The Islington Academy is a pretty cool venue that holds probably around 800 or so when packed but thankfully it was nowhere near that on Tuesday night with an estimated crowd of between 4 and 500 at a push turning up to celebrate with the Rays.
First up were local heroes, Neonfly and their very melodic brand of power metal. I've seen them a few times already and they always put on a good show. In front man Willy Norton, they have a very engaging and talkative guy who can gee up the most comatose crowd with his enthusiasm and he can really sing melodically as well. The band's songs are very easy on the ear with a slight AOR bent making the songs very catchy indeed. Although on the recent album they did push the boat out a bit into more progressive and heavier waters which suited them down to the ground. Willy Norton looks way more metal these days with his long hair and beard than a few years ago when he had much shorter hair and was clean shaven. The early comers were treated to a short and sweet 30 minutes or so of Neonfly's finest tunes including a cool medley of three songs. The best songs were The Enemy and Heart of the Sun from the latest album. Props to the guitarist for wearing a roman warrior head feather towards the end of their set. You might as well push the boat out a bit when it comes to stage gear!
Next up were the all international Serious Black. I thought Roland Grapow was supposed to be in the band but he wasn't there and Bob Katsionis of Firewind and Outloud was playing guitar for them. Alex Holwarz of Rhapsody of Fire was on drums with the bass and second guitar being filled by some German guys I believe. Of course you all know who was on the mic, none other singer extraordinaire Mr Urban Reed. Of course everyone knows that Urban can sing up a power metal storm and he did this no problem as his band played most of their one and only album.
Their best songs are hard to gauge and all of them sounded good and immediate as I haven't heard the album in a good while so didn't have good recollection of the songs. Urban was singing great and although the crowd was sometimes a bit lukewarm to the band, they did get a fair response. I just think quite a lot of the crowd were a little unfamiliar with the band apart from the die hards like me that is. Personally I thought they were great all the way and Urban was singing at his best though the sound mix wasn't vocal heavy as the drums were as usual louder than everything else. I don't know why metal gigs have to have the drum louder than everything else but that's the way it's gotta be. SB left to fine applause and soon enough the stage was readied for Kai and co to celebrate their metallic overtures over the last quarter of a century.
When you think about it's that quite a long time to be a leading light in the Euro power metal scene and for the band leader to be considered an all time great and much revered. So well done to Kai and the band for that. The band strides on like they are playing a hometown gig with huge grins and are cheered liked long returning heroes before opening with Ray classic Heaven Can Wait with the whole crowd helping Kai out on the chorus. There's no sign of Kai's new sidekick, Frank Beck as Kai sings the opening numbers alone. He doesn't even sound that bad either and I'm wondering what is the point of the new guy but he's soon introduced on to the stage by Kai and gets a warm response. Although it's rather odd indeed to have someone else on stage singing with Kai as he never really takes over either. He sings some lines but never sings a song in full himself. He'll start a song Kai will help with the chorus or take a couple of the more memorable lines and then Frank will finish the song or the whole band will finish it as there are mix stands in front all the band. It helps that Frank is a pretty decent singer and his voice is quite similar to Kai's and it's all pretty seamless.
The set list is a mixed bunch from the entire breadth of the band's career but for my taste there's a little too much of the old and not enough of the new. The over extended drum and bass solos which must have stretched past or close to 15 minutes was pushing it as well. I guess that's how they pad shows out these days allowing to Kai to have a breather but I thought that's what Frank was there for! Oh well hehe! After the introduction of the band we get an excellent stretch of songs starting from the speedy Dethrone Tyranny leading on to recent material such as Master of Confusion and then delving backwards to unmissable band classic, Rebellion in Dreamland which segues in the middle into the Manowaresque Heavy Metal Universe and ends with Ride the Sky. The band concludes the main set with an extended band jam with Somewhere Out in Space followed by a super long Kai solo. It was cool but it was bloody long too hehe. I'm not really one for extended solo section and I would say a good 30 minutes of the whole 100 minute stage time was given over to solo spots for each instrument.
The band came out for an encore after considerable encouragement from the crowd and played the title track of the debut Heading For Tomorrow. A song I don't actually know since I've never really heard the debut album at all. It sounded mighty and epic as it segued into Avalon though. The band closed with probably one of the catchiest Gamma Ray tunes ever in Send me a Sign with the whole crowd going for one last hurrah before the Rays leave us to rapturous cheers. A nice way to celebrate 25 years in metal ideed. No mean feat guys, so well done indeed.
Heaven Can Wait
Last Before the Storm
One With the World
I Want Out
(Helloween cover) (with raggae jam)
Valley of the Kings
Drum & Bass Solo
Master of Confusion
Rebellion in Dreamland / Heavy Metal Universe / Ride the Sky
Somewhere Out in Space
(With extended jam)
Heading for Tomorrow / Avalon
Send Me a Sign