Released: 2016, earMUSIC
Reviewer: Michael De Los Muertos
XXX is less an album than it is a party. I suspect Kai Hansen, scion of European power metal and the man behind the iconic band Gamma Ray, spent a wonderful day calling all his friends in the power metal business and saying, “Hey, let’s all record an album together with a bunch of cameos!” The result was undoubtedly a lot of fun recording sessions where Hansen palled around with the likes of Ralf Scheepers, Piet Sielck, Dee Snider, Michael Kiske, Hansi Kürsch, Tobias Sammet, etc. and churned out some power metal anthems. XXX is a pretty enjoyable album, nothing groundbreaking, but some of its power comes from the fact of the collaborations rather than the music itself being stand-alone terrific.
That said, there are some good tracks. I really like “Stranger in Time” which features Kiske, Sammet, and Frank Beck on a song that sounds like it came from Gamma Ray’s Somewhere out in Space album. “Fire and Ice” is a down-tempo number with catchy vocals and guitar work. Less successful is “Left Behind” which sounds like mid-1990s grunge rock, not very power metal at all. “All or Nothing” is generally pretty forgettable. Although Scheepers, one of my favorite vocalists, appears on “Enemies of Fun,” the song fell a bit flat for me, at least at first, but it started growing on me after repeated listens. I’m not generally a fan of songs where bands complain about the vagaries of the music business, but “Contract Song,” featuring Dee Snider, is a lot of fun. “Follow the Sun” is possibly my favorite song from the album; at least there’s a fair amount of speed, and guest guitarist Tim Hansen keeps things moving pretty well. This is the track on which Hansi Kürsch sings, and despite that it sounds more like old Gamma Ray than Blind Guardian. In general, the more the songs on XXX sound like Gamma Ray, the better they are; that’s not surprising considering that’s where Kai Hansen is most in his element and delivers his strongest work, musically speaking.
There is a slight sense of unfulfilled expectations about this album. From its title Three Decades in Metal you would think this would be a balls-out, no-holds-barred power metal smorgasbord designed to satiate the musical palates of even the most ravenous and obsessive fans of the various bands that Hansen’s friends populate—in essence, the power metal album to end all power metal albums. And who better than Kai Hansen to deliver that? Alas, XXX just doesn’t rise to that level, but if you jettison those perhaps unreasonably high expectations, it’s a fun and very enjoyable album.
If you’re the kind of person whose bedroom is papered in Helloween, Gamma Ray and Blind Guardian posters, who owns the Japanese digipack version of Alive ‘95 and a collection of Dan Zimmermann drumsticks you’ve personally caught at various European shows, you are obligated to own XXX – Three Decades in Metal. Even if you’re much less of an obsessive power metal fan than that, you’ll undoubtedly find something you like very much in this album. Good, not great. Worth owning.