Almost the perfect power metal album
It's been four long years since the last Gamma Ray release 'New World Order', which, for this reviewer was a marked improvement on their previous effort 'Powerplant'. Since then vocalist/guitarist Kai Hansen has taken a break to rejuvenate and regroup allowing other band members, particularly drummer Dan Zimmerman with his other band Freedom Call, to concentrate on other projects. It was a good decision and time well spent because Majestic is perhaps one of the best examples of a perfect power metal album.
Having practically invented the genre with Helloween, Kai left after 'Keeper of the 7 keys part 2' to form Gamma Ray. Following a patchy start with vocalist Ralf Scheepers, (Now in Primal Fear) Kai took over the mantle of vocalist and released 'Land of the Free'; many fans being in the opinion (myself included) that this is the bands best work to date. One could argue 'Land of the Free' is the perfect Helloween album and could have followed on admirably from 'Keeper...Part 2', suggesting that maybe Gamma Ray is the TRUE direction of Helloween. It is easy to hear that Gamma Ray have more in common with Helloween's early works such as 'Walls of Jericho' than the current incarnation headed by Andi Deris.
Kai Hansen is a masterful songwriter able to create fast, intense, intricate yet melodic, catchy and extremely accessible music. He uses choirs to create vocal depth; harmonies to enhance guitar parts and can throw tempos around as if they were a rag doll. I don't mind going down on paper saying he's perhaps the best writer of power metal around today and if anyone wants proof then just listen to Majestic. Opener 'My Temple' is a perfect example of his talents kicking straight in immediately with a fast double bass pedal beat before slowing it down for a few bars. The song moves to mid-tempo for the verse, slows down again for the chorus then changes rhythm entirely, all of which is done so smoothly you don't realise it's happening.
Guitarist Henjo Richter's usual two-song contribution normally grates my ears with his overuse of keyboards, however, on Majestic he has delivered his best efforts to date with 'Fight' and 'Revelation'. The latter is an eight-minute speed epic utilising grandiose keyboards, choirs, different tempos and slick axe-work, it is the type of track the likes of Dragonforce would wet their pants to write. One of Gamma Ray's strengths is they don't rely on the one idea to get them from album to album, granted, the style is fast euro metal but with the mid tempo groove of 'Blood Religion' and the Rainbow-esque 'Majesty' Gamma Ray show there are more facets to their song-writing than a dependency on speed.
As the title of this review says, it's ALMOST the perfect power metal album. 'How Long' is a good cut but it sounds a little out of place because of its simple easygoing structure. The formidable riff that leads 'Condemned to Hell' could have been the best stomping rocker Gamma Ray have ever written but the side is let down by a generic power metal chorus, which, quite frankly is a re-write of 'Heaven and Hell' and 'Send me a Sign'. 'Majesty' creates a superb groove with it's first class riff, and it would have been nice to carry this idea through the whole song rather than chop and change it throughout the middle break. In all honesty I am being nitpicky because the above reasons are just personal taste and shouldn't detract anyone from getting their mitts on this CD.
Is Majestic the best Gamma Ray album ever? Possibly, but Land of the Free still tugs on those heart strings and it will be difficult for any Gamma Ray album to take it's place. What Majestic is, is a band on top of their game, an album showing the up and coming bands how it should be done. It's fast, melodic, varied and thoroughly exciting, even though it sounds like Iron Maiden at times, reminiscent of their classic eighties era than the Blaze Bailey years. In hindsight I don't think Majestic is better than Land of the Free but I do genuinely feel it's equal to it and I never though I'd ever say something like that.