad parts are too happy-sappy and the heavier bits are their weakest. Awful! Go back to the E-tuned era from whence you came!

The greatness returns with "Beyond the Black Hole" with moments such as between the second chorus and solo, having ragged bass machinery. Soon it leads to operatic vocal fury, then at the 4-minute mark, the guitar and percussion erupt heavier than Gojira (the monster, not the band) for fiery leads. More of those tooth-drilling moments can be found in the thrashy title track, my favorite of the album. Oh I almost forgot, now that we're already in Gamma Ray's E-flat tuning era, you'll hear that those songs aren't re-recorded, instead remastered. That's fine, it's already close to Blast From the Past's release year. The melodic "Valley of the Kings" plunging from space to the pyramids Star Trek-style, is actually one of the most memorable and catchiest tunes in the album for me, but that's probably just my earlier power metal taste talking.

First track of the last album back then, Power Plant, "Anywhere in the Galaxy" is a glorious speedy piece with a fantastic guitar solo. "Send Me a Sign" is slightly better, yet another one of the best songs by the band, a catchy melodic anthem! "Armageddon" closes both the original album and this compilation as a smashing epic with amazing guitar soloing. If that song was around a year earlier, it should've been the theme of the movie Armageddon instead of a cr*ppy Aerosmith ballad. Now if I were to pick two songs, each for one of the discs, to be added in, they would be the cover of the "Gamma Ray" song the band was named after, and the "It's a Sin" cover. Both great covers!

Blast From the Past is a greatest hits album the way it was meant to be done; an awesome overview of mostly their best songs, with the older songs re-recorded to please both newer and older fans. Highly recommended for power metal fans as big as I used to be. Indeed a blast from my power metal past!

Favorites (one per album, not including EP): "Lust for Life", "One With the World", "Last Before the Storm", "Man on a Mission", "Somewhere Out in Space", "Send Me a Sign"