Posts Tagged ‘Gamma Ray’

220px-Blind_guardian_follow_the_blindFollow The Blind is the second full-length studio album by the legendary German Power Metal band, Blind Guardian. It was released in 1989 and sees the band in a bit of a transition period, much more advanced than their debut but not yet fully developed into the full on Power Metal style they would become famous for on the next half-dozen albums.

It also sees the band leaning more into a Thrash Metal direction than at any point in their career, with notable Bay Area Thrash influences in particular. If you like Exodus, Testament and Forbidden’s debuts, and you also like Power Metal then this album is a delightful middle ground. Its harder and more aggressive than future Blind Guardian records, and has also yet to develop the more progressive tendencies of their later period. What it lacks in scope however, it makes up for in sheer fury. I think this album would be a great introduction to the band and indeed to the subgenre for fans of Thrash who are maybe afraid of Power Metal due to its reputation as being a bit flowery and wimpy compared to other Metal styles.

On the downside however, for Power Metal fans especially, all that Thrash influence leaves less room for catchiness, melodies and variety as compared to their other work. That is not to say it is devoid of those qualities, just that it is a smaller percentage of the music than usual. Listen to ‘Fast To Madness’ for example… a brilliant Metal song, but you wouldn’t generate as big a sing-along as say ‘Time Stands Still at the Iron Hill.’ The title track does experiment with different tempos and balancing heavy and clean styles, but more in a …And Justice For All/The Years Of Decay way than in an Imaginations From The Other Side way. Both fine ways to be sure, just depends what mood you are in and what expectations you had when you bought the album in the first place.

In terms of songwriting quality, I think Blind Guardian’s albums sort of just got better and better up until about Nightfall In Middle Earth, and so I think this album is better than their debut but not yet as good as Tales From The Twilight World, or the classic Somewhere Far Beyond. That is of course not to say its poor, just that it isn’t as good as the really good stuff. In terms of production, its a bit noisy and harsh on the ears, and works better in small chunks than as a whole. Not unlike fellow Power Metal Pioneers Helloween’s Thrashy Walls Of Jericho album in that regard.

Speaking of Helloween, Kai Hansen makes some guest appearances on this album, both on guitar on ‘Hall Of The King’ and on Guitar and Vocals on ‘Valhalla.’ These for me are two of the best songs on the album anyway, and are made even better by Kai’s presence. The other main highlight is the excellent instrumental ‘Beyond The Ice’ which is one of the best songs on the album for me, very pummeling, quite diverse and with astounding guitar work… it really shows off what a force the band are musically with its bouncy toms and double kicks and the excellent range of riffs and solos.

Overall; Follow The Blind is an experimental album that sees the band trying to find their sound. It is arguably the hardest, fastest and heaviest of their records and arguably the least melodic and catchy. It is however a very decent album that no Blind Guardian fan should miss out on (how could you be a fan and deprive yourself of ‘Banished From Sanctuary’ or ‘Valhalla’?) and that would be a good starting point for fans of heavier music trying Blind Guardian out.

*Ps. The Remastered edition has two cover songs and four early demos to add some value for money. None worth upgrading over in and of themselves, but very welcome if you are getting em for free anyway. *

Freedom Call – Dimensions

Freedom Call released one of the Power Metal subgenre’s absolute finest albums with their seminal debut album, Stairway To Fairyland… a flowery, melodic, ridiculously happy spin on the Keeper Of The Seven Keys formula that rivalled the likes of genre milestones such as Somewhere Far Beyond, the aforementioned Keeper’ and Glory To The Brave in terms of quality and enjoyability.

