Historically speaking, in the 80’s and 90’s Europe never had the same love-affair with home video as North America did. Accordingly, many European Metal bands never really released much home video product compared to North America. Gamma Ray was one such example.
HEADING FOR TRHE EAST was the band’s first foray into the home video market. Originally this came out on VHS only in Europe and on Laserdisc in Japan.
As a side note a small handful of Metal bands (Yngwie, Rage, W.A.S.P.) released a Laserdisc in Japan before DVD became the predominant format. I’ll bet, somewhere out there, some die-hard fan has a killer immaculate collection of Metal Laserdiscs!
Due to these facts HEADING TO THE EAST was pretty hard to find. I have never seen a VHS copy, ever. Eventually it was released 13 years later on DVD, which is the version I am reviewing. For the record I had never seen the DVD either until earlier this year when I found a used copy in a store. 32 years later I finally actually found a hard copy this, which ads to my feeling that this had pretty poor distribution in North America.
This short, live DVD may have seemed a bit premature. The band was only a couple of years old and only had one album under their belt, but on their first trip to Japan I’m glad someone had the foresight to document one of the shows. This 90-minute show was filmed in on November 11th, 1990 and released before the end of the year.
The DVD package is a bit weak. There is no booklet, or at least my used copy didn’t have it anymore, if there ever was one. The cover art is just a small blurry live shot. Really poorly done! The back cover is not much better with blurry live shots. It is neat too see Kai wearing a T-shirt from an old Rock bar in Toronto, that I used to frequent, Rock N’ Roll Heaven!
The concert is a multi-camera (maybe four or five) show with decent video quality for back in 1990! The show, performed in Tokyo on November 11, sees the young band full of energy and smiles. Despite what it says on-line have a feeling that this was filmed over the course of a couple of nights, or the members changed clothes very quickly because in different scenes they wear different outfits!
On occasion, when there is a lull, for example when Ralf addresses the crowd, or in between certain songs there is footage of Japan and the band walking around. It is like a mini tour documentary but fortunately the clips are very short so they don’t disrupt the concert too much with one glaring exception the ‘Ride The Sky / Hold Your Ground’ medley. There are also some post-production video effects added, just some slow motion stuff, again, nothing that distracts from the action.
The show starts much like the album, the first three songs from the debut played in the same sequence. Opener ‘Lust For Life’ rages and an instrumental middle section extends it from its original run time of five minutes to about seven minutes.
I was delighted to see them perform ‘Free Time’. It was one of the only songs written by Ralf Scheepers and it is so uncharacteristic of Gamma Ray but so fun. It too got extended with an audience participation section.
The only minor issue with bands who release a premature live album is that there is a lack of material so they have to stretch it out a bit. The debut album was eight songs (+ intro) long and ran 49 minutes. They play the entire album almost in the exact same sequence of HEADING FOR TOMORROW and they did this before it became cool and trendy to do so. To fill the extra 40 minutes of live concert they stretch out the songs and play three Helloween cover tunes, and a humorous cut from the HEAVEN CAN WAIT EP. It has funny/silly lyrics about getting rejected at a bar by a girl. The EP only came out a few weeks before the concert was filmed so not many fans seemed to know it. The opposite was true for the Helloween trilogy of ‘Save Us’, ‘I Want Out’ and ‘Ride The Sky’.
Ralf, pink shirt and all, can sing! He does live what he does on the album and his mighty screams are impressive. He handles the Helloween material with ease! The only time he struggles a very little bit is on some of the slowest moments of the ballad, ‘The Silence’.
The whole things concludes with a mega-extended version of ‘Heading For Tomorrow’. The original is already 14 minutes long to begin with and by the time the live version wraps up it eclipses 24 minutes! Cheers and beers all round. What a magnificent concert!
There is one bonus feature. Esteemed UK Journalist Malcolm Dome provides a sort of directors commentary. After a brief introduction to the band, at the beginning of each song he makes a few comments. These are interesting but basic information and not much if a bonus to the seasoned fan.
Gamma Ray has always struggled with their live albums. Almost every Live album or video was botched in one form or another…live VHS releases were never released as live albums until decades later, (HEADING FOR THE EAST, LUST FOR LIVE) live albums were weird split shows, (POWER OF METAL, ALIVE ’95, ) or they were quirky live albums that were meant to showcase obscure songs (SKELETONS IN THE CLOSET, SKELETONS & MAJESTIES LIVE). It wasn’t until 20 years after the band formed that they released a full, proper, live album with HELL YEAH!! However, I’m glad to have finally found this DVD and add to my library. It took over 30 years but I finally got to enjoy a visual representation of the early days of Gamma Ray.
Kai Hansen -Guitar, Vocals
Dirk Schlächter- Guitar
Uwe Wessel -Bass
Ulli Kusch -Drums
1. Lust for Life
2. Heaven Can Wait
3. Space Eater
5. Who Do You Think You Are
6. The Silence
7. Save Us (Helloween cover)
8. I Want Out (Helloween cover)
9. Ride the Sky (Helloween cover) / Hold Your Ground
11. Heading for Tomorrow