Album of the Week 14-2014: Gamma Ray – Empire Of The Undead


No, ‘Empire Of The Undead’ is not Gamma Ray’s grand return to the great heights they reached on ‘Land Of The Free’, but this is much closer to it than 2007’s ‘Land Of The Free II’, ironically. The album finds the German Power Metal legend somewhere near to the darker sound of their recent day masterpiece ‘Majestic’ and while it never really reaches that level, there are quite a lot of traces of their former brilliance that were so painfully lacking from their previous two records. Especially the latter half of the record finds the band on fire.

Having said that, the album has its fair share of disappointing moments. My main gripe with the album are its lyrics. New drummer Michael Ehré’s first composition ‘Pale Rider’ has some nice stomping riffs, but Kai Hansen’s lyrics to the song are ridiculously bad. The following track ‘Born To Fly’ has a great main riff, but seriously, can’t we think of some other bird than an eagle to describe how high someone is flying? ‘Master Of Confusion’ is a little goofy too, but that song is much more rooted in the Kai Hansen tradition; even though it’s essentially an ‘I Want Out’ rewrite, it’s pure Power Metal euphoria with great lead guitars by the guy who basically invented the genre.

Let’s focus on the album’s highlights instead. First of all, former Metalium drummer Ehré does a more than decent job replacing Daniel Zimmermann, who is hardly missed on the album. Only if you were into his happy choruses, you will notice that he’s not there. There’s a slightly more aggressive edge to some of the songs as well. ‘Hellbent’ is clearly inspired by Judas Priest in its Metal gospel lyrics, but has an almost Thrashy main riff and the title track is pure eighties Speed Metal awesomeness, which makes sense, considering that some of its riffs were reportedly written in the earliest Helloween days.

Other highlights include the uncharactaristically slow and long opening track ‘Avalon’, which is one of the better Gamma Ray epics released in a while. Where most of the band’s past epics relied on a great number of riffs coming and going, ‘Avalon’ focuses on building up a hypnotizing atmosphere instead. The midtempo middle section is fantastic. Henjo Richter’s closing track ‘I Will Return’ is also somewhat epic and surprising in structure as well. Between these two fantastic bookends, there’s a couple of other jewels, like the midtempo stomper ‘Demonseed’ and the melodic Power Metal anthem ‘Seven’. In addition, I think the European bonus track ‘Built A World’ should have been a part of the regular album. It’s poppy Hardrock structure may be a bit odd, but it’s one of the best written songs on here.

When looking at the band members’ individual performances, it’s hard not to notice that Hansen’s voice is showing some signs of wear, which is nothing too strange, considering his age and the fact that he uses his head voice quite a lot. However, it seems like this time, he knows his own boundaries a bit better and in fact, the wear adds to the atmosphere of a song like ‘Avalon’. His guitar work, along Richter’s, is top notch as usual. It’s hard not to love these solo trade-offs.

Fans of German Power Metal can blindly buy ‘Empire Of The Undead’. It’s Gamma Ray’s best record in a while and definitely miles ahead of their direct competition. This is a more inspired effort than ‘To The Metal!’, which really only contained two moments of brilliance (‘Empathy’, of course, and ‘Deadlands’), and ‘Land Of The Free II’. If you get the limited edition, you’ll get a very interesting bonus DVD as well. Despite a few lesser moments, Kai Hansen once again proves why he is the king of European Power Metal.

Recommended tracks: ‘Seven’, ‘Built A World’, ‘Avalon’, ‘I Will Return’

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