Gamma Ray (band)

Gamma Ray (band)

Gamma Ray

Gamma Ray after a show in Barcelona, Spain.
Background information
Origin Hamburg, Germany
Genres Heavy metal, power metal, speed metal
Years active 1989–present
Labels RCA, FAD, Noise, Sanctuary, SPV/Steamhammer
Associated acts Helloween, Primal Fear, Iron Savior, Freedom Call
Kai Hansen
Dirk Schlächter
Dan Zimmermann
Henjo Richter
Past members
Ralf Scheepers
Uwe Wessel
Mathias Burchard
Uli Kusch
Jan Rubach
Thomas Nack

Gamma Ray is a power metal band from Hamburg, northern Germany, founded and fronted by Kai Hansen after his departure from the German power metal Helloween. Hansen is the current lead vocalist, guitarist as well as the chief songwriter of Gamma Ray. The band is known as one of the most prominent bands of the German heavy metal scene. Despite having many lineup changes in their early career, the band's lineup has remained stable since 1997.




In 1988, after four years with the German power metal band Helloween, guitarist and songwriter Kai Hansen decided, for reasons that are still the subject of much debate, to leave the group. Hansen claimed that Helloween had become too big for him to handle, although the group's troubles with financial issues and their record company, Noise Records, most likely played a part as well. He proceeded to do some studio work with German speed metal band Blind Guardian and in 1989 decided to form his own project with long-time friend Ralf Scheepers, former vocalist of the band Tyran Pace. This two-man project grew into a four-man band with the addition of Uwe Wessel on bass and Mathias Burchardt on drums. This was the first line-up of Gamma Ray, bearing a sound understandably close to that of Helloween of that period.

The Scheepers era (1989 - 1995)

The original line-up released the album Heading for Tomorrow in February 1990 and later that year the Heaven Can Wait EP, with new guitarist Dirk Schlächter and new drummer Uli Kusch.

In February 1991, the band began rehearsing for the recording of their second album in a small, remote house in Denmark. With some brand new songs written, Gamma Ray entered the studio under the supervision of producer Tommy Newton and recorded their second album Sigh No More, which was released in September 1991. The style differed vastly from that of Heading for Tomorrow, featuring darker lyrics inspired by the Persian Gulf War that was raging at the time. A 50-date worldwide tour followed.

After the Japanese tour at the beginning of 1991, Gamma Ray underwent another personnel change: the rhythm section (Wessel and Kusch) left due to a personal disagreement and were replaced by Jan Rubach (bass) and Thomas Nack (drums), both from the Hamburg band Anesthesia. The band also began to build their own studio, so work on their new album didn't start until 1993. The album Insanity and Genius was released in June 1993, with a style which was closer to that of Heading for Tomorrow than Sigh No More. In September 1993 Gamma Ray, along with Rage, Helicon and Conception, embarked on the Melodic Metal Strikes Back tour. The tour contributed to the release of the double CD The Power of Metal, and the videos Power of Metal and Lust for Live, in December.

Land of the Free and commercial success (1995 - 2006)

More changes in the lineup were to follow for Gamma Ray. Vocalist Ralf Scheepers, who lived far way away from the other band members hometown Hamburg and was attempting to become the new Judas Priest singer after Rob Halford, felt his position in the band strained by the writing collaboration of Hansen and Schlächter in the composition of new songs. Hansen and Scheepers agreed for an amicable departure of the vocalist. After failing to be recruited for Judas Priest, Scheepers started his own band, Primal Fear. Hansen then began to search for a new vocalist but, due to demand from friends and fans, took on the guitar-vocal duties himself as he had done for Helloween's first EP and album.

In 1995 the fourth album, Land of the Free, the first to feature Hansen on vocals, was released. The album was universally praised by critics. The tour following the album, Men on a Tour, brought the recording and release of the live album Alive '95 in 1996.

Drummer Dan Zimmermann live in Barcelona in 2005

Soon after, there was yet another major lineup change. Jan Rubach and Thomas Nack both left in order to return to Anesthesia and in came new drummer Dan Zimmermann. He is also known for being a founding member of the German power metal band Freedom Call. Schlächter, who was originally a bass player as can be seen on the 1990 video Heading for the East when he and Wessel switch instruments for a few songs, and Schlächter performs a bass solo, left the second guitar spot and took back his original instrument, beeing repalced on guitar by Henjo Richter. This lineup survives to this day.

Work started on the next full-length album, and 1997 saw the release of Somewhere Out in Space, which marked the beginning of the band's thematic concentration on space. The album featured the hit "Valley of the Kings" and entered in the charts of many European countries. After two years of touring came the album Power Plant, which was a continuation of Somewhere Out in Space's lyrical approach, but a new direction musically. The album was highly acclaimed throughout the world and gained even more chart success than its predecessor.

For Gamma Ray greatest hits album, Hansen decided to do things differently from the usual compilation of songs. He let the fans decide by voting on their website for their three favorite songs on each album, then the band went back to the studio to re-record the old tracks from the first three albums and made remixed versions for the songs on the later ones. Blast from the Past was the name chosen for this double album.

After a break of one year, when Hansen concentrated on his side project Iron Savior, the band was ready for the recording and release of the album No World Order, which was stylistically similar to NWOBHM bands such as Iron Maiden and Judas Priest. Again the album was highly praised and the No Order World Tour saw the band visiting dozens of European countries and Japan. After resting from the tour, the band went on with the Skeletons in the Closet tour, which saw the band performing songs that they never or rarely played live before. Once again, the setlist was voted by the fans on the band's website. Only a few shows were played on this tour but two of those were recorded for the live album Skeletons in the Closet.

