Back in 2010 when I met Kai Hansen, while touring in support of To The Metal, he spoke of a highly ambitious live project. The band had planned for a small tour that would feature two consecutive shows at each venue, where the first one would be an unplugged performance of their greatest hits, and the second one a fully-plugged performance of rarely or never-before played tracks. For whatever reasons the project never came to life as such, but rather as a standard two-hour set including both the rarities and the classics. Skeletons & Majesties Live is a perfectly preserved memory of this tour, recorded during the 2011 show in Pratteln, Switzerland.
Skeletons & Majesties Live is not the first project of this kind Gamma Ray has done. The 2003 live album, Skeletons in the Closet, was driven by the same idea: let the fans decide which songs they would like to hear live through online voting. And just like the last time, this record features some of the forgotten jewels from the beginning of the band’s career up to their latest studio effort. Tracks like “Money,” “Wings of Destiny,” or “Man, Martians and Machines” are considered some of the finest efforts in the band’s career, yet Gamma Ray rarely or never included them in their live sets. On the other hand, “The Spirit,” “Hold Your Ground,” and “Brothers” recorded ages ago with the band’s former vocalist, Ralf Scheepers, received a brand new treatment: they sound rejuvenated and much more like modern Gamma Ray material. Of course, classics such as “Anywhere in the Galaxy” and “Dethrone Tyranny” weren’t neglected on this tour as well, and I know the audience (including myself) was dying to hear them live again, after nearly ten years. Along with the dusty gems, the record features acoustic renditions of the band’s greatest hits, “Rebellion in Dreamland” and “Send me a Sign,” featured on the Skeletons and Majesties EP as well. Another bright side of the record is the guest appearance of Michael Kiske, Hansen’s former Helloween and current Unisonic colleague, who sings on “Time to Break Free,” “A While in Dreamland,” and the Helloween classic, “Future World.” Needless to say, his voice sounds as amazing as it had all those years ago, and his appearance adds to the whole nostalgic feel of the record.
In terms of production, Skeletons & Majesties Live is possibly the best live record in the band’s history. While the previous live effort, Hell Yeah!!! The Awesome Foursome… contained all of the band’s greatest hits, in terms of production it was rather quiet and mellow. This one, however, is sharp, loud – real Heavy Metal. All of the instruments and the backing vocals are perfectly clear and put together so well that you’ll get the impression that Gamma Ray is playing in your living room. The only complaint goes to the total lack of interaction with the audience or any sign of the crowd whatsoever during the songs, which is a shame considering the set and the general emotion of the show.
Skeletons & Majesties Live is definitely a must-have if you are a fan of the band. It shows emotion, musicianship and the spirit this band is known and loved for, and perfectly “bottles” them into a two-hour live recording. Furthermore, the quality of the performance even ought to make someone who never heard of the bend look them up, despite the fact that the album is definitely intended as a thank-you card dedicated to the fans that have been by the band’s side throughout their two decades of existence.