Tuesday, January 9, 2018

10 YEAR REUNION: Gamma Ray - No World Order!

I'm going to start rewriting my old reviews from late 2007 to 2009ish, because they all suck and I'm only 10% of the tryhard I used to be.

1200 cigarettes and Time to Kill

Gamma Ray had been on one hell of a streak by the time 2001 rolled around.  Starting in 1995 when Ralf Scheepers mercifully left and Kai Hansen returned to his rightful place behind the mic, they started churning out classic after classic, ultimately ending in a streak of five phenomenal albums before Kai's endless Kai-isms started stinking up the joint.  No World Order! stands as the fourth entry in that streak, and it'll always hold a special place in my heart for being the reason I ever broke away from my dumb thrash-only mindset of my early teenage years and embraced the speedy melodicism of power metal.  The high pitched vocals and endless double bass had finally stopped being a turnoff when I heard "Dethrone Tyranny" for the first time as a 14 year old and promptly had my entire cerebral cortex blown off.

And honestly, No World Order! is a great introduction for people who are new to the genre, provided they're coming from a mindset that values thrash and trad metal above all else like I did.  It may not be quite a perfect representation of the clash-of-two-worlds of the cover art, but it is indeed a healthy blend of several influences wrapped up neatly into an accessible package.  It manages to balance stomping vigor on tracks like "Damn the Machine" and the bridge of "Dethrone Tyranny", uptempo brutality in "Heart of the Unicorn" and "Solid" (though the latter is an extremely obvious example of Kai's proclivity towards borrowing riffs a little too blatantly, this time being Judas Priest's "Rapid Fire"), light hearted catchiness in "Heaven or Hell" and "Follow Me", and some just damn solid heavy metal swagger in "New World Order" and "Eagle". 

The quick rundown up there doesn't really do the album justice though, because there's a prevailing sense of chainsmoking attitude that roughs up all the edges just enough to give the album an identity that is uniquely Gamma Ray.  The album's truest strength is simply extremely fucking solid songwriting, with excellent hooks behind every corner, but the crooked-toothed sneer that it's all presented with makes the songs stand the test of time if you ask me.  Take a look at the quasi title track, "New World Order".  On the surface, it's just a good, hooky heavy metal song, but there are a lot of tiny little quirks that make it unforgettable.  The pre chorus that begins on a hard left turn, going from the fairly standard palm mutes of the verse and shifting abruptly to a snarling stomp, surely inducing involuntary headbanging, and culminating with the huge background scream that leads into the chorus, that's the kind of shit that just sticks with me.  The chorus itself is great as well, but that attitude just can't be held back, with Kai's relatively smooth vocals occasionally breaking into deafening badassitude (And ya know it's gonna beeee for-EV-AHR). 

It's sort of a dumb comparison, but I think the anecdote that most perfectly encapsulates Gamma Ray to me is a short little clip from the Hell Yeah!I!  The Awesome Foursome  DVD.  They're on the road, about to load up the tour bus and head out on tour, and Kai stops the cameraman to show him what he's bringing with him on tour.  He opens his bag to reveal several cartons of cigarettes and a Duke Nukem game.  That's Gamma Ray in a nutshell.  Sixty packs of smokes and Duke Nukem.

The album isn't perfect however, "Fire Below" is a very clear filler song, a midpaced hard rock/heavy metal tune that offers absolutely nothing other than an extra five minutes of album runtime, and "Lake of Tears" continues Gamma Ray's tradition of writing really terrible ballads.  This time it's at least at the end of the album, making it easy to ignore, but on the other hand it means a fist pumping anthem-generator of an album ends on a weak bunny fart.  "Eagle" was a great closer already, combining Helloween and Iron Maiden in great fashion (albeit a bit cliche, but Gamma Ray are OG so it's not quite so annoying), we didn't need that lameass ballad at the end jacking up the album's mojo.

Those are minor complaints in the grand scheme of things, because from the pulsing choir of "Induction" up until the apex of "Eagle" is a nearly unbroken string of classic power metal tracks, full of great hooks and loads of attitude.  No World Order! may not be as immediately impressive as seminal records like Somewhere Out in Space or motherfucking Land of the Free, but it's really not far behind, and it's one of the best albums of 2001 without a doubt.


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