When one of Helloween's founding members and main songwriters, guitarist Kai Hansen, suddenly announced his departure from the German power metal pioneers at the peak of their late-80s popularity following their second 'Keys' masterpiece, the magnificent 'Keeper of the Seven Keys Part II', it was something of an inexplicable separation. Helloween were already being touted as the next big thing in metal since Iron Maiden, even though I'm sure the latter's hegemony would remain intact, despite a fickle period that saw their popularity waver, following Bruce Dickinson's departure, during the mid to late-90s. In fact, Helloween's Michael Kiske was top of most people's lists back in the day as a likely and worthy replacement for Dickinson before they settled for the more controversial choice of Wolfsbane's Blaze Bayley. Anyway, I digress... Hansen's departure from the band he co-founded and helped make a rampant success was a shockingly unexpected one. But, if he hadn't taken that bold and brave step, the world would probably never have had the power metal majesty of Gamma Ray. And a quarter of a century since its original release, earMUSIC are reissuing their debut record in a special, two-disc, 25th anniversary edition.
For the listening audience, the transition between Helloween and Gamma Ray was not a jarring one. Primal Fear frontman Ralf Scheepers was behind the mic on these recordings, a few years before Hansen himself took on lead vocal duties in the mid-90s. Scheepers has a very similar range and histrionic style to that of Kiske, so it was almost a matter of re-establishing the Hansen/Kiske vibe on this debut offering. A little of the batty humour that became associated with Helloween crops up here and there - for example, on 'Money', particularly with its mid-section vocal derangement. And, of course, it's loaded to the brim with Hansen's distinctive chops, be it his speed-riffing, incidental licks, or full-on widdle-fuelled soloing. With power metal's perennial popularity extended into the twenty first century and persisting to the current day, 'Heading For Tomorrow' remains a fresh and invigorating listen. And it's been remastered (incredibly well, I might add), so it all sounds rather marvellous too.
Aside from the album, which itself contains 3 bonus tracks (two b-sides and what was originally a Japanese-only bonus track), a second disc is included in this set that has all manner of goodies for the Gamma Ray aficionado. Of course, it would be five years before Hansen took up lead vocal duties, so those curious as to how these inaugural Gamma Ray songs would've sounded with Hansen singing, then your wishes will be fulfilled by four of the demo tracks - 'Money'; 'Sail On'; 'The Silence'; and 'Heaven Can Wait'. There are also a couple of karaoke versions (!?!) for those of you who fancy a sing-along, other demo versions, plus two live tracks. Notably, the demos have been sourced from band members' private archives as the original tapes were destroyed in a fire at their Hamburg studio a couple of years ago, so these are some serious rarities here and, given the nature of the source materials, sound not too bad at all.
In short, one should never underestimate the importance of this album in the context of power metal's history, in terms of the development of the genre, its influential effects thereon, and Hansen's musical journey. Twenty five years on, it still holds all the punch and power metal potency that it did all those years ago. This is a magnificent reissue of a seminal album, that'll no doubt be rediscovered by some, discovered afresh by others, and revered anew in its remastered form by those who've always relished its charms throughout the years.
HEADING FOR TOMORROW
Review by Mark Holmes
67:54 & 68:48
24th July 2015
DISC ONE: 1) Welcome; 2) Lust For Life; 3) Heaven Can Wait; 4) Space Eater; 5) Money; 6) The Silence; 7) Hold Your Ground; 8) Free Time; 9) Heading For Tomorrow; 10) Look At Yourself; 11) Mr. Outlaw; 12) Sail On; 13) Lonesome Stranger
DISC TWO: 1) Who Do You Think You Are; 2) Heaven Can Wait (Demo); 3) Money (Demo); 4) Sail On (Demo); 5) Heading for Tomorrow (Live); 6) Space Eater (Live); 7) The Silence (Demo); 8) Mr Outlaw (Instrumental Version); 9) Heaven Can Wait (Demo); 10) Heading for Tomorrow (Karaoke Version); 11) Space Eater (Karaoke Version); 12) Lonesome Stranger (Demo)
COUNTRY OF ORIGIN:
"...a magnificent reissue of a seminal album, that'll no doubt be rediscovered by some, discovered afresh by others, and revered anew in its remastered form by those who've always relished its charms throughout the years."