Kai Hansen almost single-handedly (OK, double-handedly – it’s quite hard to play the guitar with one hand) invented Power Metal as we know and love it today, being the guiding force behind Helloween’s legendary Walls of Jericho (for the thrashier power metal) and Keeper Of The Seven Keys I and II (for all other non-US power metals) tour de forces. In terms of style, since Land Of The Free Gamma Ray have sat firmly between the two, imparting both classics (Somewhere Out In Space, No World Order) and less-than-vital releases (Land Of The Free II, To The Metal).
Like death, taxes, and Max Cavalera dropping names as frequently as you or I drop off the kids, there’s an inevitability about Gamma Ray albums. You know they’re coming , you know exactly what they’re going to sound like and you know you’re going to get to play the #Neknomination rivalling potent drinking game of “Spot The Stolen Riff” (have a shot for each stolen riff on the last 6 Gamma Ray albums and see if you survive), and Empire Of The Undead (earMUSIC) is no different.
Opener ‘Avalon’ is a 9 minute microcosm of all things Gamma Ray. Strong, distinctive riffing, rousing vocals, a powerful chorus, excellent melodic lead-work, grand story-telling… and then some bits stolen from Iron Maiden (though plundering the Brave New World era is a new approach for Hansen). Elsewhere, it’s hard to ignore that ‘Master Of Confusion’ is a mash-up of two Helloween tracks – the Hansen-penned classic ‘I Want Out’ and the post-Hansen ‘Who Is Mr Madman?’ – or that ‘Time For Deliverance’, the obligatory piano ballad, is different words to Queen’s ‘We Are The Champions’. While Hansen may keep on fighting to the end (it’s impossible not to substitute the line), there are further lifts from Judas Priest’s ‘All Guns Blazing’ and his own ‘Future World’.
You may find this forgivable; their albums are always enjoyable, always reliable, and tracks like ‘Born To Fly’ with its massive chorus are certainly good Power Metal songs, but for every fiesty ‘Hellbent’ there’s a ploddy ‘Demonseed’, and, ultimately Empire Of The Undead is just A.N.Other Gamma Ray album, with all their usual high-points and failings.