HistoryKai Hansen left Helloween after the release of the successful Keeper Of The Seven Keys II album and together with Ralf Scheepers formed Gamma Ray in 1989. Gamma Ray had started as a Kai Hansen solo project. The label was keen for the act to simply be called Kai Hansen as the man’s name was marketable instantly. Hansen had left Helloween due to interpersonal difficulties with guitarist Michael Weikath and a dislike for touring which had made his stay unbearable. In fact, in early Gamma Ray interviews, he would hint that the band would not be touring much. Uwe Wessels and drummer Matthias Burchardt completed the band and the act signed with Noise as Hansen was already tied to the label via Helloween.
The debut featured Uli Kusch and maintained Hansen's trademark speed metal style. It also featured songs written for Helloween. In fact, the title track Heading For tomorrow was a song written originally for the pre-Helloween band Second Hell. Surprisingly the band sold 250,000 copies without much effort. A karaoke version of the album was released in Japan. The rhythm section was changed in 1993 (Kusch ended up in Helloween!) which was followed by Scheepers' departure who not only was having personal problems with Hansen but had also secretly applied for the Judas Priest vocalist slot. Hansen returned to his role as the singer (similar to the early Helloween days) and Noise released Land Of The Free. Another reason for Ralf’s departure was that Hansen was singing more and more. Furthermore, Ralf had a day job and was not amenable to moving north to Hannover where Hansen lived. Schlachter switched to bass and the band moved on to Somewhere Out In Space.
Hansen had also spent a couple of years in the Iron Savior side project before leaving due to a lack of time. Halfway through its 1999 German tour Gamma Ray vocalist Kai Hansen experienced problems with his vocals resulting in the cancellation of two shows. Following an earthquake in Greece, the promoter for the Gamma Ray tour decided to postpone the shows out of fear of a similar occurrence. In 2000 Gamma Ray released a two-disc compilation called Blast From The Past featuring new and old songs re-sung by Hansen. The band announced its first American date as support for Blind Guardian at ProgPower festival in November of 2002. Simultaneously band and label began re-releasing the band's albums with bonus songs. Henjo Richter was injured on a ferry from Sweden to Finland after falling down a set of stairs in early 2006. He was temporarily replaced by Kasperi Heikkinen from the Finnish Gamma Ray tribute band Guardians Of Mankind. Gamma Ray’s next album was called Land Of The Free Part II and was issued by the band’s new label, SPV. The CD was a concept piece and the follow-up to 1995’s Land Of The Free disc. The new album, which was issued in November, contained 65 minutes of music and was supported via a tour with Helloween, which was the former home of Gamma Ray founder Kai Hansen. Helloween and Gamma Ray were touring North America together in October, 2008. The band issued a DVD called Hell Yeah – The Awesome Four culled from footage filmed in Montreal, Canada. Gamma Ray released a new album, To The Metal, on January 29th, 2010 through earMUSIC/Edel. A limited edition version featured a 60-minute DVD. Gamma Ray was touring Japan in March. The band’s schedule also forced drummer Zimmerman to make a choice and leave Freedom Call in order to dedicate himself to Gamma Ray. Due to a retinal detachment, Gamma Ray guitarist Henjo Richter was hospitalized in March, 2010 and underwent surgery on March 16th. The band cancelled several shows in Germany. Kasperi Heikkinen of Amberian Dawn and the Finnish Gamma Ray cover band Guardians Of Mankind was a temporary replacement for Henjo Richter. Gamma Ray singer and guitarist Kai Hansen would perform with Avantasia on its tour of Europe in November and December of 2010. In support of its studio album To The Metal!, Gamma Ray would perform five shows at the start of 2011 in North America. These began in NYC on the 28th of January. Set for release in the US and Canada on May 31st of 2011 through Armoury Records/Eagle Rock Entertainment, Skeletons & Majesties was a collection of songs the band had gathered from previous albums represented in two completely different styles. There was a karaoke style song, a rare track called Wannabees from the To The Metal 7” and several