Wailing to the heavens, as only he can in that dramatic voice of his, the one that once led Helloween to such great heights, Kai Hansen declares, “It’s up to you to be forgotten” in the surging symphonic-metal fantasy “Avalon” that serves as the gateway to the Armoury Records release Empire of the Undead, the new album from German power-metal legends Gamma Ray.

Always a potent mix of speed and bombast, Gamma Ray has no intention of being relegated to the dustbins of metal history, not after adding an LP as memorable as Empire of the Undead to their esteemed catalog.

Abandoning any pretense of subtlety, Gamma Ray lets it all hang out on the gloriously operatic “Avalon,” a 9:22 shape-shifting theater of magic, deceit and heroism that consists of epic storytelling, soaring strings and powerful, melodic surges of guitars, drums and bass that eventually turns into an angry tempest. The rumbling evil and dark, pounding riffs of “Demonseed” drive a complex tale of a demonic presence looking to spread pain and suffering throughout the earth, while the high-flying “Seven” – reminiscent of Iron Maiden’s “Run to the Hills” – takes an elevator down to hell, as Hansen gives a particularly devilish soliloquy. It’s a captivating vocal performance that Hansen gives on Empire of the Undead, as he relishes the chance to assume different roles.

Not always so theatrical, Empire of the Undead doesn’t end there. The title a transparent nod to Judas Priest, “Hellbent” is a fast, thrashing ode to the greatness of heavy metal, and it is not only sincere, but also absolutely thrilling, as is the equally fast and furious title track, its guitars full of venom that spreads into the hard-charging “Pale Rider.”

Full of diverse compositions, stampeding blast beats, aggressive guitars and dynamic shredding, and Hansen’s unique and utterly compelling vocal phrasing, Empire of the Undead is completely over the top and runs on pure adrenaline, that is until Gamma Ray tries to be Queen on the overly earnest “Time for Deliverance.” That’s when this Empire falls, until revived again by the explosive power-metal back draft of closer “I Will Return.” Here’s hoping Gamma Ray also comes back again.

Label: Armoury Records (can be ordered here)