Land of the Free II by Gamma Ray
Release date : November 2007
Reviewed by Mark Fisher
Via an August 2006 posting upon Gamma Ray's official website, it was announced that the title of the group's ninth studio album would be Land of the Free II. The full length forms a conceptual continuation of 1995's Land of the Free, a release which is revered as the group's magnum opus amongst Power Metal circles across the globe.
With support from the likes of Vanishing Point and Lord (both performing upon specific dates), Gamma Ray embarked upon their first tour of Australia in December. On April 15th 2007 at Kiew Sport Palace in Kiev, Ukraine, the group participated in the Extreme Power Festival alongside Hatebreed, Dark Funeral, Sinister and Fleshgore. July 7th boasted another festival date, more specifically the Magic Circle Festival in Bad Arolsen, Germany. Thirteen days later, another performance was conducted at the Earthshaker Fest in Kreuth, Germany.
In late September, it was announced that Gamma Ray had inked a record contract with SPV / Steamhammer. Self-produced and cut at High Gain Studio in Hamburg, Germany, Land of the Free II's material was mixed by Tommy Newton at the Area 51 studio in Celle, Germany. In terms of sound engineering, Newton additionally handled Dan Zimmerman's drum parts at Gamma Ray's own studio. To plug the album, a music video was filmed in support of the track “Into the Storm”. Penned in support of 1998's Majestic by Hansen, “To Mother Earth” didn't see the light of day until now as it didn't suit the feeling of that aforementioned release.
When a group announces intentions to compose a part two installment to accompany a classic, revered album, there's sufficient cause for concern. Heartache and disappointment loom heavily on the cards, a sobering truth well remembered amongst music fans. A lukewarm reception usually greets such projects, irrelevant of the material's eventual quality. Two specific albums illustrate this point, namely 2005's Keeper of the Seven Keys: The Legacy by Helloween and 2006's Operation Mindcrime II by Queensryche. To be critically truthful, both records were the greatest full lengths each respective group had penned within the ten year timespan preceding their date of issue, more or less. From the perspective of diehard admirers, such albums fail to challenge these ingrained notions they hold so dearly.
On the rugged path to authoring such a record, crucial pitfalls pose a hazardous threat. Gamma Ray fortunately circumvent this potential menace, and numerous factors shape this outcome. To begin with, Gamma Ray's musical abilities are currently at a creative peak. International recognition didn't arrive overnight, although rightful acclaim is finally prevalent. As an immediate consequence, this beneficial inspiration is overtly audible within the material. Each specific aspect of Land of the Free II can be accurately judged as being anthemic, over the top and monstrously powerful. Faithfully respecting Metal's longstanding tradition, the album authoratively showcases the celebrated genre to a widespread audience. The tracks “From the Ashes” and “Empress” form prime examples; a melodically heavy footing treads the boards, recalling both Helloween and Iron Maiden's greatest years. A massive drum solo inaugurates the marginally sinister “Hear Me Calling”, supplying a convincing testimony which proves that Kai Hansen's material was no stranger to Dream Theater during their formative years. Straying too far from one's established musical stylings is another grave mistake, though one which the group fails to commit. This sequel and its 1995 predecessor share much common ground, and that ventures beyond merely lyrical and conceptual themes. Musical equals, both the aforementioned “Hear Me Calling” and the crushing “Leaving Hell” verify this opinion. Power ballad leanings aside, “Opportunity” is another wondrously spontaneous moment.
As a whole entity, Land of the Free III comprises Gamma Ray's most distinguished work. A stellar rival to its 1995 counterpart, this 2007 sequel may even surpass that initial installment in the hearts of many admirers. While an admittedly magnificent outfit, unfortunately Gamma Ray has always lurked in the shadow of Hansen's erstwhile act. Via Land of the Free II's global release, that cord is severed and Gamma Ray stand on their very own feet.