Hansen & Friends - XXX: Three Decades In Metal

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Produced by Kai Hansen, Eike Freese, and Alexander Dietz

Gamma Ray front-man Kai Hansen is in arguably the richest vein of form in his life. The brilliantly heavy Empires of The Undead album, Gamma Ray's most recent from 2014, was their best for at least 13 years, if not longer.

Now, with his first solo album of his career, he's written another collection of songs which are just as good. Lining up a strong roster of guests to help him, including several current and past band-mates, the album moves through distinct phases, starting with Kai on his own for the autobiographical Born Free, the most typical of the tracks.

The next section is three tracks featuring probably the highest profile of the guests, for songs which are somewhat tongue-in-cheek. The first is original Gamma Ray and now Primal Fear singer Ralf Scheepers on Enemies of Fun, then Twisted Sister's Dee Snider playing a sinister role on the slightly silly Contract Song, and Tobias Sammet from Edguy and Avantasia helping out on Making Headlines.

Section three is the epics. Sammet returns, joined by current Gamma Ray singer Frank Beck and Kai's Unisonic bandmate Michael Kiske, for the heavy Stranger In Time, which is probably the best song in the first half with fast riffs and blazing solos provided by Roland Grapow, another Helloween alumni. Fire And Ice, featuring Heaven Shall Burn's Marcus Bischoff and The Unguided's Richard Sjunnesson kicks of the second half nicely. It's the disc's heaviest and longest song, with Helloween leader Michael Weikath contributing the guitar solo, and moves through several passages in its eight-and-a-half minutes. It's easily the album's highlight, and is also the first of three consecutive songs with Visions of Atlantis's Clémentine Delauney dueting with Hansen to add extra melody.

The other two with Clémentine Delauney unfortunately kick off the section of the album with its three least interesting tracks (Left Behind and All Or Nothing, along with Burning Bridges with Dark Age front-man Eike Freese). They aren't bad songs, but they aren't as vibrant or varied as the rest of the album. Things pick up again at the end for the final movement though, when Hansi Kursch (Blind Guardian) joins in on the pacey, classic power metal of Follow The Sun.

The special edition includes a second disc containing all ten songs again but without the guests. The inclusion of Born Free again is slightly pointless as it's identical to the version on the first disc, but it does mean the album is presented in its entirety. Purists might prefer these version if they only wanted to hear Kai sing and play, but several of the tracks lack the dynamics of the fuller versions without the back and forth between different voices (Kai multi-tracks his vocals instead on these versions, but it's not as effective).

It's not quite as coherent an album as Empires of The Undead, but the vocal interplay between all the singers makes it an equally entertaining one. It shows Hansen is still writing some of his best material at the moment, so hopefully this outing isn't a one-off.

“ moves through distinct phases ”

Tracklist: Born Free / Enemies of Fun / Contract Song / Making Headlines / Stranger In Time / Fire And Ice / Left Behind / All Or Nothing / Burning Bridges / Follow The Sun

Photo(s) by: Franz Schepers

Written by Andy Lye
More: 2016, Albums, Heavy Metal, , ,

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