“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.
And hey! Gamma Ray really loves Judas Priest. Don’t we all? I hope? If not, your eyes shouldn’t really bother scooting back and forth over these words. To the Metal, and particularly the track of the same name, sounds as if it was plucked directly from 1980’s British Steel. But is that such a bad thing? No. No, it is not. But it’s maybe not quite as…power metal-ish as the band’s classic material, which maybe could possibly ruffle the feathers of their most grizzled fans. Anyway, “To the Metal” has a very strong Hard Rock/Heavy Metal Arena Anthem feel to it, and holy shit does it ever do the trick for making me wish I could witness it live while pitifully hammered and singing alongside a pile of other Gamma-bangers.
Nestled amongst the title track’s obvious nod to elder Priest are a handful of similar ditties that sorta stray from the formula Gamma Ray have stuck to so stubbornly 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 block.
“All You Need to Know” suitably turns up the aggression level, but the blitz is cut short by Kai’s cleaner sung (nearly 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. It’s an extremely tolerable and catchy bounce, though, and it’s nicely offset by the rest of the cut’s storminess.
Contrarily, “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,” which gets a pass because it’s an ode to bassist Dirk Schlächter’s fallen Father. RIP, Mr. Schlächter.
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 alongside his Helloween brothers. And make no mistake, these guys still do classic Gamma Ray really 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 shame by packing To the Metal to the rafters with luminous, nimble lead-guitar work. But whether or not the album’s roughly 20-minutes of long-tested, prototypal Gamma Raying makes the whole of the record worthwhile obviously depends on how willing fans are to giving the band creative wiggle room. I will say that despite their inclination to mix things up with a more “classic metal twist,” it’s still filtered through a sound that immediately summons Gamma Ray, so the album is still worthy of attention if the band has always been on your radar.
To the Metal, then! And see you in the arena.