"Empire of the Undead" is Gamma Ray's "The X Factor" (the Iron Maiden album for the unacquainted). I'm not being facetious: the similarities are striking. Maiden, during that strange, conflicted period, had lost the integral Bruce Dickinson; "Empire of the Undead" shows Gamma Ray without drummer Dan Zimmerman, who had been a surprisingly vital factor in the band's progression. And like that misguided records, "Empire of the Undead" boasts a handful of wonderful songs that are clogged up by sizable chunks of filler, which stick out like yellow teeth on a Brazilian supermodel. Above all else, it's darker and faster than the usual Gamma Ray output, and it continues the evolution of Gamma Ray's discography justly.
One of the unsung glories of Gamma Ray has been the band's diversity between albums-no two Gamma Ray records are exactly identical. The band's structural integrity has remained the same, yet the outer appearance has changed considerably between records. "Empire of the Undead," compared to "To the Metal," which was more of a basic chorus-based record, boasts long, multi-faceted anthems. Some are fairly standard Gamma Ray cuts with no secrets or layers hiding in the shadows. "Master of Confusion" and "Born to Fly," for instance, pitch at the listener familiar melodies, choruses, riffs, and structural ideas-they play it safe, and in turn sound that way. I'm fonder of the album's darker anthems and its elaborate, multilayered tracks.
"Avalon," the record's opener, is an outstanding piece of epic power metal that displays proudly the finest traits of the Gamma Ray squad: excellent riffs, luscious lead guitar work, and a juicy chorus to boot. "Hellbent" and the title track are faster and heavier than the bulk of the band's extensive discography; ripping riffs galore! I like "Seven" and "I Will Return" as well, though they don't have the same stopping power as the aforementioned songs. "Pale Rider" and "Demonseed" are fairly lame and uneventful, and "Time for Deliverance," the record's ballad, is a strong reminder that Gamma Ray needs to stop with the goddamn ballads. I couldn't shove it off a bridge quick enough.
The real cherry on the sundae happens to be the factors unrelated to songwriting. The production gives the album a crisp, clear bite, and boasts the finest sound quality the band has ever had; and Kai Hansen, whose vocals are always fantastic, sounds awesome as expected. "Empire of the Undead' is also a passionate, fiery record with sharp claws and pointy teeth; the faster numbers are especially hostile. I like "Empire of the Undead" for what it is, and for a band like Gamma Ray that has been spitting out records since the dawn of time to continue to release quality albums, what more could a casual fan or diehard prophet ask for?