In 1995, the legendary German Power Metal band Gamma Ray released Land Of The Free, a seminal album for both the band and the genre that has since gone on to be thought of fondly as a classic, and which remains one of the fan's favourite Gamma Ray albums. It was one of the band's most commercially and critically successful albums too, coming at just the right time in Heavy Metal's timeline to catch an anti-grunge zeitgeist of fans who missed this sort of music.
After three albums with singer Ralf Scheepers (who left to try and join Judas Priest, and later formed Primal Fear); Kai Hansen, who was already the band's guitarist and primary songwriter, stepped up to take over the now vacant lead vocals position. A position Kai had not held full-time in a band since Helloween's 1985 debut record Walls Of Jericho a decade earlier.
In addition to Kai; Michael Kiske, the former lead singer of Helloween, who had worked with Kai on their incredibly influential and beloved Keeper Of The Seven Keys albums, provides guest vocals on two tracks. Furthermore Hansi Kürsch of Blind Guardian provides guest vocals on three tracks.
Musically, the album is a masterpiece. It has just the right blend of all of the band's influences and stylistic leanings, and has become for many fans the definitive Gamma Ray album. The direction, performances and lyrics of the album are all huge, overblown, over the top and bursting out of the speakers. The harmonies are big, the solos are blistering, the choruses are memorable, and when the band thrash, they thrash hard.
The first two tracks alone, the progressive `Rebellion In Dreamland' and the absolutely furious `Man On A Mission' are two of the best tracks that the band ever written.
The rest of the album is just as exciting; the standard of lead guitar is really something special, the additional tasteful keys from multi-instrumentalist/producer Sascha Paeth add a great tone and additional depth to the songs, the production perfectly serves the music perfectly and the band manage to come up with a diverse collection of songs that covers enough ground to stay fresh and interesting throughout, but with enough commonalities to flow cohesively.
If you like bands like Rainbow, Queen, Iron Maiden and Judas Priest as well as early Helloween, this album should stimulate a lot of those parts of your brain, sonically referencing them, without at this point directly ripping them off (something the band would later get accused of on subsequent records).
Its difficult to hear energetic and entertaining tracks like `Gods Of Deliverance,' and `Time To Break Free' or indeed the emotional progressive ballad `Farewell' (about Helloween drummer Ingo Schwichtenberg's suicide) and not be captivated. This is simply one of those albums that's better than the sum of its parts and has that extra something that makes it a classic.
No fan of the band, or any band Kai Hansen has been involved in, should be without this record. I highly recommend it to fans of Power Metal, as well as to any general Metal fans at all, if you love ambitious compositions, energy, conviction and virtuosity then you should at least give it a chance.