Whatever caused founding guitarist Kai Hansen to leave Helloween in 1988, just after the release of the band's classic Keeper of the Seven Keys albums, it turned out to be a benefit for power metal fans. Helloween managed without him and kept releasing (mostly) good albums, and now we had Hansen's new band Gamma Ray making power metal that, to no one's surprise, sounded a lot like Helloween.
Released in 1990, Heading for Tomorrow was Gamma Ray's debut album. "Sounds like Helloween" is the easiest way to describe it, especially since at that time, Helloween was the only other band making music in this anthemic, hyper-melodic power metal style. These days there are tons of bands in the genre, but 20 years ago Kai Hansen's bands essentially invented it. Another point in Gamma Ray's favor was the addition of vocalist Ralf Scheepers, who would go on to form Primal Fear. Scheepers's Halford-like vocals are a perfect match for Hansen's guitar work and Gamma Ray's overall sound.
There are a couple of duds on Heading for Tomorrow, such as "Spaceeater," "Money" and "Freetime," but there are also some extremely good tracks, like "Lust for Life," "Heaven Can Wait" and "The Silence." The 14-minute title track is excellent, and brings to mind the more epic tracks from the Keeper albums, and the band's cover of Uriah Heep's "Look at Yourself" is a particular favorite of mine.
I suppose it goes without saying that this album would appeal to Helloween fans. Fans of the more recent power metal bands like Sonata Arctica, Freedom Call, Edguy and Hammerfall also owe it to themselves to check out Gamma Ray.
Edition Notes: The 2003 reissue of Heading for Tomorrow features digitally remastered sound and three bonus tracks ("Mr. Outlaw," "Lonesome Stranger" and "Sail On"). It comes in a pretty cheap-looking digipack, but aside from that it's a nice upgrade of an already classic album.
PS: If you can find one, there is a very cool (but very limited) box set that collects all six of the remastered Gamma Ray albums.