rarities. Former Helloween and subsequently Unisonic singer Michael Kiske joined his Unisonic band-mate and Gamma Ray frontman Kai Hansen at Gamma Ray's concert on April 28th, 2011 at the Zeche club in Bochum, Germany and performed three songs, Future World, A While In Dreamland and Time To Break Free. Guitarist Henjo Richter was forced to not be a part of the band's appearance on the Sweden Rock Cruise in October of 2011. He had a bike accident. The band was forging ahead. Gamma Ray parted ways with drummer Dan Zimmermann in the summer of 2012 and replaced him with Michael Ehré (Firewind, Uli Jon Roth, Metalium, etc.). Gamma Ray would unleash Skeletons & Majesties Live as a two-CD package in December of 2012 through Eagle Rock imprint Armoury Records. Set for North American release on December 4th, 2012, Skeletons & Majesties Live was a near two-hour album spanning the band’s history. A DVD version would be released in January, 2013. Skeletons & Majesties Live was recorded and filmed during the band’s 2011 European tour at the Z7 in Pratteln, Switzerland. Gamma Ray would release a new EP entitled Master Of Confusion on March 15th, 2013 through earMUSIC. A full-length, called Empire Of The Undead, was due later in that year through earMUSIC. Empire Of The Undead was out in 2014. The title track had appeared on the single/EP Master Of Confusion, which was released in 2013 and served as precursor to the forthcoming full-length. In addition to Kai Hansen the band recruited Frank Beck, who had worked with the band since 2014, to be the band’s second vocalist. The move freed up band founder Hansen to put less stress on his vocals.
Helloween was re-joined by ‘80s’ members singer Michael Kiske and guitarist Kai Hansen for a world tour in 2017 and 2018. Using the Pumpkins United monicker, the tour would also feature Helloween singer Andi Deris and guitarist Sascha Gerstner performing songs from throughout the band’s catalogue. This would soon become a wholesale reunion. Unity was a new project founded by guitarist Henjo Richter and drummer Michael Ehré of Gamma Ray. The band signed a deal with Steamhammer/SPV and is recording its debut album for an early 2017 release. Ehre would also join Gamma Ray whose 2021 live album, 30 Years Live Anniversary, was filmed at its only show in 2020. Due to COVID-19, the band livestreamed the show from the ISS Dome in Düsseldorf, Germany. The CD/DVD featured an appearance by early singer Ralf Scheepers.
GAMMA RAY - NO WORLD ORDER - NOISE
No World Order, Gamma Ray's seventh studio album, has turned out splendidly despite a distinct lack of lead guitar work throughout the songs. Past a Sci-fi/fantasy cover and a full jacket the band has gotten a bombastic sound to match mostly pure speed metal songs. The album is a pleaser and even approaches Walls Of Jericho (my favourite Helloween album) speeds and vocal pitches. The album is a concept and as is usual for Gamma Ray quite up-beat and fluently fast. Having stated the obvious, for a band in business for over 10 years and staffed with musicians with 20 years of experience, the bands influences are overt and protruding. While the album intro is unbridled Queen, The Heart Of The Unicorn is unashamedly Judas Priest. Further down the list, track seven (Solid) is again bluntly ripping off Judas Priest song Rapid Fire. The riffs and the vocal phrasings are identical. On track eight, Fire Below, listening to the 3:00 minute mark reveals an imitated Iron Maiden melody and track ten is a song off Rob Halford's solo album of last year. There are more examples but you get the point. The clear presence of Queen, Queensryche, Iron Maiden (notice the album's title and the referred to song New World Order on the album), Judas Priest and Halford has gone beyond mere influence. I wonder if the band is aware to what extent its wearing its influences on its sleeve? - Ali "The Metallian"
GAMMA RAY - LAND OF THE FREE II - SPV