Five albums into their career, several line-up changes later, in 2007, the German band released the concept album Dimensions. It saw something of a stylistic shift. Each of their previous albums was an evolution of the sound that came before, but this was the biggest and most pronounced change to date. The Freedom Call sound could always sort of be seen as sort of analogous to Keepers era Helloween, or Land Of The Free era Gamma Ray, but on this album they seem to be going for the sound of the big Derris-fronted commercial singles… y’know, tracks like ‘Live Now,’ ‘Mrs God’ and ‘Mr Torture’ … those sorts of commercial, Hard Rock meets Power Metal tunes, that aren’t so speedy or virtuosic or metallic, make a lot of appearances on Dimensions. The songs ‘Mr. Evil,’ ‘The Queen Of My World’ and ‘Blackened Sun’ are particularly noteworthy examples of this.

Change their style they may have done, but let up in quality they clearly refused to. Dimensions is a pretty strong album. ‘Magic Moments’ for example is equal to anything on their early records, it may have a strange The Cure’s Love Cats sort of feel to it, but its damn good fun!  The album closer ‘Far Away’ takes a sort of Bruce Springsteen vibe, throws in bagpipes and jumbles that all together with the Freedom Call sound… sounds like a mess in theory, but seriously, if it doesn’t make you smile when you actually hear it, you must be having a bad day!

I can see how some fans might jump ship on this album, and how some potential fans may be put off; It’s a wizards & demons themed concept album set in the future taking already flowery music and making it even more commercial and saccharin… “how cheesy can you get?” etc. …but for me it is worth the money and well worth the time. No its not brutal, no its not traditional but yes, yes it is good!

Gamma Ray - Powerplant

Gamma Ray – Powerplant

Gamma Ray, the legendary German Melodic Power Metal band fronted by the immensely talented Kai Hansen (Founding member of Helloween, member of Iron Saviour & Unisonic, guest contributor to Angra, Blind Guardian, Primal Fear, Hammerfall, Avantasia and all around fingers-in-many-pies mainstay of the Power Metal scene) really came in to their own with their classic fourth studio album Land Of The Free. They had always been great, but something about that 1995 masterpiece really just elevated them even higher.

For me, the three albums that followed maintain that high standard. Most fans will be very familiar with Somewhere Out In Space and the popular No World Order albums. It seems that piggy-in-the-middle record, Powerplant is a bit more overlooked, or in other words underrated.

The album opens with ‘Anywhere In The Galaxy’ which is unquestionable, pure classic Gamma Ray. This sort of song is the reason people love this band. Elsewhere there is the fun tribute to Manowar ‘Heavy Metal Universe’ (filled with constant lyrical references, and musically based on ‘The Gods Made Heavy Metal’) which is great fun. There’s variety with a Pet Shop Boys cover (‘It’s a Sin’), a commercial sounding tune (‘Send Me A Sign’) and a lengthy progressively inclined number (‘Armageddon.’)

The production is a little flatter than the albums which surround it, and sonically it doesn’t perhaps pop out as much, but the songwriting and performances are spot on. ‘Wings Of Destiny,’ ‘Razorblade Sigh’ and the aforementioned gem ‘Anywhere In The Galaxy’ are memorable, melodic ragers that would stand proud on any other Gamma Ray record.

Overall; this album sees Gamma Ray in the middle of a great run of high quality albums. It maybe doesn’t get talked about as much as some other albums but you’ll be damn grateful to have it in your collection once you’ve given it a chance.

Freedom Call - The Circle Of Life

Freedom Call – The Circle Of Life

After releasing three brilliant studio albums of pure, happy-sounding Melodic Power Metal between 1999-2002, the German band Freedom Call decided to spice things up a little bit. Consequently; their fourth studio album, 2005’s The Circle Of Life is something of a transitional affair, seeing the band keep one foot in the early sound that defined them, and stepping out towards their Hard Rock influenced sound of their later material.

The Circle Of Life features more keyboards and less guitars during verses for example. The keyboard sounds used are less piano-sounding and more artificial and ‘80s sounding. The tempos are frequently more midpaced than the focus on speed the band had previously. The production is that little bit slicker and more commercial. Every song sounds like a single.

