It’s been over a year since Gamma Ray issued their last full-length recording, To the Metal!, and in what seems like an effort to keep their name in the minds of the Metal universe, the band brings up an album to tide everyone over. Well, at least they say it’s an album, or at least a mini-album. Skeletons and Majesties is a seven song “mini-album” of re-recorded material, and some bonus tracks, seperated into three different sections, and all coming to a grand total of nearly one hour. But, don’t be fooled. It is a “mini-album” afterall, remember?
At first, this release actually comes off more like a play towards getting money out of the die hard fans considerng how much is just re-recording music. First of all, there’s “Hold Your Grand”, re-recorded from the original version that appeared on Heading for Tomorrow, and while the song sound rich thanks to the modern day production quality, the song itself sounds lame, as if the material has no real backbone to it whatsoever. The vocals become a little obnoxious after a while, and what energy that’s there picks up the song. It’s not a bad track, but sounds more like the kind of song that more epic tracks by this band would pick on for sounding like a weakling. After that comes “Brothers”, which comes off the album Insanity and Genius, and, honestly, it’s a pretty good re-recorded track. The song is full, doesn’t feel weak like “Hold Your Ground” does, and it has plenty of energy both in the vocals, and with the music. It captures a good amount of beauty to the more arena-based sound of the song, and the guitar solo at the end is still as moving as the original and will make the listener want to flick the nearest lighter on and sway it back and forth in the air. This covers the material for the “Skeletons” part of the album, and up next comes the “Majesties”.
The second set of songs are acoustic re-recordings of two other songs from the band’s past. You get “Send Me a Sign” off the Power Plant album, but it’s not a full-fledged acoustic piece. There’s an electric guitar solo that is quite impressive, but sounds out place against the acoustic guitar and pianos that give the track a more Folk and Jazz vibe. This cover isn’t too bad, but given the band performing it, this rendition could have easily been much more epic in the long run. Instead, it feels held back a bit to try to fit the Acoustic mold, never allowing it to bloom and discover it’s full potential. Finally, Gamma Ray covers the song “Rebellion in Dreamland” off the critically acclaimed Land of the Free album. This is where that more epic sound lies, though it seems to really only stick to the parts that build up from being a little darker or moving slower. The more upbeat moments of the song that go at a faster pace, again, take on a Folk approach, but still feels a little restrained. Either way, the song itself is still an enjoyable venture that keeps the listener attentive the entire nine plus minutes.
The rest of the material here is some bonus material that ranges from pretty good to god awful. “Wannabes” is more of an upbeat Power Metal venture with some scattered Hard Rock ideas that basically becomes a verbal assault against people who pretend to be into Metal, but aren’t really. The song itself is catchy, though the odd tribal-like drumming passage that comes out of nowhere and talks about kicking a fan of commercial Punk int he face is a little awkward. this isn’t the best song off the recording, and clearly meant to be a more fun song. Up next the band rehashes the re-recorded “Brothers” with an “extended” version, which is still good but feels like pure overkill at this point and honestly could have just been left off the album, or made the original version of the song, leaving the initial re-recording of “Brothers” to feel more like padding to this release so they could legitimately call it a “mini-album”. Up next is the “Karaoke” version of “Rebellion in Dreamland”, which really will only spark the interest of the devoted fan as it’s a mostly instrumental version of the acoustic re-recorded version that appears earlier, but at certain moments there are background vocals left behind to support the main vocals, which youa re expected to perform. It’s an interesting idea, and not the first time the band has done this, but, again, it feels like padding to extend the life of this release.
But, that song isn’t the last of what feels like padding for this release. This track has an actual length of twenty three minutes and thirty four seconds, pushing it closer to a full one hour of space on the disc. Of course, this doesn’t mean “Rebellion in Dreamland (Karaoke Version)” is that long. Instead, the song lasts the normal just under ten minute mark of the re-recorded version that appeared earlier on the disc. However, after that you are greeted with a long period of silence until you reach a hidden bonus material of the band basically screwing around in the studio and recording random things that nobody really cares about, including random things like screwing with different sarcastic vocals to the songs that appear here, screwing up lyrics, and general nothingness. It’s boring, it’s pointless, and doesn’t need to be on this release for any other reason then padding.
But, in the end, it all starts to make sense after the first listen. While Skeletons and Majesties is clearly meant to be an album made for the die hard fans of the band, and while there’s plenty of padding, it may not be an EP stretched to full-length standards to try to get fans to pay out extra money. The four re-recorded songs range from really good to alright, and the bonus material is filler, but “Wannabes” actually makes for a fun Hard Rock/Power Metal satire that fans will enjoy. But, all of this makes sense when you realize that this is a recording that is meant to be fun. Clearly the band was enjoying themselves making it, and if you can approach it without being so serious, it’s not that bad a release, and it allows the listener to even get in on the fun at the end. Granted, the hidden material is boring, and the extended version of “Brothers” was pointless and should have been the only version on the EP, fans will get a kick out of some of the re-recorded material, and in the end may feel a bit ripped off, but find it’s still better then the last two effort by Gamma Ray.