Monday, March 11, 2013

Gamma Ray - Land of the Free

The sun will shine for all of us again...

As my clock ticks downwards, I continue my quest to tackle albums that are special to me on a personal level.  And really, despite listening to this album for a decade, it's only recently reached that special sentimental level to me, and it really isn't because of any silly reason like "It reminds me of grandma" or "I lost my butt-ginity while 'Time to Break Free' was playing" or anything like that.  Simply put, this album just... makes me feel good.

Really, this is a very optimistic album.  I've mentioned in my review for The Crimson Idol that when I'm feeling down, I usually listen to equally depressing music that would allow me to just wallow in self pity for a time.  If I'm sad, I don't want to be cheered up, I'll feel better when life gets better, dammit.  And then there is Land of the Free, the glorious exception to the rule.  This, above any other metal album ever written, inspires feelings of hope and optimism.  Instead of "Life sucks, let's write about it", Kai seemed to approach this album with the mindset that "Life sucks and everything is unfair, but it can get better and you can help".  The chorus of "Man on a Mission" can nearly move me to tears if I hear it when in a perfect spot of emotional vulnerability.

What we need right now is a miracle on Earth...

Yeah yeah, I know the literal themes are the same thing Kai always goes on about, aliens and illuminati and such, but unlike darker, more bitter albums like Majestic, this shows the spirits of the band still being in rather high order.  Doomsday isn't here yet, and we can still prevent it if we all band together as brothers and sisters and stand up for what is right.  A lot of instances indicate that the efforts may be futile, but it's wishful thinking that keeps our spirits up before the big fight.  Land of the Free is basically just a giant rallying cry against... negativity in general, and I can really relate to such hopeless naivete and dogged well-wishing in the face of overwhelming bleakness.  Most people can, and even if they don't, there's a chance it could inspire such feelings (as it does for me, even when it the darkest of corners).

So the overarching theme, tone, and feel of the album are marvelous, but I must admit that it stumbles a couple times throughout the duration regardless.  The ballad, "Farewell", is heartfelt and genuine and features a great cameo from the mighty Hansi Kursch, but it's overall entirely forgettable.  The random forty second interludes that pop up from time to time are essentially useless and add nothing to the songs they tie into.  "Fairytale" is basically a fifty second fake-out ending to "Man on a Mission" that could have easily stuck on to the back of that preceding track and not felt out of place at all.  And the closer, "Afterlife" ends the otherwise stellar album on a pretty mediocre note, which is a bit of a bummer since the journey to reach that point is so wonderful.  And strangely, tracks that are great, high speed power/speed metal numbers like "Gods of Deliverance" and "Salvation's Calling" end up being forgettable in the grand scheme of things thanks to one of the more absurd and baffling problems of all time... the best songs are so good that the rest of the album feels somewhat flat in comparison.

Yeah, that amazing atmosphere of hope and optimism that I love so much certainly prevails throughout the course of Land of the Free, but the title track, "Man on a Mission", and "Rebellion in Dreamland", are all so thoroughly perfect that they obliterate the rest of the songs utterly and completely.  I mean, I love the mid paced epic in "Abyss of the Void", but damn it has nothing on the mid paced epic that is "Rebellion in Dreamland".  "Salvation's Calling" is an awesome speed metal song, but it's nowhere near as good as the awesome speed metal of "Man on a Mission".  Seriously, these three tracks make up 90% of the greatness on the record.  The trademark Gamma Ray formula of putting a huge, epic break/buildup in the bridge of all the best songs are present on these three tracks, of course, and all three of them are just stunning.  The solo in "Man on a Mission" is also nothing short of exhilarating. I'm willing to say that that track is actually one of the greatest power metal songs ever written.  And then there's "Rebellion in Dreamland", generally regarded as the band's best song, and I really can't take too much contention with that claim.  It's almost nine solid minutes of the most grandiose power metal ever recorded, and even nearly twenty years later I personally think it's still unsurpassed in terms of one mini-epic track.  The chorus is iconic, the middle break with all of the fastest riffs is incredible, the entire track is the result of taking that magical subbier-than-subniche of mid to late 80s German speed metal, polishing it up and honing it's precision until it juuuuuust becomes power metal, and then injecting it with a tremendous sense of scope and grandeur.  It's basically the entire album in a nutshell, and encapsulates the theme perfectly.  This is it, folks. The eyes of the world are closing forever, but we can reverse it.  Shit's about to go down, but if we all band together, we can save the world.  And the title track?  Essentially a combination of the two.  It's a short, fast, punchy power metal song with an iconic chorus and huge sense of wonder.

Let us walk away together...

All of the other songs on display have elements of these three masterpieces on display, but none of them are as strong.  "Salvation's Calling" has a great main riff that brings to mind Kai's early time with Helloween (think Walls of Jericho), but... but it just isn't as good as "Man on a Mission"!  "Gods of Deliverance" is another awesome, speed metal influenced number, but it doesn't hold a candle to "Land of the Free".  "Time to Break Free"... well that on I genuinely think is kinda bad, but that might have something to do with the fact that fucking Michael Kiske sings on it, and that man can't help but wussify every goddamn thing he touches with his stupid, syrupy voice.  That's really the only issue with the seven full tracks that aren't those magical three I raved about earlier, they're just... not those three songs.  It's not for lack of effort or ideas, thematically they contain everything I enjoy about this album and they're generally well executed ("Farewell" not withstanding).  They're just a bunch of little Torry Holts, while those monumental three songs are all Jerry Rice. 

On the whole, the album still manages to be greater than the sum of its parts.  "Rebellion in Dreamland", "Man on a Mission", and "Land of the Free" are all among the best songs in the genre, I can't stress that enough, and that unfortunately makes the rest of the songs seem somewhat tame in comparison, but as one big unit (hur hur) it works marvelously well and there's very little I would change.  The overarching theme of optimism and hope acts as a huge rush of fresh air from the darkness most metal was wallowing in during the mid 90s, and even within its own genre, as the fantasy element is quite underplayed here.  If you're anything at all like me, Land of the Free will put a smile on your face and a warmth in your soul, because listening to it reminds you that things are going to be just fine.  It's time to put The Crimson Idol and From Fathoms away, it's time to move on with life.  Land of the Free is the perfect soundtrack for that.  Life's not so bad, y'all.  I know you can't just snap your fingers and feel better or change your outlook on life at the drop of a hat, but if there's any non-pharmaceutical aid in such an endeavor, this album is it. 

I'm not kidding when I say this helped change my life.

Let the fairytale be real...

RATING - 89%

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