It could be easy to call this album a sell-out or overproduced or something along those lines, if it weren’t for the fact that its brilliant. Yes, The Circle Of Life sees Freedom Call experimenting with new ideas rather than rehashing their beginnings, but doing so without compromising on quality. If you like Power Metal bands’ big singles more than the thrashier deep cuts then this is a perfect album for you.

I guess “new ideas” is a relative term though, as ‘The Gathering’ may sound like something off of Emerson Lake & Palmer’s Works album and ‘Kings & Queens’ may blatantly steal the riff from Ozzy Osbourne’s Bark At The Moon. Regardless, The Circle Of Life sees the band in fine form, delivering fine songs. Its shinier, more polished and more varied… but in a way that makes you think of the word “mature” rather than “mistake.”

Highlights include the stomping ‘Hero Nation’ which has a fun marching feel and some of Chris Bay’s most evocative vocals to date, as well as the fun album opener ‘Mother Earth’ which doesn’t sound like your average Freedom Call tune and the album-closing Title Track. Well, that could just as easily be anything in the second half… This albums got that thing that Eternity had, were it just gets better as it goes on!

Overall; The Circle Of Life is a damn strong, damn enjoyable album. It isn’t a clone of the seminal debut Stairway To Fairyland, but its equally worth your attention. Turns out the band are great at more than one style. Great band, Great album. Check it out.

After two fantastic records, guitarist Sascha Gerstner left the German Melodic Power Metal band Freedom Call to join the subgenre’s legendary grandfathers Helloween. No one could blame him for such a good career move, but what would this mean for Freedom Call? Sometimes losing a guitar player can really damage a band, but Freedom Call didn’t fall into that trap here. Turns out, fans need not have worried. Mainman Chris Bay and Drummer Dan Zimmerman (of Gamma Ray fame) so embody the core Freedom Call sound that it didn’t shake things up too much.

Eternity, the band’s third full-length opus, still boasts the same standard of guitar work as its predecessor. It’s a real guitar hero record in fact. Elsewhere; It still has the same almost-too-sickly-sweet style, the same sense of cheesy fun and it really is the logical successor to the two records that preceded it. There’s a few surprises to be found, such as an almost Cradle Of Filth sounding moment at one point, but for the most part this is your typical Freedom Call music (and thankfully so). If you like the band’s previous work then make sure to pick up a copy of Eternity too.

The kind of Metal fan who scowls at Dragonforce isn’t going to find much to hang onto here, but if you love Melodic European Power Metal this is definitely a great album for your collection, and one you will continue listening to beyond just the initial purchase-high. Chocked full of melody, harmony, and very major key, this is happy sounding, clean, pleasant Metal for people in a good mood.

Interestingly, while most albums are usually quite top-heavy with all the best songs at the front end, Eternity keeps getting better as it unfolds, with most of the real gems towards the back of the record. Highlights include ‘Warriors’ ‘Eyes Of The World’ ‘Land Of Light’ and ‘Island Of Dreams.’ The combination of Chris’ songwriting, Dan’s playing talent and the slick production (also courtesy of Chris Bay) makes for some seriously palatable Power Metal.

If you like this sort of music, check this band out. If you like this band, definitely don’t skip Eternity, its absolutely worth your time and attention.

