20 years after the release of Gamma Ray's debut album (Heading For Tomorrow) it's time to embrace the band's tenth recording. I approached the album with no expectations at all since it was a while ago they delivered something out of the ordinary. I'm speaking about the magnificent album No World Order released in 2001. I know that some of you out there disagree with me (including a couple of my fellow staff members) but both Majestic (2005) and Land Of The Free II (2007) were huge disappointments for my own part.
Gamma Ray is without a doubt first class outfit that rarely avoids from their traditional sound. They have never experimented too much to leave their beaten path and in that context the fans always get what they want. However, they sometimes copy themselves or other bands/songs a bit too much and sometimes the song writing has been slightly a matter of routine. After the first listening session I was quite pleased with To The Metal and I felt that it was a big step up compared to its predecessors. The more I listen to the record however, the more hesitant I get with my first impressions.
The big discussion in advance of this release was the news of Michael Kiske and Kai Hansen working together again. The renowned ex-Helloween singer has contributed with vocals on All You Need To Know but what could have been something interesting feels like a big compromise all over. The song starts great in a furious tempo but changes its face in time for the cheesy chorus where Michael Kiske kicks in with his vocals. I am a big fan of variations and dynamic song writing but this feels like two different compositions that have been glued together.
The title track is another embarrassing moment since it's a complete rip-off of Judas Priest's Metal Gods. And speaking of rip-off's, what about the remake of I Want Out in the chorus of Time To Live? It's a great track that sure will be even better live but the bitter taste won't leave since I've already heard the song before.
Enough of criticisms since there are some really strong moments on To The Metal as well. The opener Empathy with vibes of industry and a touch of darkness is a great track where Gamma Ray makes a good attempt on breaking new ground. Rise is a solid power metal piece with an efficient chorus. Deadlands has pace and groove that makes your feet stomp and when Kai sings "Run" in the chorus he is doing a perfect imitation of Bruce Dickinson.
The best tracks however are the intriguing grower entitled Chasing Shadows with fantastic guitar work and the brilliant Shine Forever which starts in Painkiller style and peaks with a breathtaking chorus. The latter is in fact by far the best composition they have done since No World Order.
In conclusion, To The Metal is uneven to say the least but the best tracks levels up from the failures I described earlier. It's their best effort since No World Order but they need to sharpen the song writing a bit more to leave me fully satisfied.