To The Metal!
posted on 4/2010 By:
"We came to feel the thunder,
the lightning and the heat.
We came to hail the Metal Gods,
bangin' to the beat!
Singing HAAAAIL to the metal!
HAIL, HEAVY METAL!
I think I probably have too much German blood running through my veins to ever give up on these guys, but I'd imagine Gamma Ray's tenth full-length release is gonna raise some serious eyebrows amongst their more bull-headed, long-standing fanbase. In fact, one could likely already hang-10 atop the wave of indignant trauma swelled as a result of the title track to this record alone; "To the Metal" sounds as if it were plucked directly from 1980's British Steel. But is that really such a bad thing? Just because Kai and the boys have decided to fly more of a "classic heavy metal" flag on this record is no reason to get your Power Metal Knickers coiled into a twist, at least as far as I'm concerned. Besides, it's not like they've added dance beats 'n' glow sticks to their sound ala Nocturnal Rites, for chrissakes. The tune in question has a very "Hard Rock/Heavy Metal Arena Anthem" feel tattoo'd to its forehead, and holy shit does it ever do the trick for making me want to witness it live to pitifully (and drunkenly) sing along with wide stance and beer in hand amongst a raging crew of headbanging, heavy metal-fueled fellow Krauts. In that regard, the tune certainly does the trick. But it also admittedly forsakes most of the Gamma-elements the band has buttressed the lionshare of their power metal career on, and the abdication doesn't end there.
Nestled amongst the title track's obvious nod to elder Priest are a handful of other ditties that similarly stray from the formula Gamma Ray have stuck stubbornly to for the better part of the last 20+ years. Opener "Empathy" and "Mother Angel" show ample evidence of the band putting less pedal to the metal, with the latter showing additional ancestral fealty by letting a riff that would have fit snugly amidst a mid/late-80's Ozzy album drive the tune around the curves. "All You Need to Know" suitably turns up the aggression level, but the invasion is cut short by Kai's cleaner sung (strangely bordering on Bowie-like) refrain that leads into the album's sole guest appearance: a positively bouncy chorus courtesy of one-time Helloweenie, Michael Kiske. But it's an extremely tolerable and catchy bounce, and it's nicely offset by the rest of the cut's storminess. "Shine Forever" kicks from the gate with a, dare I say, "funky" bass-line that ushers in a salute to Fight era Halford ("Betrayal") before settling into much more familiar Gamma territory, and the album ends on a decidedly soft [sappysentimental] note with "No Need to Cry," but a pass is issued based on the fact that the song stands as an ode to bassist Dirk Schlächter's fallen Father.
The rest of the album's fare -- "Time to Live," "Rise," "Deadlands" and "Chasing Shadows" -- all spotlight the kind of higher tempo European power metal elements Mr. Hansen is hugely responsible for helping birth oh-so-many years ago. And make no mistake, these guys still do it very well. Kai's voice has held up remarkably well, considering his added rasp and all the years of extensive wailing, and the man still puts Ronco®'s shredding abilities to cellar-dwelling shame by packing To the Metal to the gills with luminous, nimble lead-guitar work. But whether or not the album's roughly 20-minutes of long-tested, prototypal Gamma Rays makes the whole of the record worthwhile obviously depends on how willing fans are to give the band some creative wiggle room. I will say that despite their inclination to mix things up here with more of a classic metal twist, it's still filtered through a sound that immediately summons Gamma Ray. So, if you count yourself a long-time patron of the Euro-Power-Metal-Rail, I'd say hop aboard To the Metal and see where it takes you.
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