Something to tide you over until the next full-length album
Things seem to be going along swimmingly for German power metal band, Gamma Ray. Kai Hansen and company look quite content with themselves after a string of excellent album releases, including (most recently) ‘To the Metal’, ‘Land of the Free II’, ‘Majestic’ and ‘No World Order’. A boastful, cocky and happy bunch of musicians, the Rays also know how to give back to their loyal fans and are no strangers to releasing non-studio album material; such as live discs, DVDs, EPs and compilations. These releases have kept the fans happy for quite some time, with the first of such material brought out way back in 1990 with the ‘Heading for the East’ live VHS tape and has continued on from there.
Which brings me to the point of this shortened review, with Gamma Ray’s latest release, that being the mini album, or EP, whatever you want to call it, entitled ‘Skeletons & Majesties’. Coinciding with the most recent non-album material, including 2008’s ‘Hellyeah!!! The Awesome Foursome’ (live album/DVD/boxed set) and 2010’s ‘Alright! 20 Years of Universe’ (compilation), the Rays have done something different with ‘Skeletons & Majesties’; by re-recording a few old tracks a few acoustics and some bonus’.
Rather than questioning why Gamma Ray would want to bother re-recording old songs and recording old songs in an unplugged acoustic versions, the fact is they did and I guess Ray fans from back in the day can appreciate the band re-recording some old favourites. One of the main reasons Gamma Ray have released this mini album is due to them revamping their live setlists on their most recent world tours, to include songs from their early discography that they have either never played live before or haven’t in a long, long time.
If you can think back to Gamma Ray’s debut album ‘Heading For Tomorrow’ (released in 1990), back when (ex-Ray member and current Primal Fear front-man) Ralf Scheepers was in the band and had a head full of flowing mullet hair, you would remember the song “Hold Your Ground”. This is the first of two re-recordings on the mini album, and with the help of modern day production tools, sounds much better and obviously has Kai Hansen is on vocals instead of Scheepers, who sung on the original version. The second re-recording comes from the ‘Insanity And Genius’ album (released in 1993), the final track on that CD, “Brothers”. Once again, the re-recording is much more polished that the original and the track is quite catchy with a definite Helloween influence.
Tracks 3-4 are re-recordings in acoustic style, and they include two more popular and well known Gamma Ray tracks, “Send Me a Sign” (from 1999’s ‘Power Plant’) and “Rebellion in Dreamland” (from 1995’s ‘Land of the Free’). As far as acoustic songs go, there versions are pretty good, but nothing special and definitely not as good as they were originally intended. Lastly, track 5 is the funky sounding, odd but catchy song “Wannabees”, a bonus track on 7 inch vinyl collector’s edition of ‘To the Metal’, while track 6 is an extended version of “Brothers”. Finally, the final track on this mini album is a karaoke version of “Rebellion in Dreamland” (no vocals, just instrumental).
Most likely it would be the die-hard Gamma Ray fans that would find value in finding this disc, or newer fans who would like to hear what the Rays sounded like 22 years ago when they first started. It’s an interesting CD for sure and further proof that Gamma Ray like to sprinkle their fans with material in-between recording studio albums. For the rest of us, ‘Skeletons & Majesties’ may tide you over until the next Rays full-length release is firmly in our hands.