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Let us rise! - 90%

BlackMetal213, December 19th, 2016
Written based on this version: 2010, CD + DVD, earMUSIC (Deluxe edition, Digipak)

Today has been a fairly productive day for me on this site. This is my sixth review from today alone, and I haven't written this many reviews at one time. Why is that? What is this sorcery? I dunno but I have the day off and I am about to go home on holiday leave, so eff it I guess. Anyway, "To the Metal!" is Gamma Ray's 10th album and a very enjoyable one at that. Out of their entire discography, I'm only familiar with this, as well as the first "Land of the Free" album and "No World Order". I enjoy power metal but I don't usually go out of my way to listen to it. This was the first Gamma Ray album I listened to, shortly after it was first released. It was recommended to me by someone who I can't remember, but whoever it was, thanks.

This album is pretty much a blend of power and speed metal. This is not particularly aggressive music but it is not "sissy" either, and doesn't manage to sound overly cheesy the entire time, which seems to be a common trait of power metal (really, when a band writes about fairies and magic, you can kind of see why this would be a common trait). I like Rhapsody of Fire and Gloryhammer just as much as the next guy, but come on. The cheese guy at the Olive Garden told me to say "when", and I said "when" long ago! I kid of course, but I digress.

In terms of guitars, they are the driving force of this album's sound. They are super melodic and over-the-top, really, giving them the fitting description of "epic". This is definitely one epic metal album. "Time to Live" has one of the biggest choruses on the album and the guitars just soar ever higher on that final chorus after the brief acoustic interlude, which really makes me want to take a sword and go to the top of Pikes Peak, and hold it to the sky. "Rise" is another one of the bigger tracks to be heard which features a similar chorus in terms of overall effect. This is one of the faster songs, if not the fastest, but has another contender fighting for that title. It's heavier on the speed metal sound. It is rivaled by "Shine Forever" in terms of speed, though. This song comes off a bit more cheesy but has a very similar tempo. The chorus is not nearly as good though and sounds a bit forced and lacking.

I dare say "Mother Angel" is my favorite track overall. Maybe this is due to the fact that "Mother Angel" was the first song on this album, and from this band, I had ever heard. It is more of a standard, rocking heavy metal track that has a catchy, melodic chorus. Like "Time to Live", the song's final chorus takes it to new heights. The solo is one of the finest to be heard here.

Ah yes, the bass. The bass is clearly audible throughout although they are perhaps at their most prominent in "Shine Forever". He gets some really cool leads in this song, apparent right away during the intro. It is really nice to be able to enjoy my favorite instrument during one of these rare occasions. This may not be an innovative album, and we certainly have heard this style before and done better. The vocals are done well and Kai Hansen's range is pretty impressive. He doesn't just stick to high-pitched singing, but he does handle it well when the time comes. A fun album with some catchy tunes, "To the Metal!" is unforgettable for me, being one of my first power metal records as well as my first from Gamma Ray.

An institution in metal, and profiting, too. - 74%

Empyreal, July 3rd, 2010

If music is a business, and a good business is dependable, then Gamma Ray is a goddamned institution. This is about as faithful as a band as you can find – seriously, have they ever deviated from their tried and true formula of Germanic power metal magic? Land of the Free II was pretty damn sucky, but even that wasn’t much more than a lapse in quality, as opposed to the stylistic changes of several of their contemporaries. This band is like those insurance companies who try to appeal to the middle class, working American people by assuring them that they’re getting dependable quality all the time. Regardless of whether they are actually telling the truth…well, Gamma Ray pretty much is. This is To the Metal.

Now, I didn’t really know what to expect when I first tracked this down. But with speedy, crunching guitars, fistfuls of nostalgic melody and venerable, confident vocals, To ther Metal won me over. This is a good album simply because Gamma Ray compiled some solid rocking tunes and put them together into a manageable package. Opener “Empathy” channels new-era Iron Maiden with a slow build up and haunting chords exploding into a domineering chorus, but we quickly kick into the usual Gamma Ray affairs with the Michael Kiske-guested “All You Need to Know.” This is probably my favorite song on here, but the speed limit breaking “Time to Live,” with a catchy as hell chorus, really hits the spot too, like a glass of milk on a hot summer day.

