The first time I listened to this record, I had no idea what to think. My feelings toward Gamma Ray are those of a fat kid trapped in an infinite deposit of Skittles, but this puppy isn't like Gamma Ray; it's a simultaneous redefinition and disruption of what one of my favorite bands have become. Do I enjoy this record? Certainly, yet there is much I just can't understand…like why traditional metal roots are more prevalent than power metal!
Gamma Ray, the progenitor of power metal, leans toward a simpler route instead of capturing the epic landscapes, upbeat altitudes, and classic ideologies of Kai Hansen's earlier brainchild on this one. To the Metal is a noticeable descent into materials easier to digest and much more retrogressive when discussing Gamma Ray's past catalog. Although I believe To the Metal remains one of the weakest records these gentlemen have created since Ralf Scheepers booked it, I say it contains a noticeable amount of value despite a clear descent in terms of quality.
Anyway, I guess the only logical fact about To the Metal is its diverted, simple nature which doesn't make me as giddy as it does when I usually listen to Gamma Ray dominate nearly everything. Sure the riffs are usually good, the solos typically blistering and fun, Dan Zimmerman's percussion fantastic as always, and the atmosphere enjoyable, yet there is a wide change in sound. Of course, this isn't an oddball compared to Gamma Ray's past releases –they've mildly altered their identity per album, but something like this is totally on the flip-side of things. Whereas No World Order had NWOBHM influences or perhaps Majestic darker and Heading for Tomorrow an ode akin to Helloween and The Seven Keys Saga, To the Metal simplifies the equation, for better or for worse.
Nearly all cuts follow an intro-verse-chorus-verse-chorus-solo-chorus pattern which demonstrates straightforward heavy metal and mid-paced grooves at its most conventional yet pleasing pedestal. Kai Hansen's riffs are fun; Zimmerman's percussion godly; Dirk Schlächter's bass playing is stellar (plus he gets a few bass solos on "Shine Forever" which are dope as sh*t); and Henjo Richter's ever-so-grand shredding is wonderful as always. But as the Tin Man was alive and well yet lacking a heart, so is the direction of To the Metal and its forefathers: it is incredibly simple music. It does the trick, but at the same time, doesn't live up to expectations.
To the Metal is nothing more than a typical metal release. No truly-outstanding riffs, solos, or anything else – it's just fun, listenable metal. The one thing, however, which has always continued to improve in the Gamma Ray camp, is Kai Hansen's voice, which sounds and fits even better than it did on Land of the Free II, which also was an improvement over the band's previous release. Also, the album's flow is very different – as expected – due to scattered filler and great songs which were seemingly randomized and placed in their particular order. For instance, the inclusion of a lame-duck ballad such as "No Need to Cry" at the end of the record or the utter boredom of "All You Need to Know" completely lack memorable substance and are easily discarded as filler while thumping the flow of something fun and atmospheric like "Empathy" or "Mother Angel," which are clearly the record's finest tunes. Overall, I feel one can either slam or praise this album's merits with near-equal argument.
In conclusion, there is a fundamental abandonment of quality and identity Gamma Ray had previously portrayed, yet this absence does not damage the overall function of To the Metal. Gamma Ray has accomplished almost everything a legendary metal band could, and hence we have this record demonstrating a group with only one intention – write a decent record. Part of me misses the no-limit attitude something like Land of the Free used to elevate itself beyond traditional power metal, but part of me is also satisfied. It's a little different, but still something I find myself enjoying. Final point: it's a Gamma Ray record, and if you have ever experienced Gamma Ray before, you know exactly what to expect in terms of content, although this one might give you a curve ball to hit.
All You Need to Know
Time to Live
To the Metal
No Need to Cry