March 30, 2006

CD Review: Gamma Ray - Majestic

Why have I not heard of Gamma Ray before? Surely someone could have told me about these guys. I mean, this is their 11th album, couldn't someone have dropped me a line? I guess that's what I get for not having many metal listening friends. Better late than never, I suppose.

Majestic is first rate power metal. Fast, ferocious, technically proficient, and insanely entertaining. This is the kind of album that can restore a man's faith in metal. Granted, it doesn't strike me as the most original music, nor are they going to be my favorite band, but it shows that there are bands out there that still carry the torch for pure metal.

The album's title fits its contents perfectly. This music soars to the skies, rising majestically over a distant land. A pure music that is ready and able to take on all comers. Heavy riffs, speedy solos, pounding double bass, and an abundant dose of melody power the album forward.

Gamma Ray has a classic power metal sound, bereft of any modern excursions into -core metal or any of the plethora of sub-genres. Unfortunately, I do not have a frame of reference for the rest of their albums, but the sound seems to be one that they have been honing over the past 15 years into this well oiled machine. However, while the machine has been cleaned, upgraded, perfected, the output may not have improved.

All of the usual elements of melodic power metal are here. That machine has been well cared for over the years. This album is as polished as they come. The production values are immaculate. The song structure precise. The pure talent of the collective is evident.

I think my biggest problem is that none of the songs really standout. As good and as tight as they are, it is at times like listening to one big song. That isn't necessarily a bad thing, but at the same time, it doesn't help them get stuck in my head. I found that while listening to it I was completely absorbed by it, but after it ended, it quickly left my mind. Another nitpick is that some of the sections sounded like they were lifted from other bands' songs. The most glaring example being in the opening track, "My Temple." The track begins with an explosive combination of double bass and rhythm, but a few minutes in there is a riff and vocal progression that sounds exactly like Black Sabbath's "Sabbath Bloody Sabbath," and distractingly so. My mind actually switched into Sabbath mode with their lyrics in my head through the section.

Bottomline. This is an excellent if unspectacular album. There is some incredibly tight musicians at work here, especially the blazing combination of Kai Hansen and Henjo Richter on guitar, and Dan Zimmerman on drums. If you are a fan of melodic power metal, this is an album worth checking out, and if you, like me, had never heard of them, it is about time to become acquainted.

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