Other great songs here include “Mother Angel,” which rocks out with a meaty True Metal riff, a great groove and a cool chorus, the title track, which is the best song Manowar never recorded, and the excellent “Chasing Shadows,” with enough hooks to catch every fish in the Atlantic Ocean. They really go all out on the attitude and flamboyant metallic cheese here. It’s bleeding from every pore, and I love it. Extravagant and over the top, yes, but that’s exactly the beauty of it! If you’re looking for an album that will change your perspective on music and redefine the genre…well, put that on hold for a while, and listen to To the Metal instead.

Originally written for http://www.metalcrypt.com

Rise to victory - 90%

kmorg, May 6th, 2010

Land Of The Free II' was not the success Gamma Ray had hoped for. So 3 years later they try again with their 9th studio album. The title of this thing says it all, this is a tribute 'To The Metal!'.

Yes, Gamma Ray are still out to pay homage to metal from the past. But luckily this time around they have chosen to pay respect to themselves! 'To The Metal!' is much more akin to the bands own earlier work, and ranks nicely alongside stellar albums such as "Powerplant", "Majestic" and dare I say "Somewhere Out In Space"? This is the Gamma Ray I fell in love with, playing melodic speed metal, the German way. It was the songwriting that lacked on the previous effort. But here everything just falls in place again.

This album brings exactly what the fans want. Songs like "Empathy" and "Time To Live" could just as easily have been recorded for any of the previously mentioned albums. And "Rise" sounds like something from Kai's early Helloween days, but with updated production values. And speaking of Helloween, ex-singer Michael Kiske (yes, he who publicly denounced metal, and said he'd never sing metal again) does a fabulous guest spot in "All You Kneed To Know". Still, all that really matters is if the songs make you feel something, makes you move, makes you start headbanging; and here they all do just that! It's like an endless string of melodic speed metal pearls. The song "Rise" says it all; "And then we'll rise in victory, we'll return stronger than ever". Indeed!

My only complaint here is part of the sound on my CD. I don't know if it's caused by the mix, the production or the compressed files on the CD, but the treble on several songs make the vocals sound very metallic. It sounds as though my speakers were blown, and it sounds lie this on all my CD players. I've also heard that others are having the same issues with both the vinyl version and CD versions of this album. I'm trying my hardest not to let this affect the listening, but it is at times darn hard to ignore.

By returning to their roots, Gamma Ray have recorded one of the strongest albums in their career. And it feels so good to have this band back where it belongs, at the top of the German metal scene! This album just leaves me with a big smile on my face, and it keeps growing every time I listen to it.

Killer tracks: All good, but "Empathy", "All You Need To Know" and "Rise" need extra mentioning.

All You Need To Know - 70%

GuntherTheUndying, May 4th, 2010

The first time I listened to this record, I had no idea what to think. My feelings toward Gamma Ray are that 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 a lot that I just can’t understand…like why traditional metal roots are more prevalent than power metal! You heard me: Gamma Ray, the Godfather of power metal, leans toward the simpler route, and instead of capturing the epic landscapes, upbeat altitudes, and classic ideologies of Kai Hansen’s brainchild, “To the Metal” is a noticeable descent into materials that are 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 being a clear descent in terms of quality.

“To the Metal” wasn’t exactly anticipated; in fact, there was hardly any promotion about its release, and coming from a mega-fan that had no idea this record was out, that’s quite strange. Anyway, I guess the only logical fact about “To the Metal” is its diverted, simple nature that doesn’t make me so giddy when I usually listen to Gamma Ray dominates 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, “To the Metal” simplifies the equation, for better or for worse.

Nearly all cuts follow an intro-verse-chorus-verse-chorus-solo-chorus pattern that 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” that are dope as shit); and Henjo’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.

I wish I could put that bomb dropper in some electric, zesty manner, but I can’t, so here it goes again: “To the Metal” is nothing more than a typical metal release. No truly-outstanding riffs, solos, or anything else for that matter; it's just fun, listenable metal. The one thing, however, that 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 that 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 can be 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 Harvey Dent’s predicament of fighting two sides of emotion despite having both good and bad reasons for either slamming or praising “To the Metal.”

In conclusion, there is a fundamental abandonment of quality and identity that Gamma Ray had previously portrayed, yet that 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 that demonstrates a group with only one intention: write a decent record. Part of me misses that no-limit attitude that 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.

This review was written for: www.Thrashpit.com

No need to cry over this album. - 80%

Lucifers_Sword, April 12th, 2010

Gamma Ray, to me, are the best force of power metal going today, after all, Kai Hansen practically invented the genre. They have released some of my favourite metal albums, and I have never been disappointed by any release of theirs. This includes "To The Metal". Although this isn't the best work of Gamma Ray, it certainly isn't anywhere near a bad album. They succeed in creating a very solid piece of work, in which there are very few things to complain about.

