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According to the Shengxiào (the Chinese zodiac), 2015 is the year of the sheep. However, it seems that earMUSIC are trying to push for 2015 being the year of the Gamma Ray. Compilations and reissues are now coming thick and fast. February saw the release of a retrospective compilation, 'The Best (Of)'; a 25th anniversary edition of their debut album, 'Heading for Tomorrow', appeared in July; and now we have Gamma Ray's sophomore full-length, 'Sigh No More', given the 'Anniversary Edition' treatment in a double disc format. A change in personnel from their debut release, vocalist Ralf Scheepers and bassist Uwe Wessel remained alongside mainman Kai Hansen, although guitarist Dirk Schlächter (and current bassist in the band) was new in their ranks, plus Uli Kusch had replaced Mathias Burchard behind the kit. So it was already all-change for Gamma Ray just two albums into their career. And whether it was a direct consequence of the revised lineup, or the band had simply lost a little of their debut vivacity, I'm unsure, but 'Sigh No More' doesn't quite reach the hard-hitting power metal might of 'Heading for Tomorrow'.

The first disc consists of the original album tracks, all remastered by producer/sound engineer Eike Freese, and the good news is that everything sounds magnificent twenty four years on. Or, rather, everything's been made to sound great through the remastering process. There's also the addition of two live tracks to round off disc one. Of course, this is Gamma Ray, so it's not all about their power metal paradigm (despite a propensity towards such for a number of the album's songs). Stylistic deviations include a few funk flavours in '(We Won't) Stop the War'; the epic, power ballad persuasions of 'Father and Son'; the groove driven 'Countdown'; as well as a whole gamut of classic metal characteristics that rear their head across several tracks. So this is a kind of diversified Gamma Ray, although 'Sigh No More' is still bound by the band's idioms, so it never sounds wildly or unnecessarily diverse at any point. And while the album's loaded with as much fresh energy as 'Heading for Tomorrow', the compositions are generally not quite up to the high bar set on their debut. Remarkably, though, the songs on 'Sigh No More' still sound relevant today, such is the popularity cycle of metal's subgenres, as well as power metal's tenacity, and the continued influence of Gamma Ray within the scene. Sure, this has dated, but it doesn't sound nearly a quarter of a century old.

The second disc, as per the 'Heading for Tomorrow' reissue, contains a series of rarities, including previously unreleased recordings featuring Hansen on vocals; home studio demos, pre-productions tracks, and a couple of live versions from the 2001 edition of Wacken, and 2006 in Montreal. These are all purely for the curious and diehard Gamma Ray aficionados, as the real joy here is in the rediscovery of the main album tracks. However, if 70+ minutes of rare Gamma Ray treats is your bag then earMUSIC have delivered.

I'm not sure how long earMUSIC will be able to perpetuate the 'Anniversary Edition' tag by rereleasing all of these Gamma Ray albums. I mean, 'Heading for Tomorrow' hit the twenty five years old mark this year and that's certainly worth celebrating, particularly given its influential effects. But a 24th anniversary? Who celebrates a 24th anniversary? Well, earMUSIC and Gamma Ray, obviously! And I'm sure fans of Hansen and his band will be lapping up all of these releases. At least they've been compiled with the fan in mind.
Double Album
Review by Mark Holmes
57:51 & 70:33
2nd Oct 2015
DISC ONE: 1) Changes; 2) Rich and Famous; 3) As Time Goes By; 4) (We Won't) Stop the War; 5) Father and Son; 6) One With the World; 7) Start Running; 8) Countdown; 9) Dream Healer; 10) The Spirit; 11) Sail On (Live); 12) Changes (Live)
DISC TWO: 12 tracks - various live, alternative and demo versions.
"...the songs on 'Sigh No More' still sound relevant today, such is the popularity cycle of metal's subgenres, as well as power metal's tenacity, and the continued influence of Gamma Ray within the scene."