And then suddenly and unexpectedly Kai Hansen left Helloween after their two triumphant metal hits comprising “The Keeper Of The Seven Keys Parts I & II,” for reasons that are still a mystery to this date. Whatever the reason, Hansen left Helloween and started his own power metal band GAMMA RAY and after some studio work with Blind Guardian, rounded up his old peeps Ralf Scheepers (vocals), Uwe Wessel (bass) and Mathias Burchardt (drums) and created an album that is extremely reminiscent of the Helloween years but due to the major heaping of other influences manages to separate itself from those albums on the debut HEADING FOR TOMORROW, which is an aptly named title for it essentially shows exactly which elements of Helloween were the product of Hansen’s involvement and also allows for some significant changes.
I would say that HEADING FOR TOMORROW has a whole range of influences on board with the majority being the predictable Helloween, but there is also a strong Judas Priest and Queen influences going on here as well. This is the first album that i noticed that Queen was a major influence on the whole power metal sub-genre with all kinds of Freddie Mercury inspired vocalizations all operatic and such with all those eclectic “A Night Of The Opera” type musical time sig changes that are quite frequently utilized in abundance here and beyond into the whole sub. There is also a strong tie to 70s heavy prog giants Uriah Heep with the most obvious being the cover “Look At Yourself” which features Mischa Gerlach as a guest keyboardist. Excellent cover of a track from one of my favorite early 70s albums.
“Welcome” is a great symphonic opener which ushers in the energetic “Lust For Life” which immediately brings Helloween to mind but not quite feeling like a clone. Kinda strange actually. Obviously lots of Helloween sounds here but there are other influences as well.
“Money” starts off kinda like a Judas Priest song but adds elements of Queen fairly soon after the two minute mark.
“The Silence” is a nice melodic ballad that has kind of an Aerosmith “Dream On” feel but is on a different level. The vocals, the symphonics and instruments all collaborate to create a very nice number that some may find cheesy but personally i find very well crafted. Of course there is that Brain May guitar thing going on in the harmony department but it is so well done that i just don’t care.
“Hold Your Ground” starts out in an energetic speed metal fashion but clearly has a classical kind of feel going. Melodic, well-paced with a Queen tinged vocal delivery. A very satisfying power metal track that ends in a Mozart-esque “Eine Kleine Nachmusik” riff.
“Freetime” glam metal kinda reminds me of Poison actually but not as irritating! Power chords, glam metal groove and Steelheart type of high vocal range. Not my fave of the album but a notch above the influences.
The title track starts out as total Queen plagiarism. Compare the intro to “The Prophet’s Song” from “A Night At The Opera” and you can only agree that there are many parts of this 14:30 length track that are taken from that song, however the saving grace is that despite these blatant ripoff parts there is plenty of innovative parts including Helloween type segments that save this from total Queen plagiarism but the few parts that sound way too much like Queen which are disheartening for sensitive ears. Although these influences are ridiculously obvious, i find this to be a very tasteful use of them and there is not one moment on this album that i am turned off.
For a debut HEADING FOR TOMORROW is actually quite well done and although is not the pinnacle of GAMMA RAY’s prowess of power metal performances is still a fine listen that i can put on any time and really enjoy hearing. Every musical aspect is at full force and as mentioned previously only the blatant borrowing of ideas from the greats of the past are the weak link here, but even so, the influences are from the best of the best and quite well executed if not well obfuscated. Enjoyable album