To The Metal starts off with “Empathy”, it is a slower moving track, but once it picks up it puts forth a solid intro, pretty much following the standard Gamma Ray formula. After “Empathy” comes “All You Need To Know”, which is only worth mentioning because of its special guest singer Michael Kiske. It has a catchy chorus, and Kiske shines. It sort of reminds you of early Helloween, which is really a very enjoyable memory. The album keeps moving steadily, pretty much staying up to par. The music on Gamma Ray albums has always been above and beyond, and this is no exception. The solos are well played, the drumming is very good, and Dirk Schlacter proves himself to be a very talented bass player. Schlacter really stands out on the song “Shine Forever”, in which he plays a very talented solo. “Shine Forever” is clearly the standout track, with Hansen reaching Halford like vocals, an amazingly catchy chorus, and it seems to be one of the few inspired songs on the album. Another thing I enjoyed about this album is that you can really hear the influence of other bands, but there isn’t the blatant stealing of riffs that annoyed others on “Land Of The Free II”. Here you can make out the Judas Priest or Iron Maiden sound, without saying "Haven't I heard this song before?"

This album is not without flaws though. The editing on the album was not done very well. At times you can't make out Kai's voice over the guitar, and at other times you can't hear the guitar over Kai's voice. There is never a good mix of both, it's always one or the other. Also, the songs (although good) are not overly inspired. It seems almost as if the band had some songs left over, that weren’t exactly right for previous albums, so they just put them together to form this one. These songs are very well performed, but they lack the spirit you usually get with a Gamma Ray album. There isn't a "New World Order" or "Rebellion In Dreamland" to be found here, with the possible exception of the previously mentioned “Shine Forever”. I guess the question is "does there have to be?" These songs are still good, and maybe they didn't feel like writing about previous things, because they've been around so long that they don't have to. My only other complaint is about the song “No Need To Cry”. It was written about Schlacters deceased father, and what was supposed to be an emotional, inspired track, comes a little too close to 80's hair ballad. There is also this weird little acoustic bit in the middle, that doesn't really fit in. I had higher expectations for that track, than any of the other ones, and it was the disappointing one.

Overall, when you look at the album as a whole, the complaints I brought up, are quite minimal. This is a competent album that does exactly what it's supposed to, which is provide good music. This album isn't going to win over any fans, but if you’re a fan of this band already this won’t be the reason you stop listening to them (unless you weren't a very big fan to begin with). Even a casual listener probably won't find that many flaws. So if you like Gamma Ray then go ahead, pick up this album. Here’s to the metal.

To the Metal...and Beyond - 88%

doclindgren, March 29th, 2010

When it comes to the traditional power metal genre, Gamma Ray needs no introduction. With a history that dates back to the late 1980s, it is no coincidence that their career trajectory mirrors the likes of fellow German metallers Helloween and Blind Guardian. For their latest effort To the Metal!, they maintain the pace that they have had for so long, without losing much.

The album begins with a rather dark overtone in “Empathy,” and while it is dark, it is hard to mistake Kai Hansen’s vocals. Here, it is evident that Hansen is a versatile vocalist, meaning that while he can still pull off the traditional power metal vocals, he can also utilize a darker, more emotional tone when needed. The usual modus operandi for Gamma Ray returns on “Time to Live,” which shows that the band can still keep up with their usual output and not lose much in any part of their sound. Two of the songs on To the Metal! that could be destined to be Gamma Ray favorites are the title track and “Shine Forever,” with the former being an mid-paced anthemic song while the latter is clearly the best song on the album. There is the requisite ballad on the album, too, as the closing track “No Need to Cry” fits the bill and further showcases the band’s range in its music. Long time fans of Gamma Ray know what to expect from the band, as most of the material on the album showcases nothing new. However, those who are new to the band will find plenty to like about the album. Hansen’s vocals are just as good now as they were on albums such as Power Plant and Somewhere Out in Space. The guitar solos won’t blow you away, but they are brilliantly executed and are done in a manner that will stick with the listener long after the album is over, as the title track proves. The rhythm section is proficient in keeping things together, and when needed, the bass can shine in parts. There are parts when Gamma Ray seems to be slowing down, but it is only because the band is adding to its music and they do so without much need for a transition period.