Although there does not seem to be much of a connection between Land Of The Free II and Land Of The Free I which came out around 1995 (aside from some vague musical inspiration) this new album is probably the best thing the German irradiators could have recorded. Following the newly minted trend of rehashing titles or concepts (Helloween, Iron Maiden, Queensrÿche, Testament, etc.) Gamma Ray has put together a long album with thirteen tracks that is full of band trademarks. In other words, Accept, Rainbow, Iron Maiden and even UDO are well represented. It is understood that there are several references to old Helloween on the album as well. Rain has a different bass sound and is grittier than the usual Gamma Ray stuff. On Leaving Hell the vocals sound like Phil Lynott. Kai Hansen does not have the high screams anymore although he maintains a good sense of melody. Leaving Hell is too simple though. It has a poppy chorus and simple lyrics, which is just like on the song When The World. Incidentally, did anyone notice the title Empress and the similarity of the song’s music to Accept’s Princess Of The Dawn? Overall however the headbangers with the long hair have served their fans with a cool album with cooler solos and instantly pleasing melodies. - Sheila Wes Det
GAMMA RAY - HELL YEAH!!! THE AWESOME FOURSOME (2DVD) - SPV
This double DVD’s first features a May 2006 live recording in Montreal. The set list covers earliest songs like The Silence and Dreamhealer from Heading For Tomorrow and Sigh No More respectively to Land Of The Free, Beyond The Blackhole, and Send Me A Sign from the second half of the '90s and to more recent songs like New World Order. The musicianship is as proficient as expected and the visual quality is good albeit a few silly video effects. The stage presence is minimal in so far as a typical heavy metal band goes and is instead filled mostly with smiles and jokes including one scene where Kai Hansen drinks whisky from a bottle not because it’s a 'rock star' thing as he says but because it was given to the band by a fan who asked for it to be drank on stage. What is even less rock star cliché perhaps is that Dirk Schlachter and Daniel Zimmerman, the bassist and drummer respectively, do not even take a sip and instead pass the bottle to the roadies. The second DVD is over two hours of Wacken clips with five songs form the 2003 and 2006 editions, footage from a Melbourne show, a commercial MTV-ish 'Unplugged In Japan' section, a German (with English subtitles) 'Road Movie', and a documentary of the band’s 2006 'Majestic' North American tour which includes all the tour bus and getting lost on the way stuff one expects plus various other scenes from Montreal to New York and all the way to Los Angeles. One particular highlight of the documentary is the band’s visit to an 'everything for a dollar' store and the amusement that the band seems to derive from their visit to it. Also included is a German only 'Historay' segment filled with studio footage from 1994 and on. In one press conference footage Kai confesses to not being too interested in seeing a live DVD performance, but instead relishing the chance to seeing the extras, like documentaries and interviews, that show others sides of the musicians involved. Plenty of that here. - Anna Tergel
GAMMA RAY - TO THE METAL - EDEL
Gamma Ray’s To The Metal is the band’s strongest release and a surprise given how it is the Germans twelfth album. The band claims to be attempting a merger of the modern with the traditional and, whatever modern sounds there are, it is a success. To The Metal is not perfect - just note the puzzling album title - but an exciting heavy metal album that deserves position attention nonetheless.
So, what lurks within? Shine Forever begins with a thrashy kick and a loud bass presence. The Painkiller-like vocals intermingle with Kai Hansen’s standard voice. Its precursor is Mother Angel and combines harshness, catchiness with guitar solos and synthesizers... screech halt... synthesizers? Yes, the bane of many an album appears here in rhythmic capacity more than once. Thankfully, the album has speed, guitars and power. Chasing Shadows, true to its name, negates some of the guitars with synthesizers. No Need To Cry is the album’s closing cut where the Gamma ones bring in acoustic guitars and twisting chords. Empathy and All You Need To Know are hard, heavy, and replete with guitar solos designed to attract metal mavens. Time To Live would have been a good album were it not for the damned keyboards. To The Metal! Is the band’s anthemic and catchy title track. The track works. It is simple, loud and full of guitars. It takes one back to Accept’s Balls To The Walls and Judas Priest’s British Steel material. In fact, much on the album borrows from Iron Maiden’s Somewhere In Time, Priest, Accept and even UDO’s Holy era. Not bad comparisons these. - Ali “The Metallian”