Full disclosure – I am hit or miss on power metal. I have said it ad nauseum on here. Not trying to be a hater on the genre, but I have to really be in the mood to get into it. A lot of bands go way too far in their approach to the genre. With all of that hate, Gamma Ray is not really a band that fits the bill on bands that stive to be over the top. Fronted by Kai Hansen, aka “the godfather of power metal,” because of his importance in Helloween and Gamma Ray (as well as Unisonic), Gamma Ray has always been interesting to say the least. Hansen fronted power metal pioneers Helloween for years before realizing that his vocals were not as strong as they should be because he found it too hard to play rhythm guitar while trying to hit the vocals notes that he wanted to. His guitar playing is fine and his vocals are fine, but both were not at the levels that he needed them to be. In a very unselfish decision, he decided to find a new vocalist for Helloween. Enter one of the best voices to ever hit music (in any genre) – Michael Kiske.
With the release of the double live CD and DVD, Skeletons & Majesties: Live, Gamma Ray is trying to capture their magic in a live setting. After the semi-success of the Skeletons & Majesties EP, where the band gave die hard fans something very fun. The Skeletons & Majesties EP a collection of re-recorded songs that the band has rarely ever played live, done in different styles. They tried to do the same thing with this live release, and if I was a die hard fan of Gamma Ray, I would eat this up. Since I am only a marginal fan of the band, I am luke warm on it, but being luke warm on it seems to be a major achievement because this album is getting utterly destroyed in the media.
Honestly, what is not to like about the album? Sure, you have too many filler songs on here, but the same could be said for most live albums. Given that this release was meant for the die hards, I think that it is a brilliant release. I wish that bands like KISS or Judas Priest would do something like this.
Love Kai Hansen, or hate him, there is no doubt that his voice is more than servicable and that his guitar skills are more than ample, but the highlight of this album is definitely the songs featuring former Helloween vocalist and current Unisonic vocalist Michael Kiske (more on this later). As far as the Hansen-fronted songs, Gamma Ray is the easy standout. That song is pure energy with such a great vibe throughout as well as featuring Hansen’s vocals in rare form. Honestly, there is not too many dull moments throughout each track. Even the weaker songs have featured parts that make up for some lag in the songs themselves.
Now, back to Michael Kiske. It is hard to listen to the release without forwarding to songs that he is featured on. His voice is simply epic and he has not missed a beat throughout the years. His voice injects so much energy into songs that would ordinarily be simple, run of the mill songs. Of course, the highlight is the Helloween classic Future World and its ten minute rendition.
So, while I am not a major fan of this release, Gamma Ray fans should be. If I can get into it, most people will really dig it.
Skeletons & Majesties: Live CD 1 Track Listing:
01. Welcome (Intro)
02. Anywhere in the Galaxy
03. Men, Martians and Machines
04. The Spirit
05. Wings of Destiny
07. Gamma Ray
09. Time to Break Free
10. Rebellion in Dreamland (Acoustic)
11. Send Me a Sign (Acoustic)
Skeletons & Majesties: Live CD 2 Track Listing:
02. Dethrone Tyranny
03. Watcher in the Sky
04. Hold Your Ground
05. A While in Dreamland
09. Future World
Skeletons & Majesties: Live DVD Track Listing:
01. Anywhere in the Galaxy
02. Men, Martians and Machines
03. The Spirit
04. Wings of Destiny
06. Gamma Ray
08. Time to Break Free (w/ Michael Kiske)
09. Rebellion in Dreamland (acoustic)
10. Send Me a Sign (acoustic)
11. Dethrone Tyranny
12. Watcher in the Sky
13. Hold Your Ground
14. A While in Dreamland (w/ Michael Kiske)
18. Future World (w/ Michael Kiske)