When Kai Hansen left HELLOWEEN way back when, he took a large portion of that band's eccentricity with him, put to great use in GAMMA RAY. The band's core has always been the European style of power metal that Hansen helped found, but GAMMA RAY has always been willing to indulge a gloriously ludicrous streak. QUEEN-inspired vocal breakdowns, AOR tendencies, maudlin balladeering, and a willingness to come across as frivolous or even silly — GAMMA RAY's best moments have been when they're the least like the now-glutted racks of pretenders and former members that have risen in their wake over the last decade-plus.
That's why a song like "Hell Is Thy Home" is mildly frustrating, and strangely unsatisfying. Hansen has proven that he can write this sort of grade-B power metal anthem in his sleep since some of you were eating strained peas. It's well-executed and pushes all the right buttons — the twin-leads at the 3:30 mark are nice, as is the chord change at 4:15 before the finale — but it's devoid of personality. It could be track six on a forgotten album from any number of gaudy-looking Limb Music third-stringers.
Thankfully, not all of "Majestic" suffers this fate. "Blood Religion" bites a lot of its groove and vibe from THIN LIZZY's "Emerald" (after an awesomely bombastic intro), but it's the kind of song no generic Sascha Paeth-produced clones would even think to come up with. More importantly, it's the kind of song whose enthusiasm and exuberance will have your flagon of mead hoisted into the air before you know it — GAMMA RAY at their best just drip with charisma, injecting a sense of fun into a style that generally stops being likable about two seconds after deciding to take itself too seriously.
Elsewhere, "Strange World" is a midtempo rocker that would do PRETTY MAIDS proud, and then it unexpectedly veers into a thrashy and intricate bridge. "Condemned to Hell" will ignite message board shitstorms, with its distorted bass sound and pinch harmonics — shades of when JUDAS PRIEST supposedly went nu-metal with Ripper. But once it gets that out of its system, it morphs into yet another workmanlike exercise. "Majesty" is an epic with some of that "Kashmir" vibe in the verses, and a midsection with some awesome soloing and a '70s feel. This, "Strange World" and "Blood Religion" by themselves make the album worth picking up.
To most of the world, it's all academic, and "Majestic" will blur into one candy-coated blosh with PRIMAL FEAR, IRON SAVIOR, HAMMERFALL and the rest of the European children of HELLOWEEN and ACCEPT whose arena-rocking prowess seem largely lost in translation outside of Germany and Japan. But GAMMA RAY — at their best — are living proof that there is life left in the form, and that a modicum of individuality combined with good songwriting and old-fashioned enthusiasm will always make for compelling listening. "Majestic" is all the more frustrating for its strong tracks, because they serve to highlight the places where Hansen and Company are coasting. A 7, but barely.