Ashamedly Iron Maiden-esque
Perhaps the band’s defining moment, as well as being a power metal defining moment, ‘Land Of The Free’ was Gamma Ray’s forth album and first with Kai Hansen on vocals. It was a triumph from the epic opener ‘Rebellion In Dreamland’ to the dark ‘Afterlife’. For myself and many other Gamma Ray fans, the band has come close, but have never bettered this 1995 release. 12 years and 4 albums later the band has tried to re-create their sound from 1995 on their new release ‘Land Of The Free 2’. Of course the most cynical of us could accuse the band of cashing in on old glories, but this would be doing a disservice to the great albums that followed part one. Is ‘Land Of The Free 2’ any good? Does it live up to its predecessor?
Gamma Ray is one of the most consistent bands I know. Just when you think they’re running out of ideas they surprise you by writing some more good ones albeit unoriginal and in their safe zone. Their last album, ‘Majestic’ impressed me with its song-writing quality and has since become a personal favourite. ‘Land Of The Free 2’ has a lot to live up to, not only as a sequel, but as a follow on to their strong back catalogue. For those who don’t want to read the rest of this review I’ll say that this latest release from the German quartet doesn’t disappoint. It’s an enjoyable romp from start to finish containing highs, lows, pace, cheese and first class musicianship, all wrapped up in an Iron maiden style blanket.
‘Land Of The Free 2’ is as original as beehive hair doos and if I'm being honest (as every reviewer should) it doesn’t get off to the strongest of starts. ‘Into The Storm’ is a pretty standard mid tempo power metal affair and it takes 'From The Ashes' to really inject some excitement (as well as a, ‘hey! that’s just like Iron Maiden’ moment). 'To Mother Earth' is blistering with pace but not as good a fast one as ‘Man On A Mission’ or ‘Somewhere Out In Space’. What follows is a repeat of the above. Sometimes the songs are distinctly average (Empress, which should be driven off a cliff in a burning car), then they're good but recycled from past ideas (Leaving Hell) or they're excellent but sound like Iron Maiden (When The World).
'Opportunity' is a stand out track even with its 'Rime of the Ancient Mariner' bass line and 'The Clairvoyant' guitar line. I'm not sure if the nods to 'Arry and the boys is intentional. If they are then they've done a great job and Gamma Ray fans should embrace them for what they are. If they're not then the 'Rays' should have a serious re-think on how they write songs. 'Insurrection' is the eleven-minute epic album closer. It's obviously a follow on from 'Rebellion In Dreamland', and even though the start is very near to Maiden's 'Out Of The Shadows', it's still a corker of a track and has 'fan favourite' written all over it.
I've bleated on about Iron Maiden in this review but you just can't escape it on this album. In fact I would go as far as saying that it could be the album you were hoping for when 'A Matter Of Life And Death' didn't do it for you. If Maiden's next album was anything like this then I think we'd all wet our pants. For a Gamma Ray fan the band has delivered the goods. It's a sing-a-long-a-thon and many will herald it as one of their best. But I can't get away from the thought that if they'd cut some of the chaff away and reduced the running time from sixty-five minutes to forty-five minutes then they'd have a great album instead of just a good album. It's a fitting tribute to their 1995 release, but as albums go I still prefer Majestic, but that's just my opinion.