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“Empire Of The Undead“

“Please, Kai and Dirk, call immediately. The studio is on fire. This is no joke.” GAMMA RAY were just touring South America with their longtime companions Helloween when evil tidings from Eike Freese, their studio copartner in Germany's Hamburg, came in via short message: On November 18th 2013 their very own Hammer Studios fell prey to a major fire.  Fortunately, the first recordings for the eleventh studio album of Germany's heavy metal legends were out of danger. “In the end we were lucky because we could retrieve 90 percent of the equipment”, band leader Kai Hansen looks back three months later, adding: “Luckily, all the guitars could be retrieved!”

A metal band without their guitars – that would have been a nightmare scenario indeed. In the end, GAMMA RAY escaped more or less with no more than a scare even though they had to search for a new studio home to finish the recordings for “Empire Of The Undead” after their return from South America. They chose Hamburg's Chameleon Studio where renowned artists like Tina Turner or Germany's music legends Udo Lindenberg and Heino had recorded back in the day. Providing the songs, which had been recorded in different studios, with a homogenous sound turned out to be difficult but sound master Freese loves to be challenged and has once again made an excellent job of it. “In some perverted way this event made us stronger I think, it kicked us even more”, Hansen reflects. “It may sound weird but it was actually a refreshing thing. Maybe that's because fire is also kind of purifying and always the start of something new.”

The destruction of their former studio may have been tragic and obstructive for the development of “Empire Of The Undead”, however, it is always important to look ahead, not back. A life motto Hansen is totally committed to. “I don't like to look back, have too many regrets and be too nostalgic about good times”, the singer with the striking voice declares. “I always try to stay on the positive side because when you're down in the valley surrounded by mountains, the only way is up.”

So let's look ahead, let's look at GAMMA RAY's “Empire Of The Undead” which will be released on March 28th 2014, more than four years after their critically acclaimed tenth album “To The Metal!”: Over one hour long, it showcases the band as ambitious and variable as... well, as never before you'd be tempted to say. The opener “Avalon” already hints at the fact that singer/guitarist Kai Hansen, bass player Dirk Schlächter, guitarist Henjo Richter and drummer Michael Ehré – successor of Daniel Zimmermann who left the band in 2012 – are up to something big again: a nine and a half minutes lasting song epos which you can only put at the beginning of an album if you are unconditionally convinced of the total package. Or if you have – like Hansen – literally dreamt that this magnum opus simply has to be the first track.

However, with the second track “Hellbent” GAMMA RAY put aside the symphonic bombast, delivering a straight high speed metal song in the mould of sublime Judas Priest annihilation. Those two extremely different songs represent the start of an album which covers the whole spectrum of heavy metal from pumping hard rock (“Pale Rider”) – a stylistic element Hansen brought in from his side project Unisonic – to buzzing power metal anthems (“I Will Return”) to emotional rock ballads (“Time For Deliverance”). Apart from GAMMA RAY's sonic diversity there's also a remarkable variation in Hansen's voice who adeptly alternates his characteristic high-pitched voice with new facets: On “Master Of Confusion” from 2013's eponymous EP his timbre evokes memories of Billy Idol while “Seven” – a flawless metal anthem with great chorus – is suddenly punctuated by a sinister recitative, cleverly decelerating the song's speed before finally exploding in a great choir finale.

“As far as variation is concerned, I think that's something we always craved for, something we always needed. To just do the same thing on ten or eleven songs is boring in some way”, Hansen admittedly makes use of a set phrase from the music interview textbook which, however, “Empire Of The Undead” does live up to at any time. “I always liked albums that had a certain variety in style in some way, as long as everything fits together. We always took the freedom to do what we liked and since I like so many different things this album has become quite manifold.” Extending the stylistic variation, there's also a striking amount of thrash metal in the songs. Hansen explains: “There's definitely more bite and heaviness on this album. Since I've been pretty busy with Unisonic, which is more on the hardrock / AOR side of things, there has definitely been a need to be as bad as can be with GAMMA RAY now. I just had the need for thrash. And I also realized that many bands that get older kind of wimp out and get softer and all that – and I hate that thought.”

Dialing it down a notch has never been an option for GAMMA RAY. In their 25 years lasting career which spawned album highlights such as “Land Of The Free” (1993), “Powerplant“ (1999), “No World Order“ (2001) or “Majestic“ (2005) they milled like the eponymic gamma ray through the international metal scene and gathered a faithful, ever-expanding fan base on the whole globe. And if it takes them – like now – four years to make a new record that's only because they are still a hungry tour monster as well, ardently traveling the world in order to bring their music to the fans. Celebrating the release of “Empire Of The Undead”, whose title is a side blow to our over-engineered modern society where smartphones and other gadgets let us more and more become living zombies, GAMMA RAY will embark on a European tour in March again.

At the end of the extraordinary origination process of “Empire of the Undead”, which will forever be associated with the Hammer Studio's demise, there is an album which – sure – every fan of GAMMA RAY will love. But also an album for those who may have lost track of this band in the course of years, wrongly thinking their music had nothing to offer anymore. Well, to err is human, isn't it?

GAMMA RAY tour dates 2014:

On Tour with special guest Rhapsody Of Fire
Support Bands: *Elvenking, **Stormwarrior, ***Dynazty

20.03.14 Prag • Retro Music Hall (Czech Republic)
21.03.14 Zlin • Masters Of Rock Cafe (Czech Republic)
22.03.14 Bratislava • MMC (Slovakia)
24.03.14 Košice • Collosseum Club (Slovakia)
25.03.14 Budapest • Club 202 (Hungary)
27.03.14 Sofia • Hristo Botev Hall (Bulgaria)
28.03.14 Thessaloniki • Block 33 (Greece)
29.03.14 Athen tba (Greece)
31.03.14 Rom • Orion* (Italy)
01.04.14 Mailand • Live Club* (Italy)
03.04.14 Barcelona • Sala Apolo (Spain)
04.04.14 Madrid • Sala Shoko (Spain)
05.04.14 Pamplona • Sala Totem (SpainSpain)
07.04.14 Lyon • Transbordeur* (France)
08.04.14 Pratteln • Z7* (Switzerland)
09.04.14 Paris • Le Trabendo* (France)
11.04.14 Aschaffenburg D • Colossaal** (Germany)
12.04.14 Memmingen D • Kaminwerk** (Germany)
13.04.14 Cologne • Essigfabrik** (Germany)
15.04.14 Bochum • Zeche** (Germany)
16.04.14 Nürnberg • Löwensaal** (Germany)
17.04.14 Hamburg • Docks** (Germany)
19.04.14 Malmö • KB*** (Sweden)
20.04.14 Gothenburg • Sticky Fingers*** (Sweden)
21.04.14 Stockholm • Klubben*** (Sweden)
23.04.14 Helsinki FIN • Tavastia (Finland)
24.04.14 St.Petersburg • Zal Ozhidania club ** (Russia)
25.04.14 Moscow • Volta club ** (Russia)

21.06.2014: Dokkem Open Air, Dokkum (Netherlands)
01.-02.08.2014: Skogsröjet Festival, Rejmyre (Sweden)
06.09.2014: Festi Wolf in Porsel (Switzerland)