Freedom Call - Crystal EmpireThe German Melodic Power Metal band Freedom Call’s second full-length studio album, 2001’s Crystal Empire, feels very much like a continuation of their seminal debut album Stairway To Fairyland. Its got the same thunderous double-kicks, the same joyous uplifting choruses and the same tasteful lead guitar lines. Once again it was produced by Charlie Bauerfeind, who has worked with almost every Power Metal great you’d care to name.
Mainman Chris Bay has a tremendous vocal skill with a huge range, a lot of power and a real ear for melody… and that’s on top of the already excellent musical skills. The effortless sounding guitar lines stick in your head, the occasional chunky riffs that break things up, these things really elevate the album from just another face in the crowd to something noteworthy.
If you are into bands like Stratovarius, Blind Guardian, Edguy, Hammerfall or especially Gamma Ray and Helloween (and this album does feature guitar from Helloween’s Sacha Gerstner and drums from Gamma Ray’s Dan Zimmermann) then Freedom Call are a band that are seriously worth checking out. They are talented, passionate and consistent. They deliver exactly what you want… happy sounding Power Metal full of melody, bombast and mythical lyrics. The band have been described before as the world’s happiest sounding Power Metal band so you can imagine a sort of ballpark sound from that description alone. Have you ever heard someone describe Power Metal bands as ‘Glorious Victorious’ ? Well that is the actual chorus to ‘Call To Fame.’

Compared to their debut, this is a pretty similar affair. Its slightly more polished, slightly less complex and more commercial, but more or less in the exact same style, which is good news as their debut was absolutely fantastic. Clear production, excellent musicianship, stellar vocals and a general consistency and lack of weak tracks make this an essential purchase for anyone interested in the band. Add to that some genuinely enjoyable songs and you’ve got a bit of a rager on your hands.

Overall; if you like the band, get this album. If you haven’t heard the band but might like to, try this album. Highlights include: The concert baiting ‘Farewell,’ as well as the hugely enjoyable trio of ‘Call Of Fame,’ ‘Ocean’ and ‘Palace Of Fantasy.’ Check these out if you want to hear what the album is like.

Freedom Call – Stairway To Fairyland

If you are at all interested in Melodic European Power Metal, then you seriously have to give Germany’s Freedom Call some attention. For anyone who’s bought Keeper Of The Seven Keys, Land Of The Free, Visions and Somewhere Far Beyond and is now wondering “Where Next?” I personally feel the answer is Stairway To Fairyland.

Stairway To Fairyland, as if you couldn’t already tell purely by that name, is the kind of super uplifting, happy sounding, positive, major key Power Metal that puts a smile on the listener’s face. The kind of thing that scowling naysayers would call Flower Metal. The kind of music that influenced the likes of Dragonforce. If any of that sounds good to you then you should get up on this album immediately.

The thunderous drums by Gamma Ray’s Dan Zimmermann, the tasteful pleasant guitar leads from Helloween’s Sascha Gerstner and the crystal clear production job from Power Metal Producer extraordinaire Charlie Bauerfeind (who’s worked with Angra, Blind Guardian, Primal Fear, Rage, HammerFall, Helloween and Gamma Ray) will have Power Metal enthusiast’s ears twitching with recognition and pleasure straight away. Add to that main-man Chris Bay’s immense vocal talents and brilliant attention to detail and you’ve got a serious recipe for success. The talent levels are through the ceiling.

What also makes this album great is that it isn’t just style over substance. The structuring and changes are so well thought out and the album really feels studied and brewed to perfection. There’s a feeling of craftsmanship and a better-than-the-sum-of-its-parts situation going on in a major way. There aren’t weak tracks, there aren’t weak sections and the band seem to be going for some sort of world record for most exciting choruses on a single album. Whether they achieve it is up to you, but it definitely seems like they’re doing their hardest to try.

Highlights include “Fairyland,” “We Are One” and the smile-guarantee that is the opener “Over The Rainbow.” If you wonder whether you should pick this album up, give one of those tracks a shot.

Overall; Look at the album artwork, look at the title for goodness sakes, then look at the pedigree of the creative team. If all of that is sending positive signals to your brain then dive in with both feet! If someone asked me to point them towards the happiest Metal album I’d ever heard I’d steer them in this direction. Stairway To Fairyland is a fun, satisfying, happy little fifty-five minutes of pure entertainment. It is remarkably consistent, extremely well-constructed and masterfully delivered. It flows perfectly. I fully and enthusiastically recommend anyone who is into even one of the other bands mentioned above to give this album a priority listen.