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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.

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