My introduction to rock/metal came through buying live albums as they represent a band at their peak with their best songs on them so classics like Double Live Gonzo by Ted Nugent, Live And Dangerous by Thin Lizzy, All The World’s A Stage by Rush, Alive II by Kiss, Loud And Clear by Sammy Hagar and Strangers In The Night by UFO to name but a few but the new live album Skeletons And Majesties by German power metallers Gamma Ray is a welcome addition to that list.
I’ve heard a few studio tracks over the years by them and nothing has really impressed me but this 20 track double cd lasting just over 2 hours long is a real tour de force to say the least. It was recorded on April 29th 2011 at Z7 in Prattleln,Switzerland and was released on Dec.4th 2012 via earMUSIC the Hamburg based international rock label of Edel group. There are also Blu-Ray and DVD formats available with loads of extras on offer. At 2 hours it may seem overlong but the quality of material and Gamma Ray’s delivery keep the intensity levels to the max.
Most live albums have a reputation for being enhanced in the studio. A dodgy vocal or guitar solo for instance may be overdubbed but after a few plays, Gamma Ray’s is as close to a live gig as you can get. Missed lyrics are mentioned as well as laughter onstage when they are whistled instead of being sung. Also worthy of note is the “in your face” production. Played loud, it is almost like being at the gig and the last live album i heard with this atmosphere would be Live Meltdown by Judas Priest. So onto the music.
Skeletons And Majesties is a double cd, each cd consists of 1 of the 2 sets played on the night. CD1 begins with the gigs grandiose introduction. The music gives way to each member of the band being introduced which segues into the female voice saying “Please welcome the ray,the ray,the ray”. This leads into opening number Anywhere In The Galaxy. At just over 6 minutes long it is the template for uptempo power metal with juddering riffs,a soaring vocal from Kai Hansen with some stunning guitar interplay at the 3 minute mark as Kai hits some banshee notes towards the end of the song. Men,Martians And Machines is a drum driven song with a hint of Nightwish at their heaviest. The Spirit’ s striding riffs and majestic vocal push the crowd over the edge.
Wings Of Destiny,another 6 min+ track is driven by some powerhouse drumming by Daniel Zimmerman with yet another killer dual guitar battle midway. The piano led intro of Farewell is a big stadium ballad that Manowar would be proud of with a soulful vocal by Kai. The self titled track Gamma Ray has a classic Scorpions vibe bolstered by a weighty riff with a tasty wah-wah guitar solo 3 minutes in.
Money is another uptempo rocker with lung busting vocal pitch changes. Time To Break Free is very heavy but with a commercial edge, a huge chorus, o.t.t guitar solos with a guest appearance from Helloween vocalist Michael Kiske (Helloween was Kai Hansen’s previous band). Rebellion In Dreamland is a sumptuous 10 minute atmospheric acoustic ballad. It has a stop/start tempo, joined by keyboards for a worthy finish to the song. The 1st set is brought to a close by another acoustic number,the uptempo keyboard led Send Me A Sign that has a low range vocal and shimmering electric guitar solos!
CD2,the second part of the show begins with a minute long operatic sequence leading into the storming Dethrone Tyranny with Iron Maidenesque guitar lines weaving in and out of monstrous drumming over a lower end vocal. A song so strong, it could of have been used as an encore! Watcher In The Sky is a bit of a throwaway track, sounding a bit like Tim Owen era Judas Priest,it’s redeeming factors are the vocals and twin guitar solos. Hold Your Ground has a drinking song type tempo with a heavy riffing/keyboard dual midway,some outrageous guitar solos and yet more stratospheric vocals by Kai who even points out early in the song that he got forgot some of the lyrics.
The pace is dropped for A While In Dreamland,a piano led ballad with Kai once again joined on vocals by Michael Kiske. It is very tongue in cheek with forgotten lyrics whistled amidst onstage laughter! The shredding Rise is a real crowd pleaser, bringing to mind vintage Yngwie Malmsteen. The closing half hour of the set consists of just 3 numbers. Brothers is a song written for the fans containing the heartfelt lyric “Brothers in rock we won’t let go,we got our music,we got our soul”. It features plenty of crowd participation and a snippet of Bohemian Rhapsody during the closing guitar solo. Album highlight for me is the 13 minute long Insurrection. If Manowar were to cover Iron Maiden’s Rime Of The Ancient Mariner then this is the closest you would get to it. It is an epic power ballad with everything thrown into the melting pot. Closing track is the Helloween penned metal anthem Future World. Of course Michael Kiske is on hand to add a 2nd vocal with some lightning fast twin leads, more crowd participation and even a few bars of Elvis’ All Shook Up in its 10 minute entireity.
Skeletons And Majesties is the 2nd live album to be released by Gamma Ray as well as 11 studio albums since their formation in 1988 by Kai Hansen after he left Helloween in the same year. The album is a taster for a co-headline tour with Helloween thats starts in Feb.2013 with a studio Gamma Ray album to follow. In 2011 Kai Hansen joined Unisonic as a 2nd guitarist, a band featuring Helloween vocalist Michael Kiske,releasing a self titled album in 2012 but now Kai is focusing once again on Gamma Ray. Great news for the fans!
Skeletons And Majesties track listing :-
Anywhere In The Galaxy.
Men,Martians And Machines.
Wings Of Destiny.
Time To Break Free.
Rebellion In Dreamland.
Send Me A Sign.
Watcher In The Sky.
Hold Your Ground.
A While In Dreamland.
Gamma Ray band members :-
Kai Hansen – Vocals/guitar.
Henjo Richter – Guitar.
Dirk Schlachter – Bass.
Michael Ehre – Drums ( Daniel Zimmerman played on the album).
I award the album 9.5/10.