Continuing their seemingly chronological series of reissues to celebrate the 25th anniversary of Gamma Ray, earMUSIC have now turned to the seminal Hamburg band's third album, 'Insanity and Genius'. As per the other reissues to date, tracks have been remastered by producer/sound engineer Eike Freese for this new presentation, which also comes with an accompanying bonus disc of demos, live tracks, rough mixes, a Judas Priest cover, and extended version of 'Gamma Ray'. The album's notable for being Ralf Scheepers' final album with the band prior to forming Primal Fear, and he's on fine histrionic vocal form here, as well as the first to feature the new rhythm section of bassist Jan Rubach and sticksman Thomas Nack, following the sudden departure of Uwe Wessel and Uli Kusch.
Originally released to mixed reviews and retrospectively not regarded as amongst Gamma Ray's better works, 'Insanity and Genius' is undeniably an underrated work in their back catalogue. I actually seriously dig the album. Why? Well, because of its ostensible diversity. It's not diverse per se, of course, as Kai Hansen and co. still largely adhere to the power metal dynamic that he originally pioneered in previous band Helloween. However, the album contains nods towards Hansen's roots, a little experimentation (notably in the title track), and a progression of the aesthetic Gamma Ray were continuing to work within that would flourish to its maximum impact on future releases.
So then, nods to Hansen's roots? Look no further than the opening track, 'Tribute to the Past'. The song's Helloween-esque/'Keeper...' era stylistic underpinnings are even made transparent within its title! And the melodic might of second number, 'No Return', is right up there with the likes of 'I Want Out' and 'March of Time', the two Hansen composed cuts from 'Keeper of the Seven Keys: Part II', which remain perennial fan favourites within the Helloween hordes to this very day. What about the experimentation? Well, we're not talking wild innovation, but more a refined sense of experimental flavours, which come to prominence in the title track and are befitting of the song's concept. So it's not mindless, aimless innovation we're talking about here; rather, a more expansive palette from which Gamma Ray have drawn. And the crazily frantic, quasi-discordant picked passages that open 'Future Madhouse' are wonderfully batty.
At core, though, and style divergences aside, this is an atypical Gamma Ray album that, according to press blurb, was a commercial success back in the day, with 100,000 units sold in Japan alone. The bonus disc's a nice addition once again, and offers the true Gamma Ray aficionados something that little extra to persuade them to rebuy an album they no doubt already own. But, of course, the remastered main course will also prove tasty and tempting. And it's time to rediscover this 23 year old gem and listen to it afresh, with twenty first century ears or, for others, to experience it for the very first time. It still stands up strong.
INSANITY AND GENIUS (ANNIVERSARY EDITION)
Review by Mark Holmes
56:46 & 40:33
6th May 2016
DISC ONE: 1) Tribute to the Past; 2) No Return; 3) Last Before the Storm; 4) The Cave Principle; 5) Future Madhouse; 6) Gamma Ray; 7) Insanity and Genius; 8) 18 Years; 9) Your TÝrn Is Over; 10) Heal Me; 11) Brothers
DISC TWO: 1) Valley of the Kings (Live); 2) Heaven Can Wait;(Live) 3) Gamma Ray (Extended); 4) Money (Demo); 5) Silence (Demo); 6) Sail On (Demo); 7) Space Eater (Rough Mix); 8) Exciter (Judas Priest Cover)
COUNTRY OF ORIGIN:
"Originally released to mixed reviews and retrospectively not regarded as amongst Gamma Ray's better works, 'Insanity and Genius' is undeniably an underrated work in their back catalogue."