|Key Release: Land of the Free (2005)|
Few bands have impacted their genre the way that Gamma Ray has. Though the origins of power metal can be traced back to the early 80’s, beginning with Savatage and Accept and continued by Stratovarius and Blind Guardian. However, it wasn’t until 1988 that the modern power metal sound really found its groove. German speed metal band Helloween released its second album Keeper of the Seven Keys, Pt. 1 that year, melding intricate and high-energy guitar work by Kai Hansen with Michael Kiske’s operatic vocals. After releasing a sequel the next year, Hansen withdrew from the band to pursue other projects. One of these became Gamma Ray, which released its debut in 1990.
Taking influence from the heydays of past outfits such as Deep Purple and Judas Priest, the new band created fast, melodic and powerful music that combined hard rock sensibility with neo-classical influences. After hiring a new guitarist and drummer in 1994, Kai took over vocals, and led Gamma Ray on a streak of six landmark albums that would define the sound of power metal, starting with 1995’s Land of the Free. According to Allmusic, the album “really serves the definition of power metal well and is indeed one of the most metal albums of the late '90s.”
The lineup remained steady from 1997 until 2013, when longtime drummer Dan Zimmerman retired from the band for personal reasons. In that stretch, Gamma Ray released half a dozen LP’s and three live albums that document their impressive run as a band that never made the same album twice. 1997’s Somewhere Out in Space paid homage to Stanley Kubrik’s watershed film 2001: A Space Oddyssey, whereupon the band introduced a more melodic and keyboard-heavy sound. Their next album, No World Order!, returned to a thrash-centric 1980’s vibe, and 2005’s Majestic churned out some of the heaviest and darkest material of any power metal band not named Iced Earth.
The band’s newest project, set to be released early next year, is titled Empire of the Undead in typical melodramatic power metal style, and features veteran drummer Michael Ehre. With a pair of singles released this year, it is shaping up to be another solid chapter for a band seeking inspiration from their first lineup change in over a decade. If it’s anything like their back catalogue, then expect a high-octane rush of contagious melodies and rock-solid musicianship typical of one of power metal’s most enduring acts.