To the Metal! is by no means Gamma Ray’s best album. In fact, it isn’t likely to be in the band’s top three albums, as albums such as Somewhere Out in Space, Power Plant, and Majestic deserve mention for that distinction. However, had most bands performed this album, it would be their career highlight. For Gamma Ray, it is just another day at the power metal office. A definite must have for Gamma Ray fans and fans of power metal in general, To the Metal! is another triumph for a band that has now been in existence for over two decades, and they have no intention of stopping now.

Originally posted on http://www.metalpsalter.com

Here's to the metal! - 80%

hells_unicorn, February 12th, 2010

Gamma Ray’s lengthy career, which has now spanned 10 full length albums, can essentially be divided into 3 distinct eras. The first of these saw the band with Rob Halford oriented vocal impresario Ralph Scheepers at the helm, culminating in a trilogy of albums that stuck fairly close to the formula established by Kiske-era Helloween, albeit morphing from a good offshoot of the “Keepers” albums to something a good bit closer to “Chameleon”. After the exodus of Scheepers to form his own band with members of the 80s metal outfit Sinner dubbed Primal Fear, Kai Hansen took over lead vocal duties and what followed was a series of versatile, though much more stylistically centered albums that brought out more of a Speed Metal variant on their sound, in line with “Walls Of Jericho”. After the release of what some consider to be their magnum opus “No World Order”, the third era began, and consisted largely of the band taking on a sort of metal tribute band persona, drawing heavily from bands such as Manowar, Accept and early 80s Judas Priest.

“To The Metal’ can be seen as the band’s full embracement of their new status as heavy metal historians, and the results are generally strong. The songwriting on here is quite streamlined, lacking the elaborate epics and drawn out interludes common to the band’s high era in the later 90s. Straightforward homage work to the heroes of the early 80s such as “Empathy” and “Mother Angel” definitely hearken back to the driving riff mode common to Accept, though Henjo Richter has elected to play up the Ritchie Blackmore influences in his playing significantly, and all but completely quotes part of the solo of “Stargazer” on “Empathy”. The title song also ventures pretty close to blatant 80s worship with a striking similarity to Judas Priest’s famed anthem “Metal Gods”, though with a chorus and a slow middle section that tends towards “Balls To The Wall”. Further reaching back to better days for Heavy Metal can be heard the “I Want Out” recap “Time To Live”, and the “Painkiller” inspired yet familiarly melodic and catchy “Deadlands”.

Thankfully, unlike the band’s lackluster 8th studio effort “Majestic”, this isn’t a complete collection of clichés and occasionally gets a little adventurous. For the most part, these ventures result in well put together songs, such as the bass happy speed song “Shine Forever”. In fact, a close listen to this album reveals Dirk Schlächter to be a formidable force on the bass, invoking images of Steve Harris and Markus Grosskopf, with an occasional nod to Geddy Lee here and there. “Chasing Shadows” sees Richter reprising his masterful invocations of Malmsteen vs. Johannsen in the lead department, while the general riff set and keyboard work shows an inventiveness that has been absent from much of what the band has done in the past 8 years. “Rise” and “All You Need To Know” don’t come off as being quite as original, but nonetheless are loaded with some solid riffs and memorable moments, particularly the chorus of the latter song, courtesy of the now reluctant vocal hero with a hundred guest slots to his name and former Helloween front man Michael Kiske.

The only place where things really fall apart musically is the closing song “No Need to Cry”, which tries to recapture that epic metal meets 70s rock aura first heard on “The Silence”, but this time with an acoustic section straight out of The Who’s playbook, and with several musical quotations of Queen and Kansas. Suffice to say, it clashes with everything else on here, lacks the coherence of any of this band’s previous ballad experiments, and is so lyrically cliché by even the standards of power metal and hard rock that it becomes overtly awkward. Probably the only positive that can really be drawn from this confused little song is a pretty solid impersonation of both Pete Townsend’s guitar playing and Roger Daltrey’s gravely shouts, which although completely out of place, is fairly impressive.

Basically, anyone who enjoyed the previous 2 albums before this one will gravitate towards this, with maybe the exception of those who think consistently releasing the same album format 3 times is a bit much and are looking for something a little different. Don’t expect any groundbreaking songs that redefine the genre, but instead a restatement of the same classic definition of German power metal that Kai and several others pioneered over 2 decades ago. I’d personally put slightly more priority over picking up “Land Of The Free 2”, but this is almost as good, and definitely a consistent continuation of the band’s recent incarnation.

Originally submitted to (www.metal-observer.com) on February 12, 2010.

