Review Summary: Just when you thought Gamma Ray couldn't fare any worse...
Admittedly, I approached To the Metal
with some apprehension. Although Gamma Ray has always rebounded from weaker albums (from Insanity and Genius to Land of the Free
and Power Plant to No World Order
), they've never released an album as mind-numbingly pedestrian as Land of the Free II
either. Factor in early album press which promised "a full throttle number…a rhythmic and melodically diverse song… and a multi-layered anthem" among other things and you essentially have the makings of the most generic sounding Gamma Ray album since, well, the last one. If that wasn't enough, live recordings of the title track sounded like a really bad mash-up of Judas Priest's "Metal Gods" and a Manowar song. It's a sad reflection of the Gamma Ray's creative state when they have to resort to plagiarizing mediocre '80s metal.
Fortunately, the remainder of To the Metal
doesn't rip off older hits as unabashedly as the title track, but there's little to get excited about. The melodic riff structure of "Deadlands" harkens back to No World Order
's "Eagle", and thanks to the song's brief electronic intro, the band has one of their most original compositions in years. Yet in terms of quality, the track pales in comparison to much of Gamma Ray's back catalogue and would be a mere footnote on Somewhere Out in Space
, or even Majestic
. The record's token ballad, "No Need to Cry", is notable in that it tries to experiment with the usual Gamma Ray formula. As nice as it is to see the band try to branch out, trying to piece together bits of a piano ballad, Queen, and some power ballad better left in the '80s simply sounds messy and incoherent.
In essence, To the Metal
can best be described in the band's own words. You'll recall that Kai Hanson and co. claimed the record would feature "a full throttle number…a rhythmic and melodically diverse song… and a multi-layered anthem", and, unlike those that make all sorts of hyperbolic promises they can't keep, Gamma Ray delivers. In this case it isn't particularly a good thing; although throttling melodically layered anthems make up the majority of To the Metal
, the execution is so mechanical and formulaic that it lacks any of the edge it was probably intended to have. Simply put, what hurts the record isn't its unoriginality. No World Order
wasn't particularly new, but it was excellent all the same. To the Metal
merely sounds fast, heavy, and melodic (or whatever power metal fans want these days) because that is what power metal is supposed to sound like. Kai Hanson even sounds bored when he sings in "Rise" (the aforementioned "full throttle number").
Maybe I'm being too hard on Gamma Ray. After all, at least they only plagiarized one song this time around. Then again, on Land of the Free II
they only lifted short riffs (and sometimes lyrics) from Iron Maiden and Judas Priest songs, rather than entire compositions. Either way, it underscores To the Metal
's biggest problem; Gamma Ray lacks a fire, and it's extremely obvious. Oh sure, To the Metal
features everything the ultraconservative power metal fan could ask for, including a Michael Kiske appearance in "All You Need to Know". Problem is, everything sounds so uninspired that any potential strengths (i.e. a couple decent riffs here and there) are rendered ineffective and bland. I suppose the end result is fairly predictable; Gamma Ray has been slowly declining since Majestic
. But considering that this is the same band that released the premier power metal album in Land of the Free
, the decline is both concerning and disappointing.