As the pendulum shifts further and further toward retro-sounding bands and more and more extreme forms of metalcore, that Gamma Ray suddenly find themselves struggling for relevancy is no surprise.
Over the last few years, this once inconquerable band seems to have hit a few hurdles on their trailblazing path to true power metal glory. Since their late 90s run of four incredible albums in a row, the last decade hasn’t been quite so kind: Majesty was hit and miss and Land of the Free II was an inconceived hodge-podge that almost ruined the legacy of the original. In amongst them there’s been an almost inordinate number of compilations, boxed sets and double-live CDs and DVDs that always seem to point to the gradual demise of a once-great band.
On To the Metal! the German quartet fall back on Judas Priest and Iron Maiden worship to the point where Kai Hansen adopts a Halford-like bark a good percentage of the time and the title track is little more than a shameless rip-off of “Metal Gods”. It isn’t that the album is totally without merit. “Empathy” with its uncharacteristic gentle opening is a great track and “All You Need to Know” has the erstwhile Michael Kiske adding his golden touch. But even here, the grabs from Maiden and Rainbow are just too obvious to ignore and too prominent to be accidental. On the tracks that Hansen doesn’t write, Gamma Ray sound much more themselves, without the blatant thievery from their influences. Even so, they aren’t exactly creating any real magic, just joyously catchy, triple-vocal melody power metal played at ridiculous speed like they have always done, and there is schmaltzy dreck like “Mother Angel” and oodles of cheese. For the completist, the “deluxe” edition contains a making-of DVD which shall remain unreviewed because, well, seriously why bother?
Even with the flagrant plagarism To the Metal! is at least much better than the last couple of studio albums. You can tell from the artwork that it doesn’t break the mould as far as Gamma Ray albums go. While they are incorporating more and more classic metal influences into their music (as least with regard to Hansen’s songs), they’re still uncompromisingly melodic heavy metal. It ain’t Land of the Free, but at least it’s not Land of the Free II.
2. All You Need to Know
3. Time to Live
4. To the Metal
6. Mother’s Angel
7. Shine Forever
9. Chasing Shadows
10. No Need to Cry