Without the pedal - 62%

autothrall, January 30th, 2010

So I guess this year Gamma Ray's plan was to shock us all with one of the worst album titles we'd see, until you realize that it's just an incomplete cliche: 'pedal to the metal', and then it doesn't hurt quite so much. As for the album itself, it's an exercise in frustration, for it's a mix of some of the most mediocre tracks I've heard from the band in years, and a few that are honestly quite excellent. Sift through this bloated cesspool of stagnation and you are assured to uncover a few priceless gems, but no paycheck could be large enough to cover the damages of its many mundane pitfalls. Coincidentally, no paycheck should be large enough that Kai would write some of these songs. Has he finally lost his mind? Is the man just too awesome for a single corporeal body to contain all of that awesome, so now it is running loose into little marginal half-Kai impersonators? My guess is that he doesn't actually write all the songs, and reading more into the album confirms the suspicion.

"Empathy" is an atmospheric heavy rocker, and while it's not outstanding, it at least grants you hope that this might be a great album. Again, the problem is that, while there is nothing technically wrong with the music, it simply never achieves the same crescendo or unforgettable hook that so many of their past songs have delivered. "All You Need to Know" is a real treat, perhaps the sole track on this album to capture the power and brilliance of the band's New World Disorder album, and features a guest vocal spot from none other than former Helloween frontman Michael Kiske. If that doesn't make you smile, put the album down and go listen to Opeth or Wolves in the Throne Room or whatever you kids are listening to these years, because you probably don't need to be listening to Gamma Ray in the first place. It helps that the song is also quite great...

"Time to Live" is poppy and punchy, with a nice escalation through the verse to its sombering, melodic rage, but while tight, it's yet another of the songs that doesn't deliver on its promise."To the Metal" is probably Gamma Ray's attempt to rekindle the fires of 80s rock anthems by Twisted Sister or Quiet Riot, but unless you fancy yourself some guy who wants to run around a concert banging his fists and screaming HAIL TO THE METAL!, it once again falls flat. The bridge where the band builds up the psychotic distorted song title against a chorus-like backdrop is underwhelming. "Rise" gives Maiden a go for a few seconds before transforming into one of the band's prevalent, driving anthems, with drifting walls of background vocals and plenty of the band's signature tiny melodies surging through the thicker rhythmic core. It's solid Gamma Ray, though it doesn't ever really hit a memorable stride.

"Mother Angel" has a great, classic rhythm riff and tone, content at its steady mid pace, and though it's hardly remarkable, it is the first track here I can say I enjoyed. "Shine Forever" has some balls to it, with Kai reaching a Halford level in the verse, before the big Queen-like chorus, and there are also some down and dirty vocals here which border on melodic death metal. The lyrics are entirely cheesy and throwaway, but it's easily one of the only tracks here I can say I enjoyed. "Deadlands" opens with a plunky little keyboard rhythm, and a guitar melody that reminds me almost exactly of the chords that open "Sole Survivor" from Helloween's Master of the Rings, but otherwise not bad if you're a fan of the band's Powerplant and Somewhere Out in Space albums. That said, I was waiting for the killer hook to sell me, and again, it never manifested.

"Chasing Shadows" features a wonderful thrust of melody with a nice synthesizer intro, and some guitar/synth dual shredding deep in the bridge. I really wish more of To The Metal consisted of songs like this one, then we'd be having a far different conversation. The finale of the album, "No Need to Cry" is another example of how great German bands like this one still keep one foot firmly planted in the hard rock that inspired them back in the 70s, a lame power ballad at large, though the acoustic break in the middle channels a mix of Queen, Zeppelin, Rush and Zebra. The power chord climax is like a dick going limp, and the lyrics are rather sedate, but considering that the song was written by Dirk Schlächter after the passing of his father, we'll give those a pass.

Anyway I try to spin it, this album is still pretty underwhelming for the majority of its 48 minute playtime. There are a few good songs, and one I would consider excellent, but the rest feel rather redundant and uninspired, with the ballad carrying almost no weight (despite the gravity of its subject matter). Gamma Ray have seen far better days, and this is the probably their worst overall effort, even less interesting than the original Land of the Free (I realize I'm alone on that, but I still feel the album was a drag among its perky siblings). They can still play like demons, and the Michael Kiske guest spot was a joyous occasion, but I'm still seeking a German power metal release to come along and kick my ass like so many of them used to.

Highlights: All You Need to Know, Shine Forever, Chasing Shadows

-autothrall
http://www.fromthedustreturned.com