Gamma Ray in concert in 2007

Kai Hansen and Henjo Richter also participated in Tobias Sammet's project Avantasia, on both The Metal Opera and The Metal Opera Part II, along with various other musicians including Hansen's former bandmates from Helloween, Markus Grosskopf and Michael Kiske.

A live DVD, Hell Yeah - The Awesome Foursome (And The Finnish Keyboarder Who Didn't Want To Wear His Donald Duck Costume) Live in Montreal was recorded on May 6, 2006 at Le Medley in Montreal, Quebec. The setlist contained songs drawn from all of their albums up to Majestic (excluding Insanity and Genius) and also a cover of the Helloween hit "I Want Out". The DVD finally saw release on November 4, 2008. It entered the German media control charts at No. 9 and the Swedish charts at No. 1, according to the band's official website.

Recent activities

In recent years Gamma Ray have made use of touring keyboard players to fully augment their sound in a live environment. Axel Mackenrott of Masterplan fulfilled these duties in the past and was followed by Eero Kaukomies, a Finn who also plays in a Gamma Ray tribute band named Guardians of Mankind.[1] His bandmate Kasperi Heikkinen (currently of Amberian Dawn) also played on part of the Majestic tour in 2006 following an injury to Henjo Richter. On their most recent "To The Metal" tour,[2] Kasperi Heikkinen replaced Henjo Richter once again for shows scheduled in Germany and Czech Republic in March 2010. Richter was hospitalized on March 16, 2010 due to retinal detachment.[3] Heikkinen also shared stage with fellow axemen Hansen and Richter making "a three guitar special" for the encore numbers at the Nosturi club in Helsinki, Finland on March 29, 2010.

Land of the Free II was released in late 2007 as a sequel to the hugely successful Land of the Free album. To promote the album, Gamma Ray were the "very special guest" on Helloween's Hellish Rock 2007/2008 World Tour, on some shows along with the band Axxis. For the final encores of the evening, Kai and members of Gamma Ray joined Helloween to play a couple of songs from when Kai was in the latter band. Kai would also regularly join Helloween co-founder Michael Weikath at center stage to the delight of fans of both bands.

To the Metal! is the tenth full length studio album by Gamma Ray. It was released on January 29, 2010.

On May 31, 2011 Gamma Ray released an EP called Skeletons and Majesties. It contains newly recorded, rarely played old songs (Skeletons) and acoustic versions of other older songs (Majesties).[4]



Current members


  • Kai Hansen - guitars (1989–present), vocals (1994–present)
  • Henjo Richter - guitars, keyboards (1997–present)
  • Dirk Schlächter - bass (1997–present), guitars (1990–1997)
  • Dan Zimmerman - drums (1997–present)

Live musician

  • Alessio Gori - keyboards (2007-present)

Former members



  • Uwe Wessel - bass (1989–1993)
  • Jan Rubach - bass (1993–1997)


  • Mathias Burchard - drums (1989–1990)
  • Uli Kusch - drums (1990–1992)
  • Thomas Nack - drums (1993–1997)

Guest studio musicians

  • Michael Kiske - vocals (1995) on Time to Break Free and Land of the Free, (2010) in All you need to know.
  • Hansi Kürsch - vocals (1995) on Farewell and Land of the Free.
  • Tommy Newton - guitars (1989, 1990, 1991)
  • Tommy Hansen - keyboards (1991)
  • Piet Sielck - vocals, keyboards, guitars (1989, 1990, 1991, 1997)
  • Tammo Vollmers - drums (1989)
  • Mischa Gerlach - keyboards (1989)
  • Sascha Paeth - keyboards (1993, 1995)
  • Thomas Stauch - drums (1997)
  • Axel Mackenrott - keyboards (2005)

Guest live musicians

  • Henning Basse - vocals (2008)
  • Jorn Ellerbrock - keyboards (1990)
  • Mike Terrana - drums (1998)
  • Dan Olding - keyboards (2001)
  • Axel Mackenrott - keyboards (2004)
  • Kasperi Heikkinen - guitars (2006, 2010)
  • Eero Kaukomies - keyboards (2006, 2007)
  • Michael Kiske - vocals (2011)



Gamma Ray have covered numerous bands and musicians during their career, including, but not limited to:

  • Helloween - the former band of Kai Hansen. Some of their songs, written by Kai, are often performed by Gamma Ray live, such as "Ride the Sky," "I Want Out," "Save Us," "Victim of Fate" or "Future World."
  • The song "Heavy Metal Mania" by the band Holocaust was covered one time in studio and many times live.
  • Gamma Ray have covered Judas Priest's "Victim of Changes" with Kai on vocals and "Exciter" with Ralf. It has been stated in various interviews, that Judas Priest is one of Kai Hansen's favourite bands. They are also a favourite of Scheepers, as he left Gamma Ray during the tryouts for the new Judas Priest vocalist. He ultimately lost to Tim "Ripper" Owens. Additionally, Gamma Ray's song "Wings of Destiny" (where it is being sang "..on sad wings of destiny..") could be linked to Judas Priest's Sad Wings of Destiny, the album from which "Victim of Changes" originates.
  • They also covered two Uriah Heep songs: "Look at Yourself" on the Heading for Tomorrow CD with Scheepers on vocals, and "Return to Fantasy," sung by Hansen, featured on 2003 release of Somewhere Out in Space.
  • Gamma Ray covered the Pet Shop Boys song "It's a Sin" on their 1999 album Power Plant.
  • Rainbow's Long Live Rock 'N' Roll, recorded by Gamma Ray was featured on the 2003 release of the Power Plant album.
  • Gamma Ray covered the Thin Lizzy song "Angel of Death" on their 2001 single Heaven or Hell, which was released in Japan only.
  • Gamma Ray have covered "Gamma ray," off the album Hoodoo Man, by Birth Control.


External links

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