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Egyptomania in Somewhere out in Space (Gamma Ray, 1997), by Alfonso Álvarez-Ossorio Rivas

Egyptomania in Somewhere out in Space (Gamma Ray, 1997), by Alfonso Álvarez-Ossorio Rivas

Somewhere out in Space, released in 1997, is the fifth studio album by the German power metal band Gamma Ray. It is a concept album dedicated to space travel and various other cultural tropes of a literary, philosophical, cinematographic, etc. nature.

The idea that runs throughout the album is the salvation of the human species by a race of extraterrestrials who came to Earth hundreds of thousands of years ago and who have lived among us as gods. This idea is undoubtedly inspired by the widespread hypothesis of “alien astronauts”, formulated mainly since the 1960s by authors such as Erich von Däniken (see among others his works Erinnerung an die Zukunft, 1968 and Züruck zu den Sternen, 1969). According to this theory, the extraterrestrial beings who arrived on our planet at the beginning of time are indistinguishable from the gods, and the germ of the evolutionary development of the first human civilisations was within them. Of course, one of these civilisations was Ancient Egypt. While these ideas had little impact on the academic world, which dismissed them as nonsense, von Däniken’s work has had an enormous influence on popular culture, the present Gamma Ray album being a case in point.

All the album’s concept art and the lyrics of some of the songs have an undeniable Egyptian influence. Thus, the front and back covers of the album feature images undoubtedly associated with Egyptian art, such as pyramids, sarcophagi, and hieroglyphs. Additionally, Egyptian animal-headed gods enclosed in oval cartouches are also featured, all with a technological and spacey feel, necessarily reminiscent of the film Stargate, which since its release in 1994 has become a thematic and aesthetic benchmark for many subsequent products of Egyptian popular culture, with a wide-ranging influence on all the musical and conceptual creation of Gamma Ray’s work. The depiction of the gods, Horus and Anubis, also show the influence of Enki Bilal’s comics in his Nikopol Trilogy, particularly in terms of the ugly treatment of their torsos.

Some of these motifs were also exploited in the concept art of their 2007 album, Land of the Free II, and especially in the 2000 compilation Blast from the Past, to the point that they have become a hallmark of this German band. In the case of the first album (fig. 2), we again see pyramids, this time not only within a desolate landscape from which the central character on the cover emerges, but also in the sky. Horus and Anubis again appear, this time sculpted in stone at the portal leading to this wasteland. As for Blast from the Past, the cover image recreates the celestial and extraterrestrial aspect of the Egyptian civilisation (fig. 3), with pyramids that, like spaceships from another galactic dimension, return to Earth through a vortex charged with communicating both realities. The ruins we see exemplify the past of the earth to which these beings first came.

Fig. 2: Cover of the 2007 album Land of the Free II (Source: The Rock Review)

Returning to Somewhere out in Space, in addition to the artwork, there are two songs whose lyrics have elements associated with Egyptomania and which confirm some of the ideas conveyed visually in the aforementioned albums. In “The Landing”, written by vocalist Kai Hansen and bassist Dirk Schlächter, we are told how these beings have arrived from space on their machines/pyramids, with the aim of taking the souls of humans, who consider them to be gods. The similarities with von Däniken’s ideas are obvious, but the evil side undoubtedly refers to Stargate, in which the evil Ra needs the life support of a human body to continue his existence as a parasite of the human species. Another of the leitmotifs of Egyptianising popular culture appears here, the so-called “Egyptian evil”, according to which the Egyptian represents pure evil, as we see, for example, in Cecil B. DeMille’s The Ten Commandments (1956), inspired by biblical tradition. They are also evil in Doctor Who: Pyramids of Mars (1975), in which, once again, an extraterrestrial entity, a recreation of the god Seth from Egyptian mythology, seeks the destruction of humanity.

Fig. 3: Cover of the 2000 compilation album Blast From the Past (Source: Wikipedia)

Even more explicit is the next cut on the album, which has the suggestive title of “Valley of the Kings”. In its lyrics, it talks about the struggle between the gods in the Valley of the Kings, where these divinities from space fight for the souls of men. In the bridge before the chorus, express mention is made of the god Ra.

The song concludes by telling us how the gods rise to heaven to sit on their thrones and leave the humans by their hand, who are left orphaned of divine support, as will be told in the following songs of the work.

As we can see, Gamma Ray’s albums since 1997 develop a whole narrative of the Egyptian that finds numerous antecedents in contemporary popular culture. The otherness often represented by this civilisation leads to its connection with galactic beings who became gods because of their technological superiority to the primitive humans of the Nile Valley. Endowed with this superior power, they enslave humans, as in Stargate, or steal their souls, as in the Gamma Ray albums. In either case, Egypt remains a source of trouble for humans on Earth.

Author: Alfonso Álvarez-Ossorio Rivas, Universidad de Sevilla

Featured image: Cover of the 1997 album, Somewhere out in Space (Source: Pinterest)

Further Readings:

Fernández Pichel, A.I. (2023), “Los monarcas egipcios de las galaxias”, Diario El Independiente 28.08.2023

Fernández Pichel, A.I. 2024. When the Egyptian Gods Ruled the (Future) World: Egypt, Science Fiction and Fantasy in Modern Popular Culture, in E. Dobson, L. Olabarría (eds) Do Ancient Egyptians Dream of Electric Sheep. The Reception of Ancient Egypt in Science Fiction, Aegyptiaca (in press).

On Egyptomania in Heavy Metal Music, see also: 

LET#3 – L’Égypte ancienne dans le metal (Youtube Le Phare à On)

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