Gamma Ray – To The Metal! (2010, earMusic)

  1. Empathy
  2. All You Need To Know
  3. Time To Live
  4. To The Metal!
  5. Rise
  6. Mother Angel
  7. Shine Forever
  8. Deadlands
  9. Chasing Shadows
  10. No Need To Cry

Band Lineup:
Kai Hansen – Vocals & Guitars
Henjo Richter – Guitars & Keyboards
Dirk Schlächter – Bass
Dan Zimmermann – Drums

Additional Musicians:
Michael Kiske – Vocals on ‘All You Need To Know’

Producers: Kai Hansen & Dirk Schlächter

Country: Germany

Total Time = 48:22

Gamma Ray
Gamma Ray MySpace page
Gamma Ray – To The Metal! MySpace page 

Gamma Ray is back again for 2010 with their tenth studio album, TO THE METAL! One of the things that has kept me a Gamma Ray fan over the years is that they’ve always produced solid albums with enough diversity to keep me interested. The band has never given up on it’s Helloween roots and Kai Hansen has written some furious Power Metal over the years with plenty of speed, melody and passion but, on the last couple of albums, the writing has leaned more towards a Traditional Heavy Metal style of  Judas Priest and Accept. As Kai Hansen was quoted in the press relese: “Our target is to combine the traditional and modern sound without losing our identity.” With this latest album, Gamma Ray has done just that to the delight of some and the dismay of others.

Opening track ‘Empathy’ is more of a classic Heavy Metal song with a the chugging thump of Primal Fear and Judas Priest, Kai Hansen not reaching the highest heights vocally but using a lower register for a darker effect. The drum sound is thunderous, some of the fills sound huge. The second song in is the one that will get most fans talking because former Helloween lead singer Michael Kiske joins his old bandmate on ‘All You Need To Know’. This is the Gamma Ray that I know well, speed and power with a big hook at the chorus. To say this is a Helloween-ish track is an understatement especially when you have the two former members who fronted the band through the ’80s. ‘All You Need To Know’ had me with the opening riff and the chorus but I like how the song slows down just before the solo break and builds back up to speed…..one of the best tracks on the album. ‘Time To Live’ continues the Power Metal punch but the vocals don’t have as much power as I wish they would. If this were a Primal Fear song, Ralf Scheepers would just blaze vocally. The comparisons are inevitable between the Helloween/Gamma Ray/Primal Fear triumverate but I think that Hansen has lost a step vocally, at least on this song. It’s still a catchy song though and definitely a good fit for the album.

One of the themes surrounding TO THE METAL! is the celebration of Heavy Metal and no song covers this better than the title track. Unfortunately, this song is a blatant rip-off of ‘Metal Gods’ by Judas Priest…..listen closely to the rhythm riffs and the drum patterns, it’s ‘Metal Gods’ no question. Even the song title seems a little “done”, I went back and checked the entire Accept/U.D.O. discographies to be 100% sure that this title hadn’t been used before. It’s a perfect title for and U.D.O. song, isn’t it? Maybe that’s because Hansen sounds more like Udo as the years go by? The old Gamma Ray from the SOMEWHERE OUT IN SPACE (1997) days is back with the frantic riffing and double-kick of ‘Rise’. This the Gamma Ray that I’m used to because I really dig the first five albums. More Judas Priest influences are obvious in ‘Mother Angel’ and that’s not necessarily a bad thing because, if you are going to go for a more classic Heavy Metal sound, who better to emulate? ‘Mother Angel’ is a mid-tempo chugger that sounds really thick with guitars and keyboard flourishes (like Primal Fear) but the obvious weak link is Hansen’s vocal. It’s unfair to compare him to Scheepers but he was the original Gamma Ray singer and the current face of German Power Metal, the comparisons are ineveitable and Kai Hansen just doesn’t have the range and power on this track. It surprises me a little because Hansen can hit those highs but he’s opting for a gruffer and deeper range. Case in point is the machine gun ‘Shine Forever’, this is the Hansen that I’m listening for with a higher register. I like blazing guitars throughout and the chorus is big and layered, a great track!

A quick keyboard rhythm opens ‘Deadlands’ and the song builds to a heaviness but the keyboards sounds out of place when it’s right up front in the mix. There is another thick Priest main riff that reminds me of ‘Painkiller’ but that moves away as the melodic chorus drives in and puts the hooks in. That’s the key here….the speed Gamma Ray and the traditional Gamma Ray are both coming across but it’s the melodic choruses that are making the songs memorable and singable. ‘Chasing Shadows’ is another powerful song with serious riffs and double-kick pounding, this is the older Gamma Ray, the faster Gamma Ray. Even Kai Hansen sounds like he went back a few years vocally. The band leaves the longest song for last with ‘No Need To Cry’. The opening piano and ocean waves effects add some atmosphere to Hansen’s good vocal but this song is a bit of a letdown…..why end a powerful album like this with a ballad? If this were sequenced in the middle of the record I might like it a lot more. You can definitely hear a Queen, Yes and a Who influence to the music and the song tries to come off as grand epic. Listen for the acoustic guitar break halfway through with the multi-tracked background vocals…..the guitar is Pete Townshend and the vocals sound like Yes. An interesting song for sure but not a way to end this kind of album.

Bottom Line:
When I spun this CD for the first time, I really wasn’t sure what to think. Like I mentioned, the Gamma Ray I started with was the early Gamma Ray that was full of power and speed, like Helloween, specifically SOMEWHERE OUT IN SPACE. I have been looking for that kind of album from Gamma ray for a few years but I have accepted that the band is trying to diversify it’s sound to keep things fresh and move with the times. I have no problem with the band going for a more traditional Metal style, that’s what today’s Power Metal scene is about. The problem is that Primal Fear has taken the torch from Gamma Ray as one of the genre’s leaders and it sounds like Hansen and company are playing catch up. I’ve had this album since the beginning of January (the European release was earlier than the U.S.) and I have given this daily spins because I always come away feeling like I’ve missed something. The problem is that I’m not expanding my own ideas of what the Gamma Ray sound should be. The traditional style mixed with the Speed Metal they are known for works but it takes some getting used to. A solid album overall, just a little different and I think it would sound better with a better singer.

Favorite Songs:
‘Empathy’, ‘All You Need To Know’, ‘Time To Live’, ‘Shine Forever’, ‘Chasing Shadows’

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